EXPLORING ISTRIA - CROATIA
This year, we decided to escape the crowds and explore Northern Croatia (Istria) for a change. It's also close to Slovenia, where we spent our last weekend (post on Slovenia coming soon).
We were here for 12 days and after plenty of research, decided to split our trip into three areas; Pula, Rabac and Rovinj. We gave ourselves 3-5 days in each place, which was perfect, but of course never enough! But it was as much as we needed to also explore the surrounding areas. We don't drive, so our entire trip was done via public transport and walking.
I'd never visited Croatia in early June but after this trip, I really think it is the perfect time to go. I wasn't sure if it was because it still wasn't peak season (July-August), or because most tourists go to Dalmatia.. or a combination of both. The weather was also perfect. Not unbearably hot like it can be in August, it pretty much stayed constant at 27°C and sunny. The only downside to visiting earlier in the year is that I'm already back from my annual trip to Croatia :(
In my opinion, Istria was just as expensive Dalmatia - smaller resort towns weren't much cheaper either! We bought from local supermarkets and packed sandwiches as we would usually be out exploring/walking all day. My favourite go-to veggie sandwich I prepared was with pesto, ajvar, cheese, tomato and lettuce..yummm...anyway, back to the important stuff!
Our first stop was Pula. We stayed outside of the centre in the quiet and charming Stoja, surrounded by trees, beaches and rocky coastline. No surprise that it is a popular place for campers!
I'm wearing my Sir the label dress here. I love the tie in the middle of it, it makes a great beach outfit.
We were really pleased that we decided to stay in Stoja as it was only 20 minutes by bus to the city centre. I think in half a day, you can pretty much see all of Pula city centre, so we used the rest of our time to explore the coves of Stoja and Lungomare. We also took a day trip to Premantura and Kamenjak (Kah-men-yak).
These photos were taken on the day we walked as far as we could around the beaches, and we found some pretty sweet spots!
The old town in Pula is quite small. We explored here one late afternoon and saw the wonderful arena. This was the view from outside.
Arch of the Sergii
Kamenjak National Park was definitely a highlight for me (See pictures below). If you are in Pula without a car you can get here via public transport, which is how we did it. The bus 28 goes to Premantura from the city centre (then you walk to the National Park). Online, the stop says that the bus starts from the main coach station, but don't waste your time going all the way back here! The bus actually stops in the town at Riva and Zagrebačka. Just make sure you estimate the time it will arrive after it leaves the coach station.
We found our own spot on the rocks and had a well deserved swim after the long walk!
If you're ever in Kamenjak, be sure to check out Safari Bar! It's an awesome spot for some food and refreshments in the shade. I think I had the best coca cola of my life there because walking in the heat was exhausting!
We passed these cows on our walk back to the bus stop. So pretty!
Pula was really an awesome place to keep fit! With outdoor gyms, running trails, lots of cycling and paddle boarding activities and events to take part in.
From Pula, we caught the coach to Labin which is close to the beach resort of Rabac, our next destination. The journey took just under an hour. We were then picked up by our Airbnb host and driven 10 minutes to Rabac.
Rabac (Ra-bats) is a beautiful beach town, with a winding road surrounded by lots of houses/apartments and restaurants.
Yes, the walk down from our apartment to the beach involved a lot of stairs, but the best part about the hills is the view!
Rabac is the perfect destination for a break from the city. After Pula and before Rovinj, it was nice to have nothing but a lovely studio with a beautiful view, surrounded by amazing beaches, mountains and the sea. Bliss!
You can also go on excursions to Cres (Tsresh) Island, Rovinj and even Venice. There were plenty of boat trips and hiking routes. Other than going for a run one morning along the promenade, we pretty much chilled on the beach for our entire stay!
If you walk around the bend there is a new Valamar Resort which own many new bars and restaurants. It's really high quality but expensive as they are chain owned - not sure how good this is for the environment/local economy though..I'm always quite cautious of hotel chains as I very much like to support the local communities and economy when visiting a destination.
For veggies, check out 'Craft Beer & Grill'. A good veggie burger is hard to come by in Croatia, and it was one of the best I've ever had!
To be perfectly honest with you, Rabac and it's beaches reminded me of Croatia before the tourism boom - undisturbed with a local feel. Aside from the new resort, which actually has a really simple design and is not ugly to look at or high rising, the beaches are kept very clean and also are open to all of the public. The water is the classic Adriatic blue, which when you see, you just know it belongs to Croatia. We were really gutted to leave Rabac as it was so peaceful and relaxing. One short visit was enough to have us already discussing when we will return.
Cheers to you Rabac!
On our last day, our Airbnb host kindly offered to drop us off in Labin a few hours before our coach to Rovinj so it was a perfect opportunity to explore the Old Town. It was so quiet and small but amazingly beautiful and charming. It reminded me of Burano.
Rovinj (Roh-vin) was just under a 2 hour journey from Labin and we actually passed through Pula on our way. It was a perfect day to travel - overcast and a bit of rain.
Rovinj was an absolute beauty. It reminded me of Venice and Korčula. Being so close to Italy, the food is highly influenced and we most definitely had the very best food of our trip here!
The way I like to explore a new place is waking up before the majority.. that's 7am, and go for a morning walk. There is hardly anyone around, it's super peaceful and not to mention, morning light is great for photos. This helps us to familiarise ourselves with a new area.
I could walk for hours through the Old Town - everywhere I turned to look was magical
Can you spot the 5 cats in this shot? For all you cat lovers, Rovinj is the place to be!
I'm wearing my new Sir the label Gracie mini dress - shop for it here
We stayed in a room with no kitchen so were forced to eat out. For breakfast we would go to the local bakery Mlinar and pick up a vanilla and cherry pastry mmmm. My other favourite traditional food in Croatia is Burek. You can have spinach, cheese or meat and eat with a yoghurt drink.
We were only in Rovinj for 2 nights but were in the best location, above a travel agency (planet), so if we ever had any questions there was always someone who could help! The apartment was located in the heart of the Old Town, in the midst of all the cobble streets and alleyways..and can you believe.. it also had a sea view!
Segutra was a restaurant we passed one evening and thought.. wow this looks legit! The next morning, we booked a table for dinner and were not disappointed. If you are ever in Rovinj, go here! It's classic, traditional and absolutely delicious with a nice atmosphere, tucked away in the beautiful streets of Rovinj. They have tapas, so i decided to swap my blitva (traditional side dish of kale, boiled potatoes, garlic and olive oil) for patatas bravas and had the grilled seabass. Cameron went for the grilled squid. We were both super pleased with this choice, especially as it was our last meal in Croatia (this year anyways!)
After hearing from a few people "Istria is not as nice as Dalmatia", "The beaches are way better in Dalmatia" etc.. We were pleasantly surprised and I would highly recommend all of the places we visited. I would have loved to explore more! Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or suggestions of where else to go in Istria for our next visit!
Thank you so much for reading, I hope you were inspired.