Southern Istria, Croatia – Roman, Italian and Yugoslavian heritage

Hidden away at the top of the Adriatic is Istria, an almost triangular peninsula with a long and fascinating history. The Romans built one of their greatest amphitheatres there, still largely intact externally. Italy dominated the area for centuries until after the Second World War when Istria became part of Yugoslavia (it is now part of Croatia).

Although not on the usual short break agenda, this region is very well worth visiting, as I found out. Some areas on the west coast now have large holiday hotels, but much of the southern tip of Istria has quiet unspoiled villages and towns.

When I took a short break there at the end of September, the weather was pretty perfect for me (about 20-24 degrees and sunny) and there were relatively few tourists around compared with mid-summer – once again showing the advantage of being a Senior with less limitations on when you travel.

Fažana harbour
Fažana harbour

You can fly by Jet2 to Pula, the main city in the south of Istria, from Glasgow, Leeds-Bradford, Newcastle and Manchester for about £100-150 return. I used Auto Europe for car hire and was pleased to note the prices in September were about half what you would have had to pay in July or August.

Accommodation is plentiful and cheap at that time of year with the little fishing village of Fažana, about 8 km from Pula, offering both spacious apartments and many sea-front restaurants.

The roads were relatively quiet although my sat-nav didn’t show much detail in this area resulting in my driving down some unpaved tracks around the coastline and up in the hills – nevertheless these routes were very scenic!

The Roman amphitheatre in Pula
The Roman amphitheatre in Pula

My five highlights were relatively easy to choose.

  1. The central part of Pula with the massive amphitheatre and nearby a group of other classical and medieval sights.
  2. The quiet fishing village of Fažana where I stayed, enjoyed some excellent meals and watched some spectacular sunsets.
  3. A ferry trip from Fažana to the island of Veli Brijun, where President Tito used to entertain his many international guests including Queen Elizabeth II, Ho Chi Minh and Sophia Loren. The small zoo there contains animals that were donated to him by world leaders and there are some well-kept gardens in the middle of the island, plus a Tito museum with many photographs on display and outside his Cadillac, a gift from President Eisenhower.

    Hilltop village of Bale
    Hilltop village of Bale
  4. The small town of Vodnjan with a maze of alleyways around a main square. In St Blaise’s Church there is a strange collection of mummified remains of various saints. We had to ask the locals – who seemed to be Italian speaking – to call the caretaker to open the church for us.
  5. The hilltop village of Bale, largely abandoned by its Italian population in 1945, with houses built in a defensive circle around the impressive Soardo-Bembo Palace. There’s a plaque to Casanova, reputedly a regular visitor to Bale.

For a short break that is a bit out of the ordinary, Southern Istria has much to offer with fascinating historical sites and attractive coastline. And of course much quieter, and cheaper, if out of season, whether in the Autumn when I visited or in Springtime.