Anne’s 3 favourite Istrian coastal towns
Just across the Adriatic Sea, Croatia is a quick trip from Italy. Consisting of over a thousand islands, crossed by the Dinaric Alps and scattered with beautiful, ancient castles it makes another perfect Mediterranean destination. The Istrian peninsula is particularly close to Italy’s north and can either be reached by ferry from Venice in about three hours or by car from Trieste in less than one hour, crossing through the small westernmost corner of Slovenia.
Its beautiful landscapes, charming towns as well as the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea are reasons enough to visit this stunning piece of earth. But it is its rich and diverse cultural heritage that make it special, the most important stages of European history can be experienced here like nowhere else. Having been passed between competing kingdoms, empires and republics for ages, it tells a story that goes back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The Italian and Venetian influence, in particular, can be felt throughout the peninsula.
Whereas the interior is rather unspoiled and mountainous with ancient walled towns atop hills with surrounding fertile fields, the coast has numerous rocky and pebble beaches. Being Croatia’s most developed tourist destination, expect it to be crowded during high season!
A lively city in the southern part of Istria, this is where real life is happening. Although it is Istria’s largest town, it is still relatively small place and can be easily discovered by foot. Pula’s most outstanding sight is the Arena, the 6th largest surviving amphitheatre, which stands over the city as an impressive relic of the Roman Empire. It hosts events all summer and has recently become a venue to major music festivals. When Anne was in town the preparations for the Dimensions Festival were in full swing.
The second of the Roman attractions stands at the south-east entrance to the town centre. The Triumphal Arch of Sergius, marks the eastern boundary of old Pula. Passing through the arch, you walk down the Roman-era high street, the Sergijevaca. It leads to the heart of Pula, the Roman Forum with its only visible remnant of the Roman era, the Temple of Augustus. The Forum is still the main square today, where you can find the Town Hall, tourist office, it’s a lovely to spot to take a break for a cool drink or Aperol Spritz in one of the cafés.
Another interesting sight which dates back to WWI, is the Zerostrasse, an underground systems of tunnels built to shelter the city’s population and to serve as storage for ammunition.
Anne’s Tip: Be sure to make your way up to the castle, built by the Venetians in the 17th century, from where you can enjoy stunning views over the amphitheatre. If you happen to be there at night, the walk up to the castle makes the perfect pre-dinner activity to enjoy the sun set over the sea, immersing Pula’s houses and rooftops in golden and red colours.
A charming town situated on a peninsula on the west coast, Poreč is one of Istria’s must-see places. Its most important sight is undoubtedly the Euphrasian Basilica, whose mosaics are considered Europe’s finest example of Byzantine art. Built in the 6th century, the complex includes a church, an atrium and a baptistery. In 1997 the basilica was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
At the entrance to the old town the Church of our Lady Angels is situated in a large square. It is mostly the Roman and the Venetian influence that can be felt in Poreč. The symmetrical Roman street layout is still preserved in its original form with the two main streets Decumanus and Cardo Maximus crossing the town. At the entrance to Decumanus street you will find the Pentagonal Tower, which was part of the original Venetian defenses, and still bears the lion insignia of Venice. A little further down the main street, the Gothic Palace is another fine example of Venetian architecture.
Poreč features also a beautiful waterfront and a 2 kilometer long seaside promenade where you can enjoy a stroll along the stunning Adriatic Sea.
Anne’s Tip: Have a gorgeous meal at Konoba Aba, Poreč’s number 1 rated restaurant on Tripadvisor. Hidden in small alleyway behind a corner, it is almost hard to find. Its little sun shaded courtyard offers a pleasant atmosphere and a lovely setting for a delicious lunch or dinner. Besides the great food, it has a very efficient and friendly service. Make sure, you try the shrimp and truffle risotto!
Rovinj, an old fishing town enchants its visitors with charming cobblestone streets, colourful houses and small squares. Only about 35 kilometers south of Poreč, these two towns can be easily visited in one day. Strolling along the streets and alleyways of the old town, you will understand why Rovinj is also called the Croatian Venice.
In the middle of the peninsula on a hilltop location the Church of St. Euphemia dominates the old town. It is the largest Baroque building in Istria and if you have ever been to Venice, you will notice that its bell tower is similar to the one at St. Mark’s square. If you are headed there you will be required to go up many steps, families with push chairs or wheelchair users should keep in mind that there are two ways that lead to the church, although pushing your way up might become sort of a challenge on a hot summer day. But it’s definitely worth the effort as you will be able to enjoy stunning views over the deep blue Mediterranean Sea.
Rovinj is home to artists from all around the world, along the streets next to shops and restaurants, there are also many galleries. A favourite photo stop is Balbi’s Arch, which today serves as the entrance to the old town and where once used to be one of the seven city gates. The picturesque harbour and the main square make with its bright-coloured buildings make another beautiful picture.
Anne’s Tip: Head to Biondi Beach, just a couple of kilometres north of the old town. Altough you will find clearer waters at other Istrian beaches, this gravel beach is perfect for a quick swim to cool down after your visit of Rovinj on a hot day. Easy accessible, this is a family beach, nonetheless water shoes are recommended as elsewhere in Croatia. To round off your day enjoy a cool drink with the beautiful panorama of Rovinj in the background.