Holiday destinations - Istria, Croatia
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 August 2017 | UPDATED: 08:39 08 August 2017
There's so much to do in the Croatian peninsula of Istria - including spotting a dinosaur - as Janet Reeder discovers
eading over to the Brijuni National Park from the Istrian mainland is a pretty magical experience in itself and that is even before you get to meet a dinosaur!
We cruised in leisurely style across the 3km stretch of deep blue glittering sea in the Fažana Channel, taking the pristine white boat to the largest of the 14 islands which make up this fascinating archepelago.
Legend has it that Istria was intended by the Creator as a heaven on earth - a garden covered with magnificent trees and vast meadows, washed by the deep blue sea. Unfortunately, a jealous devil destroyed his work by tearing the bag in which the angel was carrying the unused stones. Thousands of rocks scattered around the Istrian land making it a land of contrasts, gentle and rough, fertile and barren, sunny and cloudy. The desolated angels could only salvage what was left of ‘Heaven’. They gathered the remaining scattered rocks and protected them by the sea’s waves and created Brijuni.
And it is rather heavenly. There are no cars to break the tranquility, instead you can tour the island by bike or on a charming little train which takes in a ruined monastery, Roman village and wildlife safari. You can also do as we did and take golf buggies, which gave us the freedom to traverse the island at our own pace.
We started out at the Deco design hotel Neptun, where Sophia Loren, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton and a whole host of presidents and titled people, had stayed before cruising the pathways to the Safari Park, checking out everything from a baby donkey (ahhh) to the elephant, a gift from Indira Ghandi to president Tito.
At first we can’t quite believe the sign about the dinosaur - is this a joke, we wonder, but in a Jurassic Park moment drive through an arched entrance then walk down a narrow track to a shale covered shoreline and there it is: a Theropoda, a carnivorous scaly creature just perfect for a picture opportunity. But wait! There’s more. While the dinosaur is clearly a model, there are dinosaur footprints that have survived from the early Cretaceous period, about 125 million years ago. You can place your own foot on them and compare the size. It’s extraordinary. I think dino-crazy kids would love it.
It’s what our hosts James Villas would call our moment; one of the gorgeous memorable things that happen only on holiday, when we have time to relax and explore.
We were staying in a Classic villa called Principe, on the north of Istria, Croatia, hidden away in a tiny hamlet with stunning views of the countryside.
It was from here we were able to travel to the capital Pula, a pretty city with a very impressive amphitheatre that is now used for music concerts and a film festival but back in the annals of time entertained with its mix of carnival acts and Gladiatorial shennanigans. We stopped off at the Farmer’s Market and stared at the produce. Hunks of fresh crumbling parmisan, a white, pungent goat cheese, dark red cherries bursting with flavour and honey. Lots of it. I didn’t see one bee while I was there, that’s because they were busy making liquid gold.
For our first night in Istria we were treated to what the comics of my youth used to call a ‘slap up meal’. The table groaned with meat and cheeses, hearty soup, fresh fish, crispy bread, spicy dips and more, all polished off with fine local wines.
History buffs will love this place - it has a very chequered past having been invaded by nearly everyone, especially the Romans. We adored towns like Rovinj and Porec, with their ancient buildings, beautiful cobbled streets and pretty sea views and indulged in the delights of wine at the Damjanic vineyard served with delicious tidbits of cheese and ham, as well as a a very informative olive oil tasting at Chiavalon, a young company which is teaching the world that olive oil, like wine, comes in many guises - not all of them good. Theirs however is fantastic enough to win numerous awards.
She stayed at Villa Principe courtesy of James Villas: www.jamesvillas.co.uk.
Prices for the 2018 season:
May - June: £1229 per week
July - August: £3119 per week
September: £1149 per week
James Villa Holidays currently have 47 villas in the Istria programme and are looking to grow this by 25% or higher next year. Currently the full Croatia programme is 81 villas strong across both Istria and Dalmatia.
Wine tasting at Damjanic
National Park Brijuni
Olive Oil Tasting