Sightseeing in Croatia is like falling in love at first sight. I have visited most of the islands, bigger cities, mountains in the past, but apparently, I have never had a chance to explore Istria. That’s why I decided to choose Pula as a city for my Erasmus+ program. Before the whole Coronavirus situation began, I had an excellent opportunity to visit most of the Istria, it was easy because back then I didn’t have any lessons, so I could focus of fulfilling my dreams and sightseeing. I am the one who is constantly on the run, I was never the one who spent holidays only sunbathing. Because of that in three weeks since I came to Pula, I was able to witness extraordinary places, landscapes, eat tasty dishes. I wanted to go back to that time and simply write some kind of a guide, but also include my personal memories, opinions and recommendations. So, here we go.
What is worth seeing in Istria?
This county is full of little cities that are for sure worth visiting. I tend to like places where I can walk alone and there are not too much people.
Let's begin with Pula, the city I study in. This place hides a wonderful story of the past, a lot of buildings are here since ages. I can tell you how I learnt this city, what places do I recommend to visit in the city center, but also outside Pula. Before my arrival, I didn’t look up how this city looks like, I wanted to surprise myself the day I arrive. And it happened.
The first day I woke up in the morning and realized that I have to do something, in case I won't have any lessons for some time. I went for a walk, that began from Arch of the Segrii, which used to be a gate opening the borders of a city. Its history starts around 27 BC. It is a triumphal arch and was dedicated to Segrii family. Next stop was the Forum, the main square of the city, where you can drink an amazing cappuccino, looking at the Temple of Augustus, and in that place, you can easily sense the ancient roots of Pula. After I drank my beverage, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of an old man, who was feeding the pigeons, which adorably climbed at him. After that I went to the Castle Kastel, the old fortress built by the Venetians. Honestly, I didn’t plan my trip, I just have been going down the city and because of that I discovered stunning sites. When I got there, I walked around the whole building (everywhere I saw a landscape which perfectly described the uniqueness of this city). There is a tower that you can climb at and see extraordinary views, for me the most beautiful panorama of Pula. The sign that you go there at your own risk shouldn’t scare you, as I went there on a windy day and a building didn’t collapsed (lucky for me I guess). And there was a time for the icing on a cake, which is Pula Arena, an amphitheater, the biggest attraction of Pula. The Arena is the only remaining Roman amphitheater to have four side towers and with all three Roman Architectual orders entirely preserved. It was constructed in 27 BC – 68 AD. For me the ticket is pretty expensive, but great value for money.
Outside Pula I discovered one of the most extraordinary locations I have ever seen, which is Cape Kamenjak in Premantura and the place called lonely beach& rocks. For me it’s the view that you shouldn’t miss. You can get there by bus and then have to walk a little bit, as it is in the whole Istria, but the experience is remarkable.
Rovinj, Novigrad, Poreč
You can enjoy the beauty of little cities, with colorful townhouses, chapels (which are in every city and in most of them are the center of it all). Also, almost every little city has its own beaches, which are admirable especially when it is close to sunset. I can recommend places I have been to, which are Rovinj, Novigrad and Poreč. They may look similar, but every one of them presents its own vibes, uniqueness and magnificence. I want to say that it is mandatory for a traveler to try out seafood specials in Istria, for example risotto or the Frutti di mare pizza. These dishes are scrumptious.
In memory of the war.
Now I will tell you about a trip that I had, which I planned only at a glance, but it turned out unexpectedly. I just picked a random place from Google Maps and decided that I want to get there. This place was Fort Punta Christo. I started from my apartment in the center of Pula, walked alongside the coast. There I found an incredible spot, which was some kind of an abandoned auto shop, the whole place was decorated with graffiti, apparently created by locals. I just have been walking forward and then some sign grabbed my attention. It just said “Munida”- since there was no other road, I decided to follow this path. I walked to the Munida, which turned out to be a Fort, which origins are in the 1500s. Well, this place was extraordinary. It is a remarkable experience, being able to notice all these ruins from the war. I can truly understand now why people in Istria respect and admire the beauty of their peninsula so much. But it wasn’t the end of following the path of the past. Well, this wasn’t the only fort on this route, I witnessed a few more, inter alia: Obalna Bitnica Valmaggiore, Fort Monte Grosso and finally, I got to Fort Punta Christo (the enormous one, it really took my breath away.) At the end of the trip (and after a ten-kilometer walk) I got to the Punta Christo Lighthouse and Puntizela Bridge, at which you cannot get in because the bridge does not have several rungs (at least). It truly was one of the most amazing trips, because I discovered all of these places by chance. It is a good way to explore Istria in my view- just think of one place that you want to visit, then go off track, take a risk. It is a wonderful opportunity to experience indescribable views.
The smallest city and the highest peak.
I have two more places that I definitely recommend visiting. And two of them are connected to the term that makes them “the best”. First, there is Hum, the smallest town in the world. You can get there easily by train from Pula. But don’t fool yourself- you would have to walk around two hours from the train station called “Hum u Istrii” to the center of the greatest city in my opinion, which is Hum. In 2011 only 30 people lived there. This town has only one main street, the castle, there is only one shop, where you can buy local products (as truffles, rakija and regional Istrian beer, definitely worth trying out). The city has its own charm in my view and its calmness is a huge advantage.
And now we can skip to the thing I enjoy and admire the most here, which is nature and its greatness. You can enjoy everything there, from the sea of course, to the lakes, mountains, waterfalls. And you can get everywhere by car, but me as a person who has no car in here, I will be speaking about how you can easily get to the amazing spots if only you have some money and free time. In Istria there is the trial of 7 waterfalls, which is for sure worth visiting, I sightsaw only one, which is Kotli waterfall. I walked there from Hum (around 1.5 hour of walk). You can truly realize the beauty of nature there. Kotli is a unique city, there is no shop, most restaurants are closed because in March there is no summer season in Istria and many attractions are closed. In that kind of places, time stops. There is a pro-tip for these trips out of season- you have to equip yourself with some food and drinks, because there can be a situation when you won't have a chance to visit a shop. And it can be really bad and dangerous for your health.
And now I will move on to the place that for me is not for everybody to visit. This place is technically not in Istria county, but you can easily get there from Pula and cities that are in Istria. I am speaking of the highest peak near Istria, which is Vojak. I started from the Pula, drove by bus to the lovely little city called Lovran- a place on the way to Rijeka. From this city there are trails that will lead you to the top. According to Google Maps the trip lasts 3 hours, but I walked something around 5, because you have to remember to hydrate yourself, eat something with sugar to get the energy, and a bigger meal (it is important because the road is long, it is a few kilometers but the higher you climb, the harder it gets and you for sure will need energy to do that). But the views are amazing. The top is at 1400 m height. From there, if there is a good visibility, you can see the whole Rijeka and all the towns around, even the smallest ones, also the national park where the mountain is located.
Although I want to tell you that Vojak is not for everyone, it can be hard to climb from 27 m to the 1400 m above sea level. And for sure from every other mountain the views are great too, so in case you do not feel strong enough to get to the highest peak, it is okay to enjoy trekking while climbing another mountain. The point is to try it, because Istria is not only lowlands, but also highlands, that are amazing, especially now when it's cold and you have no chance to swim in the Mediterranean Sea.
It is a crucial aspect that you can everywhere by bus (well, almost) but there are extraordinary places that you can visit there this way. Just choose, where do you think you would love to go, buy a ticket and prepare yourself for unexpected yet marvelous adventures!
Visit the photo gallery: Aleksandra Iga Misztalska - Istria travelogue