Pula (in Croatian) or Pola (in Italian) is the largest city on the Istria peninsula. And if the abundance of holiday and budget airlines flying in is anything to go by, it’s the most popular vacation destination too.
There is a distinct Italian feel to the Istria Peninsula, lying at the north-western edge of Croatia. For good reason too, because Roman, Venetian and Italian occupation dominate the region’s history.
The multitude of Roman buildings in the city are a shining example of its popularity in ancient Roman times too. In fact, Pula boasts one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world. The Pula Arena is one of the six largest surviving arenas, and quite a sight to behold also. Built between 27 BC – 68 AD, it’s the only one to have all four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders perfectly preserved.
Every week during the summer you can watch a re-enactment of the gladiator fights that took place here on a regular basis. The arena is open daily and entry is 50 Kuna (about 7 euros) for adults, 25 for children.
There is a wealth of other historic monuments to visit also. Check them out here.
Naturally being situated on a peninsula, Pula is surrounded by stunning beaches and coastline, and also the nearby Brioni (Brijuni) Islands. This group of fourteen islands sit in the Fažana Strait and are reputed to be so beautiful that Tito made them his personal State Summer Residence after World War 2 when Croatia became part of Yugoslavia.
Interestingly, prior to the 19th century the islands were just huge quarries. For a long time they belonged to the Venetians who used stone from the islands to build the palaces and bridges of Venice. In 1815, when Croatia was under the rule of the Austrian Empire, they shipped much of it to Berlin and Vienna.
The Austro-Hungarian Navy built the first fortress on Veli Brijuni Island. This went on to become a large naval base for submarines and hydroplanes, and formed a line of defence in the Fažana Channel.
The first time the islands became a resort was when the Viennese businessman Paul Kupelwieser bought the whole archipelago. He then created an exclusive beach resort. Since then the islands have become one of the most popular luxury holiday resorts in Croatia.
Today the country has designated the islands a National Park. Almost every beach north and south of Pula offer boats trips for visitors. An interesting place to visit is the old lighthouse at Cape Peneda at the end of Veli Brijuni. It’s an unusual structure with quadrangle stone tower and building with ground floor and first floor with an area of 160 m2 in total.
Hydroplane base turned beach resort
In 1915 they moved hydroplane base to the mainland on a stretch known as Puntižela.
Recently, the local authorities have turned Puntižela into a brand new beach resort. It’s a great place for families. The local municipality has built artificial beaches with small stones. There are disabled swimming access points and other facilities such as a floating inflatable playground for children. And you get a great view across the Brijuni Islands. Currently car parking is free, and you can still see the old rails that were once used to transport the hydroplanes in and out of the water.
If you like camping, then the nearby Camping Brioni is a good choice. Otherwise there are plenty of hotels and apartments for rent around the area.
Fažana (great place for seafood)
Just north of Puntižela is the lovely seaside town of Fažana. Naturally as fishing has always been the main industry here, it’s a great place to eat out for seafood lovers. There are many restaurants along the seafront, which of course are a little more expensive, but the food is excellent and not overpriced. Head into the village a bit and you’ll find some cheaper options.
In the main square on the waterfront you’ll find the parish church of St Kuzma and Damjan. It’s a lovely gothic church with baroque elements built in. The parish square is also host to many events and live music.
South of the city lies the beautiful Verudela Peninsula. Although sprawling with hotels and holiday resorts, lovely pine trees line the coastal path and is great for a morning or evening stroll. The rocky ledges are perfect for sitting in the evening and watching the sunset over the Brioni Islands.