A beginner’s guide to Pula
Istria is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea - just a short journey across the water from Venice in northern Italy.
The name of this region is derived from the Histri tribe - one of the Illyrian tribes that inhabited the Balkans and parts of the Italian peninsula around the 4th century BC.
The Romans described the Histri as pirates, and eventually conquered them in 177 BC. The most obvious legacy left by the Romans is the massive amphitheatre in Pula – one of the largest Roman arenas still standing - but there are a wealth of archaeological points of interest to explore in this region.
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, this region repeatedly changed hands as the fortunes of the various powers waxed and waned – the Goths, the Avars, the Lombardis, and the Venetians are among the people to have ruled this part of the world. In more recent times, Istria has been controlled by the Habsburgs of Austria, Napoleon, and the fascist Italian government of the 1920s.
During WWII, Istria was fiercely contested, with local partisans gaining the upper-hand once the Germans withdrew in 1945.
Following the end of WWII, Istria became part of Yugoslavia. The Italian people living in Istria – the majority of the population - were forced to emigrate to Italy. Between 1945 and 1951 about 300,000 Italian Istrians were expelled from the peninsula.
Following the Croatian War of Independence of 1991–1995 – one of the conflicts that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia – Istria now forms Croatia’s international border with Slovenia and Italy.
The city of Pula
The city of Pula is the main centre of activity for the region. With a rich cultural and political history, you can easily spend time exploring the different facets of the city.
The attractive climate and clear blue waters of the surrounding Adriatic, have long made Pula a summer vacation destination. Its rocky coastline creates a myriad of small pebble beaches and swimming opportunities. Brave locals leap from the rocky cliffs into the water below.
The Brijuni National Park
The Brijuni Islands are a group of fourteen small islands, just across a narrow straight of water from the small village of Fažana. The largest island is Brioni Grande and it’s best known as being the summer residence of President Tito.
Today, the group of islands is a national park. You can arrange to stay here, but a day trip is probably sufficient. It’s a 15 minute ferry ride from Fažana to Brioni.
Once on the island, you have the option of a guided tour to show you the various sights and to explain the history. President Tito was very fond of animals, and so guests and dignitaries would often bring animals as gifts. There’s now a zoo on the island housing some of the animals that remain on the island. Large herds of deer also roam freely.
With its warm climate and strong influence from the Italian peninsula, it’s no surprise that the cuisine of the Istria peninsula is spectacular.
During our visit we had some great meals – simple pasta dishes with local seafood or flavoured with truffle, local fish, and really impressive wines from the region.
Stara Konoba - Fažana: One of the best lunches that we had during our visit to Pula was at Stara Konoba in the village of Fažana. Stara Konoba is located on the village harbour, a short walk from where the ferry docks. This was a feast of pasta and seafood, all served family-style - big pans filled with enticing food, placed in the middle of the table for us to share. Extraordinarily good value for a spectacular meal.
Ribarska Koliba – Pula: This is a fantastic location, looking out over the marina. There’s a restaurant space downstairs, and a roof-top bar upstairs - making the most of the light and the water.
Beer Club – Pula: A relaxed and informal bar that specialises in all of the local beers from the region. Great energy and lots of fun.
One of the best food experiences that we had during our stay was a day trip to the small village of Vodnjan. This is one of the key centres for olive oil production in Istria. The village itself is worth exploring – small, narrow streets surrounded by stone buildings. There’s also a local museum that provides a fascinating glimpse into how people used to live in the village. We called into the Brist olive oil shop, where you can taste the full range of virgin olive oils produced locally by Silvano Puhar and his family.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Park Plaza Arena, which was a fantastic hotel experience. Park Plaza also have two other properties in this area – Park Plaza Belvedere, and Park Plaza Histria. With pools, beach access, and top quality in-house restaurants, the Park Plaza hotels are the perfect base from which to explore the Istria peninsula. Transfers to and from Pula airport are painless.