On our holiday to Croatia we stayed in Rabac, Istria. Istria became part of Croatia formerly part of Yugoslavia, after the Second World War. Previously it belonged to Italy.
Istria it is the largest peninsula of Croatia, it is located in the northwest of Croatia. The peninsula is at the head of the Adriatic sea between the Gulf of Trieste and the Bay of Kvarner it is fast becoming a more popular destination for tourists and holiday makers, at the moment it is pretty much unspoiled, and is also in close proximity to Italy, Slovenia and Austria, Istria has a large coastline, full of small bays with beautiful villages and towns, built on the hillsides.
Rabac, itself is a small fishing town and port, there are boat tours available at the harbour, it is on the south-eastern tip of Istria, about 5 km southeast of the town of Labin, and 45 minutes coach drive away from Pula airport.
We stayed in the Hotel Neptun on a half board basis. We had a clean comfortable room with a good sea view looking over the bay of Kvarner and the hotels smallish seawater swimming pool. There's a small shop at the reception main door and a supermarket close by about 100 meters away. The hotel staff where very friendly, welcoming and helpful, the maid cleaned our room daily. The Hotel Neptun situated on top of the hill over looking the beach, the beach was very clean, with small pebbled bays and crystal clear sea, also nearby are the nudist beaches.
On our first day it was a little overcast in the morning, we went on a slow picturesque stroll to explore our surroundings, we walked down the by the tree lined seafront walkways above the beaches with fantastic views of the bay of Kvarner and coastline. By 11 o'clock the sun was shinning, we headed towards the centre of Rabac town, about one kilometre away you can catch a small train to centre if you like but we walked each time, Closer to the harbour there are restaurants/bars, a jewellers, shops and stalls selling local souvenirs, beachwear, films, fruit and there's also another a supermarket, we had delicious banana split ice cream and coffee at an ice-cream bar/caf?.
Later in the afternoon back at the hotel we booked 4 day trips with our rep,
* Best of Istria tour ?30 each including entrance to the amphitheatre in Pula and lunch,
* Plitvice Lakes ?44 each including entrance fee and lunch,
* Venice day trip ?100 each with tour guide in Venice
* Slovenia's creations of nature tour (Postojna caves and Lipica stud farm) ?44 each including entrance fees for the caves, Lipica stud farm and dressage show,
*Total cost of tours ?325.
Best of Istria Tour
After breakfast we walked down to the bus stop to catch the coach at 8-30am, Stewart our rep told everyone the wrong time it should have been 9-30am (it was only his second week as a rep in Rabac and was extremely apologetic), so we went back to the hotel and waited for the coach to come for us it arrived at 9-30, on this trip we visited the villages and towns of Pula and Rovinj. Firstly we went to Pula. Pula is very much influenced by Roman history; this is especially true looking at all the local architecture. Pula also has the sixth largest amphitheatre in the world and is said to be the best preserved. The amphitheatre is knows as "Arena". When we arrived at the amphitheatre we had a look around inside, the outer shell has weathered the test of time quite surprisingly well, with the majority of its impressive. walls undamaged Although the seating has been replaced, the galleries and interior tiers have also had to be reconstruct due to local people taking the limestone blocks to build their own houses. There are also exhibition rooms beneath the amphitheatre which, at one time, would have held the wild animals and gladiators before they encountered one another to do battle. They now house renovated olive presses and amphoras. An amphora is a globular shaped pottery vessel with 2 handles that was used to store olive oil, wine and other foods stuffs.
After the amphitheatre we walked around the town to look at some of the other Roman temples and arches which were interesting. The "Golden Gate", is another historic site, which was originally the main gate into the old town. We then had a little time to explore the town ourselves then back to the coach to continue onto to a small family restaurant, as we arrived at the restaurant, the heavens opened it was absolutely throwing it down, thundering and lighting, also the electricity went off half way through our meal. Although that only lasted while we were inside eating our candle lit meal, which was a very nice lunch of soup with fresh home made bread and chicken with potatoes and vegetables/salad and red or white wine, the family were nice and very welcoming as we chatted to the lady and her son outside under a shelter waiting for the rain to stop and for them (lady and her son) the electricity to come back on.
It was still raining slightly as we got back on the coach but by the time we reached Rovinj it had cleared up and the sun was shining again. Nowhere is the Italian influence more pronounced than in this the delightful town of Rovinj. Once an old Venetian port, it is an old town covering an egg-shaped peninsula. By the harbour, there are washed out, stucco clad and pastel coloured houses and buildings of pink, green and mustard, there are also dozens of caf?s, pizzerias, craft shops and stalls selling sponges and local souvenirs etc, that overlook a crowded hotchpotch of moored fishing boats and yachts.
