Stroll up to the church of St Blaise to view the Sacral Art Collection.
Here, religious paintings, vessels, clothing and wooden sculptures are displayed alongside a collection of mummified bodies of saints. The church is open 0900-1900.
Wonder at the beautiful bell tower.
Built on the foundations of a pre-Romanesque church towards the end of the 1700's, it was modelled on that of St Mark's in Venice. The Vodnjan tower is now older than that of its Venetian counterpart because the latter collapsed early in the 20th century and was rebuilt.
Take a Coffee!
Café bars are everywhere in Croatia and without exception serve excellent coffee, always in the correct cup for the drink ordered. There are four café bars in Vodnjan's main square alone! Taking a coffee is part of Istrian and Croatian identity, it marks the beginning of the day, nurtures friendship and business relationships and should you be invited for a coffee it may not necessarily mean actually drinking coffee, it’s more a euphemism for a chat over a drink of any kind!
Visit the Liburna Reserve,
the habitat of the original breed of donkey from the Croatian regions of Istria, Kvarner and Primorj. There are also nature-related workshops here you can participate in. Situated at Rasa, near Labin. (Open 0900-1200 & 1600-2000).
Asparagus (sparuge) grows wild throughout Istria and is ready for picking in the spring. You will see stalls at the roadside offering bundles of freshly collected examples, selling for just a few kuna. The locals braise the tops in olive oil until tender and then add eggs, salt and pepper. The result? Delicious scrambled eggs (fritaja).
Mini Croatia, Rovinj.
Not so much a model village as a model country! See Croatia in miniature: the state borders, mountains, rivers, lakes, islands, railways and important cities. (Open 0800-2000).
Or, go diving!
Crystal clear waters, underwater plant life, rock formations and sea life are all irresistible reasons to explore the ocean. Off the coast of Rovinj, explore the sunken shipwreck Baron Gautsch, said to be one of the 50 most beautiful diving sites in the world!
Grisia Art Festival
If you're in the Rovinj area on the second Sunday in August, be sure to visit the open air art exhibition known as Grisia. Grisia is in fact the name of the main street leading up the hill to St Euphemia's church and artists exhibit their work here, thus becoming a large al fresco studio for a day where walls, doorways and house facades all present themselves as 'gallery hanging space', festooned with watercolours, sketches and prints.
Try and catch a performance at Pula's amphitheatre.
Artists such as Sting, Jamiroquai and James Brown have staged concerts here in recent years and it is home to the annual Pula Film Festival usually held in late July. What better venue?
Pula City Tour
A great way to orientate yourself in Pula is to take the Hop-0n-Hop-Off Pula City Tour. The large open top double decker buses make up to 9 departures a day, starting from outside the Roman amphitheatre taking you along the waterfront, passing the Uljanik shipyard, around some of Pula’s coastal suburbs and back through the town.
Also in Pula, walk up to the old star-shaped fort - Kastel,
the central point of a spider's web of narrow streets, steep paths and alleys in the heart of the city. This vantage point affords great views out to sea, over the amphitheatre and across to the old Roman theatre.
Take a trip back in time - visit the Riviera Hotel in Pula.
Built in 1908 in ornate Belle Époque style, this was a 5 star hotel, a grand symbol of Austro-Hungarian rule. Here mingled officers, bohemians, Viennese ladies, artists and salesmen. It was the place to be seen. Sadly, although its waterfront façade maintains an imposing presence, the hotel is not what it was.
Pula has a lively daily market with outdoor stalls selling fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers and, next door, an indoor hall with fresh fish, meat and cheese counters. You can also pick up honey, lavender bags and other locally produced items. Constructed during the Austro-Hungarian era it was opened in 1903 and was one of the first buildings in Pula to feature glass and ironwork. Afterwards, take a coffee at one of the many nearby café terraces – the Café Milan is highly recommended.
Whilst generously bestowed with places of interest for the visitor, Pula is still very much a working city. Lifeblood of the city is the Uljanik shipyard right in the heart of the city. Its cranes stand proud, almost guiding you in to the town as you drive south from Vodnjan. Uljanik is the city’s largest employer, just about every Pula inhabitant has a relative or knows someone who works there. Established in 1856, on an olive grove populated islet, its first ship was launched two years later weighing 5,000 tons, a steam-engined wooden sailboat. These days oil tankers, container ships and car carrying vessels are built, some in 2 pieces which are then joined together. The largest ship launched at Uljanik was the 277,120 ton Kanchenjunga, delivered to the Shipping Corporation of India in 1975.
