Croatian diaries – Part 2 – Rovinj and Pula
As you travel between Zagreb and Rovinj, the landscape becomes more forested and cooler. Closer to the Istria region and the coast, the climate is then more Mediterranean. Stop over at Restaurant Viking at Jelovnik which overlooks the only Fjord in Croatia. There is a mussel and oyster farm there as well.
• Check Trip Advisor for less touristy restaurants that offer better value and tasty food. When going out to eat with kids, try to go out earlier in the evening or make a booking, to ensure securing a table during the busy summer season. Try the meat or fish platters.
• If you have limited time in the Istria region – there is plenty to see and do in Rovinj. If you have more time, visit nearby Pula and the surrounding small villages.
• Try to stay near the old pedestrian town but you can also hire bikes and explore the surrounding area.
• Rovinj is such a picturesque place. Encourage children to write travel journals or take photographs of the area. There are so many photographic opportunities.
Things to do in Rovinj:
1. The baroque style Church of St. Euphemia is situated on top of the hill. It took eleven years to build and is the largest sacred building in the region of Istria. Try to visit it early in the morning as it is quite a climb and can be busy during the summer. We also had to wait for a service to finish in the church before we could explore it. Try to find out church service times. Climb the 60m high bell tower to see what became a Venetian stronghold against enemies, as well as an important fishing town. It has panoramic views of Rovinj where you can see coastal views, views of the luxurious hotels and beaches, the old town and the harbour. It is well worth with the climb of 200 wooden plank stairs, if you are feeling up to it! Older kids will enjoy the thrill of the climb and to take photos.
2. It is a shopping delight with many quaint streets, souvenirs, clothing, ice cream stands, art galleries, coffee bars and restaurants. There is also a market for fresh produce, souvenirs and handmade crafts.
3. Visit the pebbled, calm, warm sea beaches near the old town, below the luxurious hotels. There is even an inflatable water park on the sea, off one of these beaches . See the 5 star hotels which allow dogs to stay with their owners! Croatians seem to enjoy holidaying with their fury children. The Maestro group of resorts, hotels and campsites are pet friendly so that dogs can also enjoy the forests and beaches that the Istria region offers.
4. Behind the beaches is a forest called the Golden Cape Forest Park that the public can mountain bike, walk or hike in. The forest provides some shade to the beaches as well.
Things to do in Pula:
1. Pula is about 45 minutes from Rovinj. You will need transport such as Uber or private transport, preferably with a guide, to get there. On the way, stop at an outdoor museum called Kazun Park that demonstrates the Istrian method of building limestone shepherd huts. They served as protection for herders and farmers against the strong winds in the area. No cement was used and yet original such structures have stood the test of time and are dotted around the Istria region.
2. Pula dates back to prehistoric times and the town is known for its multitude of ancient roman buildings. A must see is the old Roman Arena constructed during the first century AD. It is the sixth largest amphitheatre in the world. It retains its complete circuit of walls and provides a good visual of its original size. Show your children pictures of amphitheatres and gladiators fighting each other and wild animals. Explain how this served as entertainment for 26, 000 spectators before the age of TV. The Pula arena had a lift, a snack bar and is one of the few arenas built with four towers, giving spectators access to the seats above. Below ground were tunnels and rooms where animals and gladiators awaited their deadly fights. It is used today for musical concerts and cultural events. Interestingly, stone has been taken over time to build other parts of the city or in Venice. Nevertheless it is still an impressive historical building.
3. Visit the fish and meat markets. Many city children don’t experience these type of markets and are more familiar with supermarkets. The fish market does smell and may not be great for some kids. But if they are game, show them the size of the big fish such as tuna and the great range of fresh fish.
4. See the old city walls and The Twin Gates. They were two city gates built next to each other – which allowed a greater volume of people to access the city when both were open – presumably for big events such as gladiator fights.
5. The Arch of the Sergeii is an ancient Roman triumphal arch dedicated to the Sergeii family for their brave efforts during The Battle of Actium in 27 BC. It was once covered in gold, statues and ornate decorations. What is interesting to note, is that the arch was commissioned by the wife of Lepidus of the Sergeii family and she even had her name engraved in the arch.
6. If you go late afternoon you may spot some dolphins in the bay harbour when it is more quiet. There are sunrise or sunset dolphin cruises on offer.
7. It is a university town and people can be seen facing the street and chatting over a cup of coffee in the restaurants and coffee shops. There are also many opportunities to browse and shop for curios, clothing and jewellery . The candy shops (available all over Croatia) display mouth watering sweets in wooden barrels and are always a hit with children.
8. Choose a wine and olive farm and do a tasting. Medea is well known for its olive oil and award winning wines. It was the first time that we had tried an olive oil tasting. There were blends of olive oils and virgin olive oils that could be sipped in small glasses.
9. Visit the old quiet hilltop town of Bale, near Pula. The town’s people are bi-lingual – Italian and Croatian, due to past invasions and so the town is also called Valle. It has quaint streets with old world charm. The historic buildings are adorned with wooden shutters, creepers and pot plants. The surrounding landscape of trees, hills and grass provide a quiet diversion from the touring crowds. The kids, armed with ice creams, were also captivated by its quaint old charm and enjoyed a slow meander of its streets. See the old well and Holy Spirit Church built in the 15th Century. It still has some remnants of colourful frescoes in its interior. The yellow colour was made from egg, the green colour from spinach and the red from sand. Interestingly, dinosaur fossils were found nearby and are kept in the town museum.