Summer is finally here and we decided to make doubly sure of the seasonal feeling by heading to the Adriatic coast for a short family break. The destination was the rather luxurious resort of Portopiccolo, about 20 minutes north of Trieste in Italy.
We flew to Ljubljana and in a departure from my normal practices I had booked a rental car from Green Motion instead of the ever reliable Sixt and I immediately regretted that when picking up the car. I remember that the asking price was a bit lower, and that had influenced my decision, but while checking in the "not included extras" started to rack up fast. You want to drive in a different country? €40 extra. You want to go on the motorways in this country? €15 extra.
Finally on the road, it is safe to say that the weather was not quite as good as expected - thunder, lightning and a "consider building an ark" level of rain accompanied us on the 90 minute journey to Portopiccolo.
Turning into the private parking hall at the Falisia Hotel was quite a relief and I felt only minor inadequacy as I parked the tiny 1.2L Peugeot 106 in an enormous parking space, in-between a Porsche Cayenne and an Audi A8.
Portopiccolo is a small, beautiful resort with a harbour and a large private beach area, near to the town of Sistiana on the Adriatic coast. Thankfully the storm of the day before had long since departed and beautiful blue sky was a feature of the new day. The area has something of an exclusive feel to it, the sailing boats in the harbour were rather enormous and the whole village is constructed in a similar style, giving a harmonious feeling.
The hotel breakfast was an experience in itself, naturally the eggs were cooked perfectly to order and the coffee was superb but the most impressive part was the 10 or 12 different kinds of delicious cakes and pastries that were laid out. Finally I found a place which shares my philosophy that it is always time for cake.
An exploration of the small Portopiccolo village followed breakfast, checking out the beach club, the spa, the selection of shops and cafes and the hotel itself.
The prevailing colour scheme, orange buildings with blue sky, was a welcome change from recent conditions in Scotland and then Finland.
The Falisia hotel provided some good opportunities to add to my collection of staircase photos.
It is often the case that you can find quite different looks depending on whether you shoot the same staircase from the top looking down (as above) or the bottom looking up (as below).
After spending a day within the sheltered environment of Portopiccolo, it was time for a small adventure. The destination of choice was Miramare Castle. The little Peugeot was retrieved from the car park and we made our way along the coast road.
Without having to focus so much on the road conditions it was possible to pay more attention to the car and its performance. The Peugeot automatic gearbox seemed to frequently get lost... as if it went into neutral for a second or two before deciding just to go back to the gear it was already in... it was not a problem, but it was a noticeable difference to any of the other cars I have driven. The low power of the engine was also rather noticeable, pressing down the accelerator made a big difference to the noise level and the r.p.m. but only a tiny difference to the car's velocity.
This was my first time driving in Italy and it took some time to work out the local driving customs. As far as I could tell, the speed limits were just a weak suggestion... the stream of traffic maintained a solid 70km/h while the limit oscillated between 50 and 90.
The castle is situated at a perfect lookout point on the coast and is surrounded by large gardens with various small buildings, sculptures, ponds and fountains.
The ponds were home to some very contented looking ducks and a number of dragonflies which spent their time chasing each other in endless circuits of the pond.
The rich interiors of the castle were fascinating to walk through. Each room had a different fancy chandelier and a different ornate ceiling design.
Miramare is a very interesting place to spend a few hours, I recommend it to anyone who is in the area.
Back in the hotel, there was time before dinner to check out the small staircase which leads from the reception to the car park.
The following day it was time to visit another castle, this time in the village of Duino just up the coast in the opposite direction from Miramare. This 14th century castle was not quite on the same scale as Miramare, but it was in just as nice a location and offered a great view of the ruins of an earlier 11th century fortification a few hundred metres away.
Duino Castle is home to a number of barn swallow families, their nests were to be found in many doorways and arches.
The main tower of the castle had a number of holes in the aging brickwork and these cracks seemed to be used as nesting or resting places for a squadron of common swifts which provided a an aerobatic display (with constant sound effects) overhead during our visit.
I also found an ornate staircase winding its way up the smaller corner tower.
The next morning we faced our final full day in Portopiccolo. We once again made a small expedition to the outside world, heading along the winding country roads to the Sanctuary of Monrupino, a 16th century church and hilltop fortification.
This was another peaceful and beautiful place, and we had it to ourselves apart from a cat, the small birds he was hunting, and a multitude of butterflies.
Back at the hotel it was time to make a final visit to the beach club... but the weather had other ideas as the relentless sunshine and blue sky prepared to give way once again to a gathering storm.
So it was that our stay in Portopiccolo was bookended by spectacular electrical storms.
This coastline, whether you are in Italy, Slovenia or Croatia is a very beautiful part of the world.
Until next time!
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