The Istrian Province of Croatia is one of the most exquisite and picturesque places I have had the pleasure of visiting. The scenery will leave you quite breathless and the people are friendly, helpful, immensely proud of their country, and only too delighted to expound on its merits to us foreigners. Indeed, if the Irish are happy that Pula is one of the newest Ryanair destinations, the Croatians are ecstatic.
My first impressions of Pula, I would have to say, were rather subdued. Although, very Italian, it doesn't have the grandeur of Rome, the culture of Florence or the wonder of Venice. Yet, on further exploration, it emerged as a rather nice city with its own distinct charm and quaintness.
Most of its historical and cultural sights are situated within a 1-kilometre radius of each other. Beginning with the Arch of Sergii and ending up at Pula's marvelously preserved Amphitheatre, one can walk from one to the other with relative ease.
We, being Irish, began with coffee at the Hotel Ulysses, adjacent to the Arch of Sergii — well we would, wouldn't we? James Joyce lived in Pula for about 6 months and taught English here. He certainly seems to have made a lasting impression in a very short time! I had my photo taken seated on the great mans lap — and not the first either, I have no doubt. This seems to be a rather popular pastime with visitors. Coffee by the way was remarkably reasonable despite being right in the tourist area.
From there we moved on to Hercules gate and just down
the road. The Twin Gates, built in the first and second centuries respectively,
making Hercules Gate the oldest roman monument in the city. Then on
to the Roman Theatre, where among the ancient ruins you experience a
strange silence; no sounds of the city to be heard here, only the singing
of the birds and the occasional small sound of the many shy green lizards
scurrying in and out beneath these aged roman stones.
The citizens of Pula seem to be very interested in gardening and vegetables, and on the 10 minute walk into the city, there are numerous allotments, sporting all kinds of vegetables and flowers; people can be seen working at all hours of the day and into the night. We were told that most of the food in the Restaurants is organic. Food and drink are relatively cheap in the city, but clothing seems to be pretty much the same as Dublin, both in style and cost. But footwear — now there's where Pula comes into its own ladies — do not return home without purchasing at least one pair of shoes from the wonderfully different collections all over the city. Almost every second shop is a shoe shop, and if you think you've seen them all then think again and visit each one: they all have slightly different collections. Jewellery is another biggie here — based on shells and shell designs — a lot of mother of pearl and murano glass — attractive — and again, I say, different to anything I have seen at home.
One of the biggest advantages of Pula is that it is so
close to so many other beautiful spots along the Istrian coast —
like Rovinj — and public transport is easily accessible and comparatively
cheap. Plus it gives the visitor a chance to see more of Croatia, even
on a short sojourn.
The climb to the top of the Bell Tower is not for the faint hearted with its narrow, aged-damaged steps; it appeared decidedly dangerous and definitely would have been closed down on health and safety grounds in Ireland. But for those that make the climb, the sights are both spectacular and unforgettable. Gazing from a height at the bluer-than-blue Adriatic, the many tiny boats and ships look like tiny diamonds scattered on a blue velvet cushion.
Trust me and do put Rovinj on your list of places to see.
Just up the coast from Rovinj is another lovely fishing
town with a beautiful marina called Porec. It is slightly more commercialized
than Rovinj, and a little less quaint, maybe, but only very little less.
Its marvelous marina is a haven of cafés and restaurants and
jewellery stalls sporting pieces of all descriptions and sizes. You
do not get the feeling of being ripped-off in Croatia and the people
at the stalls, whilst being extremely helpful, are not overpowering
A little train will take you on a tour of the island, and all of this plus a guided tour is included in the reasonable price you pay on the boat. Once again, extremely good value, even if only for the boat trip alone. It leaves from the harbour in Pula and it takes approximately 45 minutes to get to Brijini — and the scenery itself is worth the cost.
The Island has a small animal reserve with deer, zebras, ostrichs and two very distressed and bored elephants. I didn’t like this part of the tour at all. The animals didn’t look happy and it was upsetting to see them.
Our Tour Guide was extremely well informed and had perfect English and was more than eager to answer questions; the tour itself was well organized. In truth, this trip couldn’t be faulted and is another must on your agenda.
In conclusion I was most impressed with my first excursion to what was once called Yugoslavia and would have no hesitation recommending Pula as a city break; but rather, I would suggest you might just fly into Pula and stay in Rovinj or on Brijini. The Island has two lovely hotels and the cost per night is far from exorbitant.
The sights of Pula — although lovely — can be seen on a day-trip, but the magic and charm of Rovinj, Brijini, or even Porec, deserve to be slowly sampled, savoured, and most definitely shared; they all have a seraphic beauty and are truly sublime and serene places.