Umag is the first city you’ll reach when approaching the Croatian Istria peninsula from the West, so it’s basically the gateway from Europe to the Adriatic coast. Anyone who’s into history will definitely love it here. You can still see preserved town walls and towers, as well as baroque and renaissance churches and buildings all around the town dating back to the Roman Empire. The glow, luxury and glamour of those times is mirrored in the Venetian houses located in the old Umag core. The city’s got several particular historical sites, too, such as St. Mary church (from the 15th century, adorned with frescoes), church of the Assumpion of the Virgin Mary and St. Pelegrio (built in 1507, after the apparition of the plague) or Villa Tiola, with the Roman spa decorated with mosaics and piers jutting right to the sea.
But that’s by far not everything the town’s got to offer, there’s much more to admire! Some of the most beautiful beaches of Istra are hidden around its northwestern part. Discovering Laguna Stella Maris or Katoro beach located only 3 km away from the Umag city centre, surrounded by pine trees, by bike is an amazing way how to spend not-so-hot mornings! Sol Polynesia, which is a combination of stone and sand, Aurora or Kanegra, another beaches situated on the path from Umag to the norther located Savudrija, also offer interesting sport activities, such as parasailing, diving, kite surfing, wind surfing, jet skiing etc. All the beaches are accessible by the touristic train, the so-called vlakić, which begins it journey every half an hour by the main Umag marina and ends it at the very end of the Katoro resort. All the beaches (except the one right by the city marina) have been awarded the Blue flag, an international symbol of sea clarity and beach adaptations.
I realise it’s not straight and I’m sorry for that, but I ain’t got a better photo of the local sunset and you know I’m against editing photos.
Doesn’t the word “Umag” evoke something in you? Like as if you’ve already heard it before? Somewhere…hmm…in the sport channel on TV? Istria is known for its 430 tennis courts, some opened throughout the year. ATP Croatia Open is one of the most attractive international tennis tournaments and the oldest one in Croatia with the tradition of 28 years. It’s held each July on ATP Stadium in Umag. Therefore, other tennis courts are a great choice as well, to help you feel like the best players seen on the ATP Stadium.
Rich sports offer, exceptionally esteemed authentic gastronomy, as well as wine and olive roads contribute to the attraction of this tiny city. Active vacation enthusiasts will find whatever they want in Umag, because it is, as you can see, definitely a town of tourism and sports. Except the water sports already mentioned before, you can also enjoy tennis, football, little football, cycling, Nordic walking, walking, hunting, bowling, beach volleyball, basketball and numerous other activities.
Truffles, pasta, ravioli, fuži, pršut, sea food, olive oil and great wines, especially the unique Istrian Malvasia, are only some of the great specialties to try while staying on Istra peninsula. With a beautiful view over the sea, it is one of the most magical experience to have possible. You can try those dishes in the following restaurants and taverns: Badi Seafood Restaurant, located in Lovrecica near Umag, which offers great seafood dishes; Buscina Restaurant offers domestic Istrian cuisine including meat and fish or Vila Viola, an exclusive Mediterranean restaurant, famous for its meat and fish specialities, located in nearby town of Savudrija, which is part of Umag municipality. Or if you fancy something quick and simple, the waterfront has got plenty of small bistros, pizza places, caffe bars, cake shops and ice cream parlours for a quick bite or for a leisure coffee & cake whilst watching the world pass by.
Where to stay?
I stayed in the Sol Polynesia resort for 8 days with my family. Except the crowds of people everywhere and non-existent air conditioning (we’ve got 40°C+ the whole week, otherwise it should be fine) was our residence totally great! Food (half-board) was amazing, there was a wide choice of meals (also a vegan choice which really surprised me, I was more than happy to see soya, oat and almond milk there every day at the breakfast! I’m not vegan, but I can’t have dairy – just so you know, if you’d be curious 😀 ), and also examples of the local cuisine each dinner! It’s definitely a great option for families with kids, you’ve even got a kid club here offering diverse activities throughout the whole day. I’ll rate it 8/10, just because I feel claustrophobic with such an amount of people in a room (talking about breakfasts and dinners). I mean, you could have woken up at 6:30am and be alone at the breakfast but you know…who wants to wake up that early on the vacation? Otherwise I’d rate it 9,5/10.
What to do around?
Well, there are sooo many things to do and spots to see, because the Istria peninsula is really unique place! I’m gonna list just a couple of them, because I wouldn’t even have space and time to write about all of them!
- Visiting wineries
Istria has a long tradition of viticulture, and the wine has always been an important part of everyday life here in Istria. Istarska Malvasija, fresh and fruity white wine, is the most popular wine here, followed by strong and astringent, but smooth red wine Teran. There are so many great winemakers and wineries on Istria that it’s difficult to point out just couple of them. Some of them are traditional, others modern, but each of them is well worth a visit.
Motovun is located on the very top of the mountain, if you have ever been to Tuscany, you will find the landscape to be similar. Except being a beautiful medieval town which still keeps its walls, Motovun is also a Mecca for paragliders!
Not my photo, because I wanted you to see how it looks from the distance – and I have no idea where all those photographers took these kinds of photos.
One of the largest inland towns in Istria, Pazin’s main draw is its superb medieval castle and its spectacular setting. Built in the ninth century, the castle is set dramatically high on a cliff top overlooking a gorge, with its entrance over a drawbridge. The current layout dates to the 14th century when some additions were made that saw the four wings joined to form a courtyard. The castle now serves as home to the Ethnographic Museum of Istria with its many displays of traditional costumes, textiles, farming implements, fishing equipment, musical instruments, and household items. Also in the castle is the Civic Museum with its many archaeological finds, as well as collections of bells and weapons. Other interesting attractions in Pazin are the medieval Church of St. Mary and the 15th-century church of St. Francis (Sv Frane).
