As British Airways website announces its new routes, we’re delighted that Pula airport is one of them, making the north west region of Croatia – Istria – accessible directly via Heathrow at last.
With the news of these flights starting next year, we’re giving new travellers to both Pula and Istria our list of recommendations for places to visit, in 2 instalments. In our 2nd post we will include our favourite more “off the beaten track” places and venues; never ones to follow in the footsteps of the usual suspects, these are places that we go for great gastronomy (on various levels), atmosphere, wonderful wines and passionate people.
First off though, here’s our quick guide to arriving in Pula / Istria for those who have yet to step on Istrian soil.
1. Remember that whilst Croatia is now in the EU (from 1 July 2013), you still need to pay in Croatian currency – the Kuna. If you remember the French franc it’s a very similar system, with between 8 to 10 Kuna to the pound depending on the UK£ strength, and as the kuna is pegged to the euro, if you’re coming from Britain you’ll usually find it’s better to pay in kuna. However, you can pay in euros in most restaurants and they’ll happily work out the exchange rate for you.
2. We find the best exchange rate on UK£ to Kuna at the nearest branch of any local bank; try the Istarska Kreditna Banka for instance, although it’s usually cheaper to purchase your holiday money before you leave home (but definitely not at the airport!).
3. Renting a car is easy too – Hertz, Avis, Budget, Sixt and Europcar can all be found in the arrivals hall and there are lots of local hire firms too. Any comparison site will give you the best deal. We tend to stick with Europcar just because we use them in other countries and find their rates competitive.
4. If you don’t want to hire a car there are several options. A taxi from Pula airport to the city centre will cost around 120 kuna and should take about 20 to 30 minutes. The taxi rank is just outside the terminal (the terminal is so small we don’t need to give you directions, you should find it without a hitch!) – or book in advance through their website. It’s a good way of getting to the city centre without a hitch.
5. Once you get to a major bus station, there is a pretty good coach system that stretches across Istria linking almost every town (even some of the more remote ones!) so it’s worth familiarising yourself with it if you don’t want to hire a car. A shuttle bus system connects Pula airport with various hotel complexes as well as the central coach station at Pula, and some of the more major towns (Rovinj, Novigrad and Umag for instance). The link from the airport website is here.
1. There’s a wealth of hotels to opt for depending on your budget. Personally, we like the homeliness and central location of Hotel Amfiteatar beside Pula’s Roman amphitheatre. We’ve written about this hotel in a previous piece on our Blog, but suffice to say it’s a great place to get your bearings. Local celebrity chef Deniz Zembo cooks up a terrific meal here in the hotel restaurant too, and with its proximity to the old Roman sites around Pula you will have so much to visit in a weekend you won’t stop for breath!
2. Pula Food Market is a ‘must visit’ for anyone who loves gastronomy. We adore strolling among the fish stalls, seeing the catch of the day. The cheese man, a character well known to us as we see him at so many of the food festivals we visit, has some of the best local cheeses we have bought and is well worth a trip too; he’s outside with the fruit and veg sellers (based on our last visit, things may change of course).
3. Restaurants in Pula? There are so many and again, dependent on price and quality or value for money. Try Kantina at Flanatichka Ulica 16, for something upmarket. For a pizza sitting outside with a carafe of local plonk the Pompei has no pretension, find it at Danteov Trg; or the Jupiter (at Castropola 42) complete with large terrace and a recommended dessert of pancakes with walnuts. If you go to the market try one of the small stalls surrounding it for some takeaway burek or cevapcici and eat on the hoof.
4. Café life in Pula? Sit outside the Enoteca Istriana (address: Forum 11!) in the main square, one of the lesser known bars. We favour this one because of the quality of the wine – they serve Geržinić Vina here which is a must for lovers of really great wines, like us. We’ll put quality over watching the wonderful people every time!
5. The Amphitheatre. Yes, it’s a tourist attraction but in order to get a feel for why the Romans deemed the produce in Istria – wine, olives, olive oil – so good within their Empire that they exported it across the rest of the Roman Empire, the underground museum will give you a detailed explanation and help you understand just how important oil and wine are, still, to the Istrians. And let’s face it, if you go in the summer you might catch Sting or Elton John doing a gig there in the open air, under the stars.
We could keep going with tips on where to go just outside Pula if you hire a car but don’t want to go too far – Medulin, Fazana, Vižinada to name a few. And if you hit the right weekend there’s a film festival, music festivals on the beaches, or just a leisurely ferry trip to the Brijuni Islands during the summer. So much to explore, so much to do, take life as you find it, slow or fast, enjoy nightlife or beachlife, or wallow in archaeology and Roman artefacts. Whatever you choose, there really is something for everyone and we’d like to thank British Airways for bringing you one step nearer to Istria!
© Pacta Connect (UK) Ltd, November 2016