Lighting Giants at Uljanik
This unique project operates during the summer months at Pula’s Uljanik shipyard whose iconic cranes, a cherished symbol of the city, are illuminated every evening. The magnificent light show of 16,000 possible colour combinations lasts 15 minutes and can be seen after dark on the hour.
Drinks with a View!
Pula’s leafy coastal suburb of Verudela is home to a very smart lounge bar known as the E & D or Day and Night bar, a perfect location to enjoy the sunset. Tables are neatly arranged under umbrellas and awnings around water features on various open terraces overlooking the sea. A limited but excellent menu is available if you’re peckish but, beware, credit cards are not accepted. Plenty of free parking alongside the premises. Alternatively, try Ribarska Koliba for excellent seafood with a view, just nearby.
Cape Kamenjak is a nature park on the southernmost tip of the Istrian Peninsula,
to the south of Premantura. Indented with many coves, bays and beaches, the crystal clear sea here makes this an attractive point for a picnic. There is a nominal admission fee.
Driving around Istria, look for the kazun, a round beehive-shaped field hut built using the dry-stone technique, without any mortar or concrete. Shepherds used them for shelter as well as for storage of agricultural implements. The kazun has become emblematic of traditional Istria.
Head due north to nearby Svetvincenat and take time to stroll around this delightful little town
with its pretty main square, 15th century church of the Anunciation and 13th century castle with its magnificent lawned keep. There are a couple of bars with terraces here, so stop for a cool beer and watch the world go by.
In 24 tanks of varying sizes, discover the fish and other live organisms of the Adriatic Sea. (Open 0900-2200).
A great way to unwind! For children and adults alike! (Open 1100-0100.
Visit Funtana, a coastal village between Vrsar and Porec. The Istrian coast is said to be the most indented here offering numerous coves, inlets, beaches and pine and oak groves. A number of fresh water springs or fountains, hence the derivation of the name Funtana, and this has secured the prosperity of the village over the centuries. Stop for lunch at one of the pizzerias or restaurants, or compose a picnic from the pastry shops and supermarkets.
Go to the Market
- Vodnjan's market day is the first Saturday of every month, pretty much from dawn to dusk. Here you can purchase fresh food or traditional crafts and souvenirs. Or head down to Pula where there is a lively daily market with outdoor stalls selling fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers and, next door an indoor hall with fresh fish, meat and cheese counters. You can also pick up honey, lavender bags and other locally made items. Afterwards, take a coffee on one of the nearby terraces.
Head north to Sveti Lovrec.
This attractive, walled little town was the headquarters of Venice's military command in Istria during the Middle Ages. See the 11th century church of Sv. Martin and view the museum in the 15th century loggia which displays sculptures from the monastery of Sv. Mihovil in the Limski Kanal.
Pay a visit to nearby Lim Fjord,
a protected landscape and special marine reserve situated between Rovinj and Vrsar. Canyon-like cliffs rising up to 150m above sea level flank this long, narrow inlet. A couple of restaurants are situated on the water front, such as the Viking (tel. 052 448 223) which offers dishes such as oysters on crushed ice or noodles with scampi and mushrooms.
Take it all off!
Croatia has been a popular naturist destination for a hundred years or so. There are a number of nudist beaches - try the one at Medulin. From the beach at Medulin head east towards the Kazela resort and the beach is on your right. Once on the beach turn left. It's a quiet, rocky, pebbly beach with no facilities.
Palud, between Rovinj and Barbariga is an ornithological reserve
and swamp area of great interest to bird watchers. It is the temporary or permanent habitat of more than 200 bird species.
Head Due West to Bale
Star of the show here is a beautiful palace in Venetian Gothic style, known as the Bembo Palace, after the family that lived there for 3 centuries. Rich in atmosphere, Bale merits a stroll around its old narrow intertwined streets and alleyways. Bale’s market takes place on the second Saturday of the month.
Take a trip to the Brijuni Islands.
Once Tito's holiday home and the meeting place for the international jet set it is now the only national park in Istria. Principal of the 14 islands, Veliki Brijuni is the one to visit because of the diversity of its interests: see deer roam wild in beautiful natural parkland; Roman ruins; a safari park; beaches and traces of dinosaur footprints! You need to allow at least half a day for this excursion which involves taking a ferry from Fazana. (Information and booking tel. 052 525 807).
Stop in Fazana
Fazana itself is a colourful little seaside town, it's quayside backed with pastel-coloured Italianate buildings and many waterfront cafes, bars and restaurants. If you stop for a snack you must try pilchards, emblematic of the town. Try them cold in a marinade of oil, vinegar, water, parsley, rosemary and pepper - the Istrian way!