From the clock tower on Rovinj seafront, we passed by the colourful town market and climbed steeply up into the old town that huggle's the narrow peninsula; there are very interesting little back streets which are lined with art galleries and craft shops that lead to the church on the hilltop. We walked through its steep meandering photogenic streets, of cobbled squares, campiellis and hidden private courtyards, I saw a really nice courtyard full of flowers in bloom so I went in and took a quick photo, hope they didn't mind, we stopped in front of the 17th century baroque town hall and heard about its history, then to the church of St. Euphemia, were we visited the 13th century Chapel of Holy Trinity, from there we looked over panoramic view of the harbour and terracotta pan-tiled rooftops, we could see the hotel across the bay, that we could have booked, had we have stayed in Rovinj.
Our guide told us to listen when the town clock strikes the magical Rovinj hours. We had a coffee at a caf? and chatted with a couple we met on the coach, and then wandered back though the cobbled streets to the coach.
Plitvice Lakes Tour
We got up early at 5-15.am as we had a coffee in our room then went to pick up our packed breakfast and a packed lunch from the reception and headed for the bus stop for the coach at 6-30 am coach, we went north from Rabac through Opatija, this was a really long coach journey lasting 5 hours in total, during the coach trip we saw the fantastic, panoramic sea views looking over the coastline and the island of Brac, there's beautiful countryside and forests where there are wild bears roaming free, although we never saw any, some of the villages we passed through were heavily involved in the war, we saw lots of bullet riddled houses, many of them abandoned and nature reclaiming them with trees growing from in their midst's, with new houses built alongside them, the owners sell local produce of wine, brandy's and cheese, we stopped at one on the way back to sample them.
Eventually we arrived at Plitvice national park, Plitvice was Europe's first national park. Plitvice lakes are considered to be one of the most beautiful and truly outstanding phenomena in the world. They consist of sixteen crystal clear lakes with travertine terraces which are connected by numerous rushing waterfalls, rapids and babbling brooks and streams.
On our first view was the great waterfall across the valley with smaller falls below we were absolutely gobsmaked, we could hear its thunderous roar and feel its fine cool spay, which was a blessing as it was scorching hot. We went down the hillside to the base of it and were dwarfed by it size truly awe inspiring and a man we met took our photo together.
As we ventured deeper into the forest, we saw many burbling brooks, streams, beautiful waterfalls and crystal clear blue-green lakes the best we've ever seen teaming with shoals of fish. The trees are clinging perilously onto the rock faces and outcrops others majestically standing by the thundering waterfalls with their branches extending out into the spray.
The lime in the water from the Dinaric Mountains is absorbed by moss, and then the water evaporates, leaving an assortment of minerals and plant matter that form the travertines. The elements seem to blend into one another; our guide said that as the trees die down or fall they are left to alone to return to nature. As we waited for everyone to catch up a lady noticed 2 snakes entwined together, we then came to a lake where we got on a small boat to the opposite bank, through some more woodlands, altogether it was a 2-30 hour walk. We had a meal in the restaurant, and then back on the coach for the 5-30 hours trek back to Rabac well worth doing despite the long coach drive you'll be amazed.
Venice Day Trip
This was another really early start we caught the minibus at 6-30, we went to the port in Porec were we caught the catamaran for the 2 hour sail to Venice. On arriving as we sailed into the port of Venice we witnessed the views portrayed by the great painter Turner one of my favourite artist, being a watercolour artist myself, we got off the boat and walked with our guide though the narrow crowded streets of colourful crumbling facades. Our guide was telling us about the history and local customs, then on to the famous Piazza San Marco. The Piazza San Marco is Venice city?s main square and is the site of Venice's most portrayed postcards views; it's also the largest tourist-trap, with it being the central hub from where you can easily reach all of the city?s most famous landmarks. Here we met another guide, although after about 5 minutes we decide to explore ourselves, If you want see tourists this is the place it was absolutely crammed with hordes people, well worth seeing in despite all the crowds though. There?s the impressive San Marco Basilica, Doge Palace, Campanile, and the San Teodoro The piazza has witnessed many Carnivals, political strikes, and religious processions, we could hear the orchestras that were playing in the background as we wondered the hustle bustle of people taking in the sights and sounds of the square it brought the splendour of Venice alive.We were surprised at the flocks of the pigeons although we new about them we couldn't believe how many there were, I bought some bird food and Julie took my photo covered in pigeons, I felt I had to do it, although Julie didn't want to go near them as there not very hygienic. I was swarmed by what seems like thousands of them I could hardly move. We could have visited the Murano glass workshops but decided not to bother as we have lots of glass factories close to where we live and have seen the artist's skills many times.
From the square we made a beeline for the Rialto bridge, the Rialto which was very well signposted although in some places the signs pointed both ways (confusing), the streets were very busy, we followed the sign's through the narrow crowded back streets until we arrived at the majestic arched Rialto Bridge which spans the Grand Canal, it's a must see. Here we saw a bride in a boat on the way to her wedding sailing down the Grand Canal she looked very happy. As I looked for a good place to take a photo Julie had a rest in the shade of an old archway, I picked a what I thought was a great spot at the end a gondola jetty and waited for a gondola to pass under the bridge, as I waited, I heard a ambulance siren in the background, but didn't give it much thought, then all of a sudden, the boat sped under the bridge leaving its wake behind, it absolutely drenched myself, a man and lady who were also at the side of me we just laughed together, Ha Ha, I persisted and got the photo with a gondola, I wanted and anyway I quickly dried out .
