It is several years since I last visited the peninsula of Istria in Croatia. Then, I was enchanted by the natural beauty of its rugged coastline but I struggled to find a hotel where I would like to stay. Most of the accommodation was drab, old fashioned and inconveniently placed in relation to the sea. It is a different story now. Istria is ready to seriously challenge the more established sun holiday destinations such as the Costa del Sol in Spain.
Accommodation in Umag in Istria
During a week-long stay in Istria I was based in Umag, in north Istria, at the Sol Umag a four star hotel on the sea front. The position was perfect. It was right on the beach. Guests could choose to sit in full sun shine on the large open patio by the water or sit in the shade of the trees between the hotel and the sea. Facilities included both indoor and outdoor pools, a daily entertainment programme and indoor and outdoor bars. The Sol Umag is one of several similar hotels along this stretch of coastline all offering comfortable accommodation and good facilities including spas and well-being centres.
Idleness does not suit me and it was not long before I set off to explore my environment. I followed a path along the sea front. As I walked I discovered that the area offers a large variety of accommodation. The luxury Istrian Villas enjoy an exclusive location on their own peninsula. Each villa is set in its own garden. Those on the sea front have a private access to the sea. Further along the coast, in complete contrast, are a string of campsites situated in the woods that fringe this coastline. The campsites here include the large Park Umag Euro campsite with great facilities for families. Naturists http://www.istracamping.com are also catered for with their own campsite and beach.
For those who seek unusual accommodation there are apartments to rent in the garden that surrounds the lighthouse on Cape Savudrija. This lighthouse has a history. Built in 1818 it is the oldest lighthouse on the Adriatic and also the most northern Croatian lighthouse. There is even a legend relating to its construction. It was built by Count Metenich for a beautiful Croation noble woman he met and fell in love with at a Vienese ball. But they never lived there together. The noble woman died on the day the lighthouse was finished. The Count never visited the lighthouse again.
Facilities in Umag in Istria
On my daily walks I discovered numerous facilities for visitors to this area. Beaches, of course, rate very highly for sun seekers and Istria has many secluded coves along its rocky coastline and several large sandy beaches. There are plenty of opportunities to gain access to the sea from small jetties jutting out beyond the rocks or steps constructed for the purpose. The most popular beaches have showers and changing booths. I would often stop to watch children and adults alike having fun on the large inflatables in the sea. The best ones are in the natural lake near the Sol Melia resort.
I also regularly used the tourist train, a very popular attraction with everyone who visits the area. This train runs from Umag town centre to Station Polynesia by the Katoro beach. It costs 20 Kuna per journey (half price for children). The timetables are displayed on the Information Kiosks placed at regular intervals along the route of this train. The train does not only stop at the kiosks as there are other stops in between them. There are restaurants everywhere catering for all tastes and all pockets. I enjoyed the extensive buffet in my hotel but it would have been nice to enjoy a coffee and croissant at one of the beach side cafés some mornings.
Activities around Umag in Istria
Umag is famous as the host of an annual ATP tennis tournament with the result that tennis is a favourite activity here. The town has a large tennis academy and most hotels in the area feature clay courts. Water sports also rate high on the list of popular activities. Small yachts skim the waves, canoeists explore the many bays and paddle boarders float serenely on the surface of calmer waters. A plethora of cycle paths and trials has resulted in the increasing popularity of cycling in the region. Visitors ‘borrow’ a bike for an hour from the bike stands along the front and in the town. Real enthusiasts can hire bikes to follow the trails that extend into the hinterland and as far as the neighbouring country of Slovenia. But don’t forget your passport! For families and friends who want some fun on a bike four wheelers are also available to hire.
Sight-seers will find this area very interesting. Its history goes back to the Roman Empire. Roman noblemen built holiday villas along this coastline and the remains of some of them can still be seen around the Katoro beach. It is fascinating to wander through the narrow streets of the old town of Umag. The original settlement was built on an island which eventually expanded to form a small peninsula. Evidence of the town’s former splendour as part of the Venetian Republic is present in old Venetian houses. Sections of the Medieval walls are still standing and the old defensive towers have been incorporated into residential buildings.
Lavender is grown in the fields around the town and its products make a good souvenir from one of the little shops in the old town. Shops displaying local crafts and offering tasting of local produce, especially olive oils are another attraction. And, of course, there is always the weekly market on a Wednesday.
Excursions from Umag in Istria
Istria is home to several interesting towns all steeped in history and local agencies, in particular the Istria Experience, offer excursions on land and sea to visit them, icluding some of Croatia’s amazing islands. Porec and Rovinj are the most popular towns to visit along this coastline. Pula boasts a two-hundred- year old hotel and a Roman amphitheatre. As I discovered, local taxi drivers are happy to take you on a quick tour on your way to the airport or ferry port. Local taxis run on a meter so if you are tempted by this offer make sure you agree a set price first. Istria is very close to Slovenia and trips to its capital, Ljubljana, its Postojna caves and its famous Lipica horses are also available. And who can resist a trip to Venice? Even if you have been there before. A catamaran will whisk you from the shores of Istria to the canals of Venice. Guides on board will entertain you with a history of the city and advise you how best to take advantage of your six hours in the city. And how to get back to the ferry port on time.
Although I am a great advocate of public transport I soon discovered it is not easy to get around Istria from Umag. The bus station is on the edge of the town and buses are infrequent and not very reliable. Taxis are expensive and most run on metres so it is a good idea to negotiate a fixed price first.
Would I go back to Istria? Definitely. I enjoyed everything about it. The scenery, the ambience, the cuisine – everything it has to offer.