Riva - Fažana
The Fažana pier (riva) was built with stone taken from Pula’s city walls which were torn down following the plague of 1635. Look for the Sardine Park, a leafy promenade with sculptures of this fish, so dear to the town. You can walk from Fažana along the promenade south to Valbandon. Stretches of informal, pebbly beach are found heading north from the town.
Narodni Muzej Labin.
The recent history of this town as a centre for coalmining is portrayed in the Labin National Museum as are historical events from the time when, in 1921, Labin was declared a republic. (Tel. 052 852 477. Open 1000-1300 & 1800-2000).
On the way to Labin, take a look at Rasa, the 'newest' town in Istria
Built in the 1930's, it was formerly swamp land at the mouth of the little Krapan stream which flows into the River Rasa from which it takes its name. Part of the Labin coal basin, an architect from Trieste outlined a model miner's settlement consisting of two nearly parallel lines of uniform two storey houses with four worker apartments in each, running along the valley floor. This neat layout can still clearly be seen today.
Fancy an hour's scenic walk?
Take the old mule path from Labin down to the sea at Rabac. This hillside pathway offers fantastic views out to sea across to the island of Cres. Once a quiet fishing village, Rabac is now a small resort with a broad sweep of pebbly beach backed with a number of informal cafes. Either side there are a number of delightful coves and inlets. Another path leads north towards the hamlet of Kosi.
Dubrova Mediteranski Kiparski Simpozij (The Dubrova Mediterranean Sculptors' Symposium).
This is a nature park just north of Labin where, year after year, sculptors come from all over the world to enrich the existing collection of Istrian stone sculptures, leaving behind tangible examples of their creative work.
Go for a bike ride
- there are a number of dedicated cycle trails all over Istria, enquire at your local tourist office for a map and information on bike hire locally. What better way to enjoy the scenery?
Spend a day in Venice
Take the Venezia Lines hydrofoil service across the Adriatic from Rovinj, Pula or Rabac to this unique Italian city. We recommend you book in advance via www.venezialines.com
Get your kicks... on Route 66!
For a beautiful scenic drive, take road no. 66 north east along the Kvarner Riviera. Start from Barban passing through spectacular countryside as well as Rasa, Labin, Plomin, Moscenicka Draga, Lovran and Opatija, culminating at Rijeka. Any of these places makes a rewarding stop for a drink or a meal and a wander. Return home taking the inland route via the Ucka Tunnel (toll payable). You will need to allow at least half a day for this.
In Rijeka, take a stroll down Korzo, the main pedestrian street.
Wonder at the grand secessionist and art nouveau architecture which betrays the Austro-Hungarian heyday of the port, Croatia's third largest city.
Workaday Rijeka is at its no-nonsense best beside the port: maybe a little scruffy but full of character. Stock up for a picnic in the art nouveau market and purchase cheeses, unusual pastries and a great variety of breads or go for a bargain-priced snack in one of the workers' bars amongst the tangle of streets behind.
Trsat, a gentle hilltop suburb, stands guard over Rijeka.
Over the years its castle has been home to the ancient Illyrians, the Romans and the Frankopans. With its views inland to the Ucka Mountains, out to sea over the Bay of Kvarner and across to the islands of Krk and Cres, you can understand why.
The Handsome Coastal Town of Opatija
Just south of Rijeka is the handsome coastal town of Opatija. This town has a long tradition of visitors dating back to the mid 19th century when it was something of an elitist destination for Austro-Hungarian aristocracy, the spirit of which still prevails today with a magnificent architectural legacy of grand Austro-Hungarian villas, smart cafes and well-established parks. Park the car and take a stroll along the 12km promenade which will take you past the best of all of these.
South of Pican is the little town of Krsan where a visit to its 13th century fortress is a must.
See Southern Istria from the air.
Take a 15 minute scenic flight from Medulin which will over-fly the south of the Istrian Peninsula with its bays and islets as well as Pula - what better way to view the amphitheatre? Maximum 3 passengers per flight. Tel. 098 420577.
Until recently there were no waterparks in Istria but now there are two! Aquacolurs is the most recent opening, situated just south of Porec, on the road towards Funtana and Vrsar. Expect the usual selection of slides and pools as well as certain other sporting activities and fast(ish) food catering. A half day ticket is available for arrivals in the afternoon. www.aquacolors.eu The other waterpark is Istralandia, just south of Novigrad
Driving along the coast road towards Rijeka will take you past the turning down to the small port of Brestova. Ferries depart from here approximately hourly for the 25 minute car ferry crossing to the islands of Cres and Lošinj (joined together by a causeway) and, from here, further ferries can take you to the islands of Krk and Pag. You would need to allow a full day for this and you should check the schedule before you leave via www.jadrolinija.hr. Tickets are purchased at the port, credit cards not accepted!
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