Although the Rialto Bridge and its immediately adjoining area, especially on the tourist main route are expensive, but there are cheaper areas, we strolled through the back streets and markets and found a stall selling lots of different hot sausages on buns, we bought some and sat in a lovely little courtyard with a fountain.
We then walked back to the bridge of sighs, Antonio Contino?s bridge over the Rio di Palazzo was built in the 1600 to connect the Doge?s prisons, or Prigioni, with the inquisitor?s rooms in the main palace. The name "Bridge of Sighs" came about in the 19th Century, when Lord Byron helped to popularize the belief that the bridge?s name was inspired by the sighs of condemned prisoners as they were led through it to the executioner. In reality, the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over by the time the bridge was built, and the cells under the palace roof were occupied mostly by small-time criminals.
After a while we went to the portside bartered with a gondolier we got him down from 100 euros down to 70 euros for a 1? hour tour. Diego our gondolier told us about the history and about the various families, who live and lived in the areas, it was very romantic as we gently drifted through the quite tranquil, crumbling back streets, especially after the noisy over crowded streets, then onto the Grand Canal finally we ended back where we started. We then joined back up with our guide near the Doge palace; we went on to catch a water taxi ride down the Grand Canal back to the port to catch the catamaran. This was a brilliant day out and well worth the early morning start.
Slovenia Creations Of Nature Tour to the Postojna cave and Lipica stud farm.
We got up early again and went for breakfast and then ambled down to the bus stop were we met a minibus the driver never spoke to anyone he just checked our tickets and set off we wondered if we were on the right bus, although we new we were, after an hour or so we arrived at the Slovenian border showed our passports and then on to a roadside caf?, were we met up with a coach from there it seemed only a short drive to Postojna Caves which consist of 20 km, of astonishing sculpted galleries, chambers and halls.
We were taken for a 5km journey underground by a special cave train, through the caves preliminary systems, into the beautiful realm of stalagmites and stalactites, through magically lit halls, past subterranean waters, which are home to the mysterious so called human fish the Proteus Anguineus before our guided tour started.
Its hard trying to describe the vast and fantastic caverns of breathtaking spot lit rocks, stalagmites and stalactites formations in caves, they are about four million years old, as we were walking along the lights went off and we were in total darkness we couldn't even see each other. The gigantic stalagmites and stalactites have taken tens of thousands of years to form. At about 30-40,000 years per meter, many are standing several meters high. Deep within the cave you can walk across a bridge built by Russian prisoners during the First World War, We saw the weird Proteus Anguineus or Human Fish (it is named the human fish because of it's pinkish colour), in a specially constructed pool, this weird looking creature that looks like a cross between a bloated worm (newt or lizard looking with little legs) or prawn it has gills, like a fish, and also a pair of lungs. Actually it?s a kind of salamander, whose capabilities is to give birth to live young in temperatures above -10?C and to lay eggs if it?s colder. They live their 70 year lives down there in the total darkness and hence are blind, after another short walk, we exited on the train that drove us the 5km into the heart of the complex, along the way back we passed blackened caverns as we neared the cave entrance. We had a nice lunch break in Postojna restaurant before continuing onto the Lipica Horse Stud farm home to the world famous Lipizzaners horses, Julie was really looking forward to seeing this highlight, as she loves to see the dressage horse's performances.
Lipica Horse Stud Farm
Lipica is a cultural monument of European and worldwide reputation for producing the finest white dressage horses; it is located in Slovenia?s Karst region close to the Slovenian/Italian border a fertile green oasis, the Lipica stud, is the cradle of the Lipizzaner horses and has been developing for more 400 years. In 1580, the Austrian Archduke Karl II established the stud; it was the property of the Austrian court until 1918. Its history abounds with stories of emperors and rulers admiring the white stallions and stories of difficult and dangerous times when the stud had to flee from the wrath of war. Firstly we went to see the performance of the highly trained horses, in a traditional equestrian event, the show lasted around 30mins we really enjoyed seeing the horses dancing they too seemed to enjoy performing. Later we had a look at all the baby foals frolicking in the fields with their mothers, were we fed and stoked them one even tried to eat my shoe laces, they are absolutely gorgeous, here from our guide we heard how they are born brown or black and over their first year their colour changes to white at which point they are branded with the an L on their left ear, the stud has maintained the tradition of breeding and selecting the best purebred Lipizzaner horses, we also visited the adult horses in their stables, and the oldest building on the stud is where the most highly trained horses are kept our guide said this is the palace one trainer has up to 3 horses in his care.
Lipica is now a well equipped tourist resort. And now offers a range of facilities such a hotel, conference rooms. Guests can spend a holiday learning or improving riding skills.
All together this was a great holiday.