Another charming town, better known as a “village of artists”, is Grožnjan, located a bit more to the inlands. You’ve definitely heard of it before. If you visit it in July or August, you’ll be able to enjoy seeing plenty of musicians playing in the streets. In that time, the town starts to be filled with people, and you’ll hear anything from jazz to classic music. Except being artistic, Grožnjan is also great for outdoor activities! How about a 3 hours descend by bike through the picturesque landscape and its bridges? It’s not difficult at all, just enjoy the fantastic views!
And here. I mean, all those photos because of which people visit these medieval towns are taken from the airplane or a drone…you’ve got no chance to see it from the same angle in reality. Doesn’t this look more attractive as if I would have posted photos of some walls, old houses and pubs in the centre? Definitely. Copyright of three previous pics go to thw owners, of course.
Ah, Pula. This town was founded already 3000 years ago and is known for its Arena; one of the best-preserved amphitheaters in the world. Pula seems to accommodate everyone’s needs: beautiful beaches, colorful reefs and diving spots, culture, great food and history. A stroll through the city takes you past ancient Roman architecture like the Temple of Augustus, the Triumphal Arch of the Sergi, Hercules’ Gate and Twin Gates, Arena and Small Roman Theatre. Pula is the largest city in Istria.
This town has all what all of the istrian towns have – natural wonders, stunning beaches, cultural heritage. But Vrsar also has something else – a small airport where you can fly over the area and see from above how the marvelous region looks like. I really recommend walking around the promenade and if you can, have a flight over the sea shore.
Rovinj (Rovigno), a densely packed medieval town on a parcel of land jutting into the Adriatic that was established by the Romans, is home to a number of excellent attractions. At the highest point in the town stands the 18th-century Baroque Cathedral of St. Euphemia (Katedrala Sveta Eufemija) with its huge bell tower, while in the main square is Trg M. Tita where you’ll find the old Town Hall and Balbi’s Arch, which opens to the harbour with its many pleasant restaurants and cafés. Well worth seeing is the 17th-century loggia on the main square, home to the Town Museum (Gradski Muzej) with its interesting mix of art from the 15th to 19th centuries, including paintings by the Old Masters and modern works by Croatian artists. The Baroque Balbi’s Arch was built in the latter half of the 17th century and is notable for its elaborate decoration, including the carved head of a Turk on the outer wall, while on the inner wall is the carved head of a Venetian. Over the arch is the Balbi family coat of arms and a relief of the Lion of St. Mark, the symbol of Venice. Balbi’s Arch stands at the entrance to the old Venetian quarter, a delightful area with quaint piazzas and steep back streets and a mix of architectural styles that include Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical influences.
This first photo, taken from the angle that’s seen in each guide and on all postcards I’ve got only because I had the special access to the marina. Otherwise it’s not accessible neither. But that’s sad though, it’s just a pure marketing to attract tourists.
Poreč, one of the most popular and well-promoted tourist destinations in Istria, boasts a beautiful seafront with a string of hotels and tourist complexes stretching some six kilometers along Plava Laguna and Zelena Laguna. A popular place for watersports including water skiing, parasailing, sailing, and kayaking, this historic old town grew out of an original Roman layout when the town was known as Colonia Julia Parentium. A highlight from the town’s early years is the beautiful 6th-century Euphrasius Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its beautiful mosaics on gold backgrounds. Highlights include a fourth-century sarcophagus holding the remains of St. Maurus, and a 13th-century ciborium with marble columns and gold mosaics above the steps leading to the altar. Be sure to also visit the Poreč Museum housed in the Baroque Sincic Palace with its displays on the history of the town and a particular focus on the Roman and early Christian eras. Collections include archeological finds from the third century BC such as pottery fragments, religious icons and paintings, choir stalls, and furniture displays. Afterwards, stroll around the quaint harbor, where cafés stretch along the promenade, or take a water taxi to the nearby island of St. Nicholas (Sv Nikola), popular for its beaches.
- Limski Fjord
One of the other great places in Istria is Lim Fjord, which is located between Rovinj and Vrsar. The fjord is a great place for biking, climbing and hiking, plus it has a beautiful mountainous view.
Attention: You’ve definitely already heard of Brijuni. The nice, lovely, amazingly looking green islands nearby the coast…no. The boat rides around cost so much, and you don’t see what’s imaged in the pictures, because remember: THE PHOTOS ARE TAKEN FROM THE PLANE, NOT FROM THE BOAT. So you basically see nothing.
Rather spend the money on a cheaper fish picnic, which is definitely worth it! We decided for the Delfin company, and it was worth it! We stopped in three towns: Rovinj, Poreč and Vrsar and had an extraordinary lunch/dinner in the Limski Fjord. I didn’t expect much, but the food was really great! On the way to Poreč was the original bruschetta served, and everyone also got a shot of rakija and a few cups of a non-alcoholic beverage/wine for free. I really liked it. This is the website, if you’d be interested: Fish picnic in Istria. Definitely recommend this, if you’ve got some spare money.
And oh, another attention alert. All the guided tours to Grožnjan and Pula are EXTREMELY overpriced. It’s 100 times better to bring a car or a bike and get there by yourself, you’ll save so much money!
I hope I’ve mentioned everything I wanted to remark…and if not, there are still gonna be the separate articles about everything I’ve visited during my trip there! This is just a quick overview.
Have a great day!