Nestled into the northern corner of the 1,000-mile-long Croatian coastline, the Istrian Riviera is a place of great beauty, cuisine and culture. With its Italian and Slavic roots, Istria has a rich sense of heritage. You’ll want to keep a look out for ancient Roman sites and atmospheric old towns in places like Pula, Porec and Rovinj, then get ready to feast on fresh seafood at waterfront restaurants.
To make the most of your stay, you’ll want to know where to go in Istria before you get there. Well, don’t worry, that’s where we come in. We’ve done the hard work (holidaying) in this guide and have scouted out the best things to do and places to eat. You’re welcome…
In Pula, you can literally walk in the footsteps of emperors. The higgledy-piggledy paving stones in heart of the city were built back in Roman times, leading to ancient treasures such as the Arch of Sergii and the Temple of Augustus. Pula Arena serves as the main centrepiece of the city though – it’s a perfectly preserved amphitheatre wrapped in silvery stone.
Bringing things more up to date, you can easily wander from here to enjoy a tipple in Uliks Bar. It’s another slice of history as it’s where the literary great James Joyce used to drink during his time here as a teacher in the early 20th century. Nearby, you’ll find the aptly named Fish Market and Green Market, offering tables heaving with just-caught seafood and farm fresh produce. Look out for local specialities such as fragrant lavender, herby honey and peppery olive oil.
Explore the surrounding region further and you’ll come across the rich forest and rocky coastline of the Verudela Peninsula. It’s a popular place for getting active with running and cycling, while you can also stop by for an interesting visit to Pula Aquarium, which is housed in an old fortress. They even have a committed conservation programme for sea turtles, releasing them back into the wild every year.
Placed at the edge of a peninsula, Rovinj is as pretty as a picture from both a bird’s eye view and at ground level. Colourful townhouses with terracotta-topped roofs follow the edge of the Adriatic, winding around the centrepiece of the Main Square. Set on a hilltop, St Euphemia Cathedral peers over the town – it’s the largest Baroque building in Istria.
But even if you don’t go looking for the sights, just strolling around is a joyful experience. The Riva promenade is lined with some great seafood restaurants and Italian trattorias, while Carrera Street is just the place for picking up souvenirs and craftwork. In fact, the coast near Rovinj also has the lion’s share of sand-and-shingle shores on the Istrian Riviera. Amarin, Borik and Golden Cape beaches are all within easy reach from the resort and they offer scenic stretches looking out on the sun-tinged translucent waters.
Rabac is an idyllic coastal village on the eastern side of the Istrian Peninsula. It’s placed along Kvarner Bay, a dreamy gulf with a shimmering waterfront. It may be a quieter alternative to the string of popular resorts on the western side of Istria, but the town certainly comes alive over summer when the Rabac Open Air Festival arrives. You can expect a parade of street music, cinema and theatre throughout the season.
On the more sedate side of things, you’ll find the Blue Flag-awarded St. Andrea Beach that begins in Rabac and leads all the way along the peninsula. And if you’d really like to admire the treasures of the sea and its marine creatures, you can set off on a dolphin-spotting boat ride from Rabac Harbour.
Fancy exploring somewhere new yet nearby to Rabac? Head to Labin. This classic Croatian town has colourful townhouses cascading down its hillside. It also has a renowned local art scene fronted by the Labin Town Gallery.
Time spent exploring the rising stone steps and narrow cobbled streets while spotting weatherworn buildings is a delight in itself, but it’s also worth looking out for the local wine and olive oil shops in the area.
There’s plenty to do in and around Porec, making it a great alternative to Pula if you’re looking for an activity-packed holiday on Croatia's Istrian Riviera. History buffs will be in their element here, thanks to the Roman heritage of the old town and Decamanus Street in particular. That’s not forgetting the UNESCO-protected Euphrasian Basilica, a sixth-century marvel with resplendent gilded mosaics and beautiful stone arches.
The resort is popular with families too, as Funtana Dino Park is only 15 minutes’ drive inland. It boasts huge dinosaur models set among a boardwalk that leads through a verdant gorge. Even nearer, you’ll find Aquacolors Porec, one of the largest waterparks in all of Croatia. There’s a fun water playground here, along with a wave pool, lazy river and speedy chutes and slides.
If you fancy a rest after all that exploring, there’s nowhere better than Marafor Square. It’s a peaceful, pedestrianised place to sit and simply watch the world go by, but it’s also ideal for its local wine bars and konobas. The side streets leading off from the square are also lined with a range of authentic, family-run restaurants.
Now you have a flavour of the great variety of different resorts and towns to discover on the Istrian Riviera, which one will you choose? It all starts with a visit to the Jet2holidays website, where you’ll find package holidays to Pula and its surrounding areas available throughout summer. It’s Istria, made easy.
Posted: 6th Aug 2019.