Handsome headquarters: A guide to Pula
The perfect starting point for exploring Istria, this pretty port boasts great food, beaches and an amphitheatre
Dangling off Croatia's northern coastline near Italy, the heart-shaped Istrian Peninsula supplements its sun-soaked shores with hilltop villages and gobsmacking Roman remains. Pula is the gateway: an ideal base and attractive port town in one. And new flights – from Stansted with Jet2.com and from Heathrow with British Airways – have made getting there easier than ever.
Where to stay
Lovely as it is, Pula's also busy and commercial, so stay just outside. The boutique Valsabbion hotel has stark modern architecture and rooms filled with designer furniture to accompany its sea-facing sun terraces, heated pool and medi-spa. Hire a car, and then you see all the sights – noting dual-Italian and Croatian road signs – in between lazy, mostly horizontal days.
What to see
Istria’s standout sight is in Pula itself: a marvellously well-preserved, white-stone Roman amphitheatre built two millennia ago. Today it's used for concerts and film screenings. Served by ferries from nearby Fazana are the Brijuni Islands, where dinosaur footprints, swimming spots, a safari park with elephants and a villa where Tito once entertained Elizabeth Taylor all vie for attention.
Where to go
Inland, the peninsula is a bucolic dream of olive groves and quietude. Best of all are the red-tiled hilltop villages and truffle-dotted forests. Motovun and its ramparts have the finest views, while Visnjan is known for excellent wine and Groznjan for art galleries and studios.
What to do
Many beaches here are pebbly, but some sandy gems await. Take Bijeca, six miles south of Pula, which has excellent facilities and volleyball courts. Look out too for other attractive coastal towns like Rovinj and Porec, and the 19th-century fort of Punta Christo, where Outlook and Dimensions music festivals are held each year.
Where to eat
Pula's best restaurant is Farabuto, located in a residential area. Slow cooking, seafood and South Istrian cuisine are the specialties here: so order homemade bread and some local malvasia, then choose some grilled greater amberjack or the ‘catch of the day’, plus artfully prepared vegetables. Dark-chocolate mousse with red wine headlines the dessert menu.