Noble and historic Istria

Natasha Blair visits a region of Croatia as yet undiscovered by the British

Pula, on the southern tip of Istria and the largest city on the Istrian Peninsula, is located in the northwest of Croatia, with its origins dating back 3,000 years, an area as yet mostly undiscovered by the British.

Close to Italy, the various conquerors, such as the Venetians, Romans, and Austro-Hungarians, have left  evidence of their existence.  Built on multiple hills, Pula likes to say it is built on seven, although in reality it is more. Under the Austrian-Hungarian regime, Pula was its navy’s main port until the period during the two World Wars, when Italy took control.

Dominated by a Roman amphitheatre originally built outside the town’s walls, the amphitheatre, with some of its ancient tiered seating still in existence, is used today for events ranging from concerts and operas to boxing as well as reimagined gladiator scenarios that include music and strobe lighting.

Several of city’s gates remain, the Arch of Sergii built around 29 BC, leads into the old  town, and is next to a yellow painted building, which was once the home of author, James Joyce. The old town with narrow streets filled with shops, is pedestrianised. A covered building with a terrace on its first floor, houses the fruit and vegetable market with, on its first floor, several places to eat.

Two arches lead to tunnels which are still in use today. Above the tunnels on one of the hills is a seventeenth-century fortress built from Roman stones and which now, on the upper floors, has a military museum. An exit on the upper-level leads to a bank lined with cannon, and panoramic views of the town.

The main town square has buildings from three different occupations. The Temple of Augustus, a Roman Temple from the first century AD, houses an exhibition dedicated to the Roman period. The thirteenth century Venetian Town Hall sits alongside what was a former Austrian Bank, built in the late nineteenth century.

Istria is very proud of its high-quality olive oil which dates back to the Roman times. A museum has displays on how the oil was originally made by hand, demonstrating how the process has changed to mechanical production in the 1980s. At the end of the tour,  there is the opportunity of joining a class to learn how to recognise high quality olive oil, and how to taste it.

Out of town, Fort Verudela which was part of the Austro-Hungarian defence system, houses an aquarium with hundreds of species of fish, and also has a marine turtle rescue centre. Situated on the Adriatic, the beaches which tend to be shingle or stones, have crystal clear water.

Further along the coast from Pula is the pretty, seaside resort of Rovinj. The old town is situated on a promontory surrounded by water, and is the hub for activities. Around the harbour are tourist shops and restaurants with outside seating, steps away from boats bobbing in the water.  The old town, built on a hill, has at its top the baroque St. Euphemia’s Church, an emblem of the town with its iconic 60 metre tall tower. Narrow steep alleys lined with shops, boutique hotels, and restaurants lead to the church which has a large terrace providing views of the coastline with a rock, in the distance, jutting out of the sea, which attracts dolphins.

The region, particularly away from the tourist resorts on the coast, prides itself on field to table cooking. Famous for its truffles, black truffles can be unearthed year-round in forests in the hills, while white ones only grow in the valleys from September to January. The family run company, Karlic, based inland near Buzet, run truffle hunting tours on land where the owners have planted trees with the truffle DNA. The tours are accompanied by Lagotto Romagnolo truffle dogs who they have trained.  As well as producing a range of truffle items, there is also a large, airy restaurant where visitors can enjoy dishes, in my case, scrambled eggs, which came from their grandmother’s hens, infused and topped with truffle shavings.

On the way, stop off at Motovun, a medieval town perched on a hill, potentially listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site, and another of the many places in Istria to be discovered.

Find out more

Call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678 for information on holidays in Istria and the whole of Croatia. Try yacht cruises hopping between Croatia’s gorgeous islands, take an escorted tour of the country or enjoy a beach holiday on the Adriatic with Classic Collection Holidays.

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