NOTE: This is a guest post by Maddy Smith.
Pula, Croatia may be the Istrian County’s largest city and a busy commercial hub on the coast, but the pace of life could easily trick you into thinking otherwise.
Strolling through the historic stonework of the city centre, the intense crowds that often haunt other Mediterranean coastal cities are nowhere in sight. The rustic buildings look as though they’ve been plucked from the Croatian or Italian countryside and haphazardly strung together in beautiful disarray.
Pula’s relaxed atmosphere leads to long, lazy days in the sunshine and evenings lounging with harbour-side cocktails. The beauty of Pula is that, no matter what your style of relaxation, you can do so with ease.
In the blur of deadlines, appointments, bills and the ever-growing to-do list back home, it’s common to get wrapped up in the commotion of the 9-5 grind and lose focus on the things that really matter. The endless barrage of tick-boxes and goals can all too easily infest their way into our daily rituals. The ‘simple’ things that I associated with everyday life were, in reality, burdens – unnecessary, frustrating and uninspiring. Ready to change my perspective, I drifted into ‘holiday mode’ and planned some self-care.
Stepping off of the plane I was met with the rush of hot air that energises you after the misery of the airline’s unpredictable air-con; the kind of warmth that suffocates you, swamps you, and makes your body feel indistinguishable from the thick surrounding air. I thought it would be impossible to switch off, but in truth, I didn’t even need to try.
Pula’s architecture, beautifully preserved history, cuisine, nature and culture left me refreshed and enthused with the sense of calm which I’d been fruitlessly searching for. Here are my top tips for a peaceful Croatian retreat…
Get back to nature
All along Croatia’s coastline, the gleaming Adriatic Sea laps against the shores. There are endless opportunities to explore the landscape, including by boat, walking along the harbour at sunset, kayaking, or even paddle boarding.
If your interests lie beneath the waves, the transparent waters are an ideal place for snorkelers and scuba divers eager to take the plunge into an underwater world.
Pula is also a strong base for day trips by boat, To the north at Brijuni National Park, you can spend time stumbling across Roman villas and dinosaur footprints from the Cretaceous Period. The protected Cape Kamenjak nature park is also within reach to the south of the city.
Chat to the locals
I can’t tell you why, but the hospitality I experienced in Pula was some of the friendliest and most helpful I’ve witnessed. Whether it be the hotel, restaurant staff or locals in the street, people cannot do enough for you. The whole city makes you feel completely at ease. Soaking up the chilled culture and surroundings is an activity in itself. Explore, discover and focus on the present.
Enjoy Pula’s unique cuisine
The city’s cuisine is a combination of Croatian and hints of Italian, and it is amazing! The Istrian County was part of Italy until 1947, so it’s reflected in the cuisine where pizza and pasta dishes are common. The harbour is a major fishing port so seafood is also present on most menus.
The restaurants in the city centre are aimed at tourists, so for cheaper and more authentic grub head to the outskirts or to the local markets.
Get lost in ancient history and architecture
Pula proudly houses one of the world’s best preserved Roman amphitheatres outside of Italy. The white stone structure, located in the centre of Pula, is the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and all three Roman architectural order entirely preserved.
Constructed in 27 BC – 68 AD, it is one of the last six surviving Roman arenas in the world and is also the best preserved ancient monument in Croatia.
Or, if your idea of relaxation includes partying and festivals, the amphitheatre doubles as a gig venue during the summer months.