What to do in and around Pula

Two days exploring the Istrian part of Croatia

It has been a couple of years since my last trip exploring Croatia with my friends at Croatia Full of Life. Why yes, Covid really did slow us down… but it didn’t stop us completely!

This time the car stopped in Pula, just two hours from Trieste. Besides, let’s face it, without having to stop at the Slovenia-Croatia border, everything becomes faster and more accessible!

Pula overlooks the sea: it lies at the tip of Croatian Istria, and it’s known for its Arena, beaches, and Roman ruins. It’s been populated since prehistoric times, and strategically located, which is why it has been occupied, destroyed, and rebuilt several times. The city’s administration has in fact passed through the hands of Romans, Ostrogoths, Venetians, the Austrian Empire, Italy, the Allied Forces, Yugoslavia, and finally Croatia.

Let’s get back to us, shall we? I’m ready to embark on the discovery of Vodnjan, Medulin and Fažana, from where I’ll take the sea connection that will take me to the beautiful island of Brijuni in just 15 minutes.

However, I’d like to start with the beating heart of Pula, its Arena or amphitheater, built between 2 B.C. and 14 A.D. under Emperor Augustus: they took material from the well-known stone quarries located on the outskirts of the city, which still exist today. It is the sixth largest arena in Europe!

I consider myself to have been very, very lucky, because on the very day of my arrival, the Minor Roman Theater was inaugurated after a ten-year-long restoration: it will host shows and events, to be enjoyed under the stars! I was lucky enough to attend the very first inaugural event, complete with gladiators and fire… it really was a unique experience.

Yet, Pula has so much more to offer, such as the underground tunnels built during the Austro-Hungarian period: they were used to shelter the population in case of air attacks, as the city was the main military port of the Empire.

The underground tunnels or Zerostrasse have four entry points, placed in different parts at the foot of the hill, which lead to a single space in the center. The entrances are arranged so that a regular air flow can enter the entire system, while the temperature ranges from 14 to 18 degrees Celsius at all times during the year. It’s perfect for finding refreshment during hot summer days!

By taking the elevator from the underground tunnels, you will reach the courtyard of the Castle Fortress, from which you can enjoy unparalleled views of the city. At the tunnels’ main entrance, on the other hand, you can admire the Gemina Gate, built by Romans at the end of the 2nd century.

 

I then decided to cross the beautiful garden square, and I caught a glimpse of the Arch of the Sergii, erected at her own expense by Salvia Postuma to commemorate her husband Lucius Sergius Lepidus, who had participated in the Battle of Actium. So much history…

 

MEDULIN

 

The time has come for me to put something in my stomach, so I stopped at Restaurant Vižula. You can either eat meat or fish, but we’re by the sea, with a view of the marina… we wouldn’t want to miss a pasta or risotto with seafood, now, would we? And what about a baked snapper with vegetables or a San Piero (which is also the symbol of the Municipality of Medulin)? I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

After lunch I recommend taking a digestive walk in the Vižula Archaeological Park, just a stone’s throw away from the restaurant. At the InfoPoint you can rent VR goggles that will project you into the Roman times: thus, comfortably seated on the lawn next to the ruins, you can admire the ancient villa, which, with its imposing size (it had a 110-meter patio), monumental architecture, rich decoration, beautiful mosaics, and use of the finest marble, was one of the most beautiful, largest, and most luxurious maritime residential villas of the Roman Empire era on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. I was absolutely fascinated by it!

VODNJAN

 

This is truly a little-known, quite rare gem that jealously guards the integrity of a small in-land town. Have you ever visited Vodnjan?

Until before the Istrian exodus, there were so many craft stores here, dealing mainly with footwear. Unfortunately, today we find them all closed.

However, Vodnjan is known for the smallest and narrowest street (two people can’t get through at the same time!), and for a small street more than a kilometer long that leads to the main square, where once stood a castle. Yes, stood, because the fortress was wiped out at the behest of the people… and yes, this is how a square and meeting point was born.

I decided to stop and taste some of the typical products of the area, which continue to be two since the Roman times: wine and oil. For a good tasting I recommend Medea: here, I also found a dinner waiting for me, and it was almost impossible to leave without a bottle of Malvasia and one of oil.

Vodnjan has a unique peculiarity that you cannot fail to notice, both when you arrive or when you leave it behind. You will surely be reminded of Apulian trulli (and the origin is the same!), but here they call them casita and were a safe haven for workers of the fields when they needed a place to rest, refresh themselves, or shelter from the weather.

Once, there were at least 2,000 of them. Today, only 200 remained. It’s an open-air museum!

FAŽANA – BRIJUNI

 

My last stop is Fažana. Here, I stopped for lunch at one of the many small restaurants you will find along the coast and the marina. I chose (on very wise advice) Stara Konoba Fažana, a simple trattoria with wooden tables and chairs, and classic red-and-white checked tablecloths. I enjoyed some really good fish, starting from a mixed appetizer to a brodetto (a fish-based broth) with polenta and a squaletto (a small shark) with “sea-styled” potatoes. Everything was delicious.

And now comes the best part, because Fažana to me, at the moment, is just an intermediate stop and not the final destination of my trip. In fact, I get on the boat and arrive in Brijuni in 15 minutes. Oh, yeah, that reminds me. I recommend you take the “official” boat! You can buy tickets at the InfoPoint or online… be wary of those who try to entice you along the coast to offer you a boat ride to the island.

I have so many memories here: I’d been to Brijuni the first time in 1992 with my mother, right when they opened Tito’s villa to the public, and then two years ago on a cruise with some friends.

And here I am, again. Having rented a small electric car (last time I’d preferred a bicycle to explore the island, but there are also electric motor scooters), I ran to look around the most beautiful nature park in Croatia!

The green of the Mediterranean scrub blends with the white cliffs and crystal-clear sea. Brijuni’s landscape alternates beautiful colors, Roman ruins, and small, pretty churches. Also, you can find a park where they keep zebras, elephants, and ostriches. It’s a true Eden that must be visited at least once in a lifetime.

You can find all the tips you’ll need, right here

 

WHERE TO SLEEP IN PULA

 

I want to end this article as if it were a circle, thus returning to the starting point: Pula. Where did your Miss sleep in the city of the Arena, you ask? At the Park Plaza Histria Pula, which is located outside the center, nestled in a peaceful pine forest!

L’hotel è una struttura 4 stelle moderna che si affaccia sul mare. Piscina interna ed esterna e una zona wellness dove rilassarsi tra saune e bagno turco. Le camere, spaziose e con balcone vista mare, vi garantiranno al tramonto degli scorci davvero romantici!

The hotel is a modern 4-star facility overlooking the sea. They have indoor and outdoor pools, and a wellness area where you can relax among saunas and Turkish baths. The rooms are spacious and provided with a balcony that overlooks the sea, and they will guarantee you truly romantic glimpses at sunset!

Breakfast on the outdoor terrace has an imperial taste to it, as does dinner. An endless buffet with a number of choices that will satisfy all tastes and needs: meat, fish, vegetables and an endless roundup of desserts.

But wait, it’s not over yet! To make the hotel even better, there are also red-clay tennis courts, the chance of taking nice walks along the sea, and the actual beach, of course! This place is a true paradise.

Well, the writing software marks page three. I think that’s enough, isn’t it? I want you to write the next page. You just have to go and explore these wonderful places.

See you soon!

 

Ph. Michele Grimaz

 

                                      

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