Fancy a weekend exploring medieval villages, fresh seafood, and plenty of beach time? Then pick Pula!
The gateway to Istria, a triangular peninsula dangling off Croatia and into the Adriatic Sea, Pula offers an abundance of sandy shores and fresh seafood worth salivating over, both chief drawcards in a pack that also contains unspoiled forests, hilltop hamlets and high quality local wines.
You’ll jet in to Pula, but don’t miss Rovinj, an attractive Italianiate resort arranged around a small harbour, or the hinterland behind them both, which features natural attractions and some gourmet surprises. Here are nine of our favourite things to do in Pula and Rovinj.
Discover Istria, Croatia: 9 best things to do in Pula and Rovinj
1. Walk with the Romans
Tiny Pula is home to the world’s sixth largest surviving Roman amphitheatre. It was built to accommodate 22,000 spectators in the 1st century BC, despite Pula’s population being closer to 5,000 at the time. Explore its remarkably intact outer walls, which still stand sentry over the port. From here, plan your route along sandal-smoothed streets tangling their way through the Old Town to the Roman Forum, now a café-flanked square that is Pula’s premier people-watching spot.
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2. Follow the pirates
Gather yer shipmates and go a swashbucklin’ up Limski Kanal, a deep inlet that was once the favourite haunt of local pirates. They used it as a base to attack the Venetians but today it’s used to cultivate oysters and mussels instead. It’s the best place to shuck and slurp the local shellfish, washed down with a dry Istrian malvazija at a table overlooking the water. Head to Fjord restaurant for the freshest fish, served up on a terrace overlooking the water.
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3. Get on your bike
Zlatni Rat Forest Park is closed to cars so you’ll have to explore its indigenous plantlife on two wheels instead. Start in Rovinj, Istria’s most Italian town and one presided over by a miniature St. Mark’s – the slender, confectionary-coloured St Euphemia’s bell tower. Photo opportunities abound en route, as you cycle from the small harbour, where luxury yachts moor alongside wooden fishing boats, to the headland’s pebbly beaches, lapped by water the colour of liquefied glacier mints.
4. Up the population of the world’s smallest town
Ok, so it’s self-declared, but Hum has good claim to be the smallest town in the world. Its chunky stone farmhouses house just a couple dozen people, but they still have all the attributes of a major town, from honey-hued Medieval wall to an oversized neo-Baroque church. Take a seat on the terrace of the town’s only konoba and enjoy the peace and quiet over a shot of humska biska – a mistletoe brandy the locals swear will cure almost anything.
5. Hop over to Tito’s island
Long an offshore paradise, the Brijuni Islands became the private retreat of President Tito after World War Two. He turned Veli Brijun, the largest, into something of a playground. Today you can take a boat trip over here, to ride the miniature train which passes grand villas en route to a safari park still stocked with Tito’s animals. These include an elephant from Gandhi, and Koki the yellow-crested cockatoo, who chirrups phrases taught to him by the Yugoslav leader.
6. Jump off a cliff
Cape Kamenjak sits at Istria’s far end, beckoning visitors away from the slick resorts further north. The spiky heathland here runs down to a craggy coastline where sheer-sided fingers of rock splay out into the Adriatic in all directions and shelter tiny coves backed by pebbly beaches. You could just sit and sunbathe but this is also one of Europe’s best cliff-jumping hotspots. Those rocky fingers offer up launchpads some 70 feet high, tempting you to jump.
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7. Dig for gastronomic gold in Motovun
The Motovun forest hides a secret. Here under a shady canopy of oak trees the unpromising looking dirt harbours gastronomic gold: black and white truffles the size of cricket balls – and larger. Indulge in a truffle-drenched lunch at Restauran Zigante, you may want to skip the truffle ice cream though. Taking it a little too far, perhaps?
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8. Bathe au naturel
Swimmers are not only attracted to Istria for its position on the Adriatic. Those in the know head inland instead, to the natural water features of Kotli. At this more or less abandoned village, the River Mirna gurgles its way down through a series of small bowls carved out of the limestone, creating al fresco whirlpool baths backed by waterfalls tumbling over the rocks in lacy veils.
9. Drink with James Joyce
Well, a statue of him, at least. Pula was briefly home to the Irish writer, and Uliks (Ulysses) café bar honours this with a life-sized bronze statue of Joyce sitting on one of the chairs on its terrace. This was once the language school Joyce taught in. Now it’s a place to linger over coffee and debate why Joyce failed to fall in love with Pula, instead calling it a “naval Siberia”.
Read more: Top 10 things to do in Croatia
*Revised October 2019. Information correct at the time of publication and is subject to change and/or availability.
9 best things to do in Pula and Rovinj, Croatia
|1. Walk with the Romans|
|2. Follow the pirates|
|3. Get on your bike|
|4. Up the population of the world’s smallest town|
|5. Hop over to Tito’s island|
|6. Jump off a cliff|
|7. Dig for gastronomic gold|
|8. Bathe au naturel|
|9. Drink with James Joyce|