hidden europe 11

Taking the slow boat

by Nicky Gardner


A few words in praise of slow coastal shipping services that hop from port to port. Surely a more romantic way to travel than to endure the thud, thud, thud of a modern catamaran.

The modern fad for small high speed catamarans and mini-hovercraft, it has to be said, lacks romance. Fast though these little passenger craft may be, is the growing popularity of the catamaran at the expense of the traditional ferry something to be applauded? We incline to the view that the very appeal of travel over water is its slowness.

Ten years ago, when the Dionea still linked a half dozen northern Adriatic ports, there was something utterly timeless about standing on Piran's quayside on a summer evening and watching this handsome steamer pull into sight round Savudrija Point, and then chug across Piran bay from Croatia, purposefully but quietly entering Slovenian waters. Slowly, beautifully, the slender ship's modest wake would lap up against the Slovenian shore, and then the Dionea would creep into Piran's amiable little harbour. A few happy exchanges between the Dionea's crew and men on the quayside as she tied up alongside. Disembarking passengers were casually checked by the lone representative of Slovenian customs. Then, day trippers, sandtired and salt-sprayed from a day on Piran's concrete promenades and anxious to get back to Italy for a late dinner, climbed aboard, and within a few minutes, the Dionea was on its way again, bound this time for Italian shores.

The Dionea has gone the way of many old ferries that once provided inshore shipping services in Europe's coastal waters.

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