The Istria region was so much more than J. and I had expected. We couldn’t wait to get out and explore more than just Rovinj. So we put together some ideas for Rovinj day trips. Then, thanks to the kindness and openness of the Croatian people we refined our list of Rovinj day trips to reflect what towns they thought were the best. One of our Rovinj day trips was to hillside towns which you can read about here. Our other choices were split into three different day trips.
Our first Rovinj day trip was to the town of Pula. We opted to take a local bus from Rovinj which took about 40 minutes. A 10 minute walk from the bus station and there it was, the ancient Arena Pula is famous for. The Pula Arena is the sixth largest in the world. The exterior is almost completely intact which is what makes it such a dramatic sight. Inside the arena has not faired quite as well but it is still worth walking around to see the ruins and get a sense of what it was before. Under the arena there is a museum area where you can see where the gladiators and animals were kept before the events.
From the Arena we made our way, on the cold and rainy day over to the square where the Temple of Augustus is located. We enjoyed a coffee in a quaint little coffee shop in the square while taking in the temple built for Augustus around 2 BC. The temple has been repaired after damage from wars. Objects which were found over the years at the sight have been put inside the building for a small architectural museum which we found to be very interesting. It is always so amazing to see the bronze’s they could make thousands of years ago, and the pottery, statuary and building reliefs. No matter how much of it we see I am always in awe.
I have to be honest Pula wasn’t our favorite town. I found it to be a little run down. I want to be open that maybe it was because it was a rainy Sunday in the off season so it is possible everything changes once they get ready for tourists.
Pula has several other historic sights, they also have the most shopping in the region, and an olive oil museum if you want to spend a longer day there checking out the town.
This enchanting little town is perched on top a high hill about 30 minutes drive north of Rovinj. The drive takes you past the Lim Fjord, the Istria fjord which runs off of the ocean, surrounded by scenic hills. Along the road there are many restaurants and locals selling their honey and other locally made products.
When we reached Vrsar we chose to park outside of the city, in the first parking lot we saw. There is other parking in town but we really wanted to walk the town to see all of the old stone homes. Vrsar is definitely the steepest of the hill towns we visited in Istria. Climbing the hills and the going down the old cobblestone steps to reach the shore is a great workout.
Walking along the white stone walkways of the marina leads to a lush forest area on one side and beautiful stone areas for lounging by the sea. We walked around the entire park area taking in the beautiful sea views. As we rounded the final turn of the circle we were rewarded with a view of the entire town on the hill. Seeing the stone buildings and church all stacked together rising up along the hillside is breathtaking.
During our visit everything was very quiet since it was still off season. I loved this, despite the drizzly rain, because it felt like the town belonged to us. I imagine in the summer the beautiful sea areas are filled with people swimming in the crystal clear waters and lounging on the smooth white stones.
After a few hours in Vrsar we drove to Porec. As with all of Croatia it was so easy to get there due to excellent signs and good roads. We parked along the sea to start exploring.
Porec feels more Italian than any other place we have visited in the Istria region. Italy’s border is so close that most people in Porec also speak Italian. The influence of Italian architecture and town layout was immediately evident with larger piazza’s, Venetian style windows and main streets packed with all kinds of shopping. Even though it was off season Porec was busy with locals and tourists wandering the streets, drinking coffees in the cafe’s and eating delicious Italian inspired meals.
Wandering the streets was such a treat. The stone buildings were more ornate in Porec than in Vrsar. Little nooks between houses showcase gardens, massive wisteria vines and inviting sitting areas. We wound our way through the town to the main tourist attraction, the Bishop Euphrasius’ Cathedral. J. and I spent the next few hours completely awe struck by this cathedral.
In the 3rd century a church complex was built in Porec’s forum. In the 4th century it became an actual public church. Then in the mid-6th century the Bishop Euphrasius gave the complex an overhaul. He adorned it with intricate and stunning mosaics. In the walls, doorways, and flooring there are intricate details so important to history the complex has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
From the outside it is easy to underestimate the treasure this church is. Once we entered the beautiful mosaic on the front of the chapel comes into view. There is no mistaking the incredible gift Bishop Euphrasius left civilization. In large part the church complex has survived as it was. Original mosaics can be viewed throughout on walls and floors. While many of the incredible details are still in place some are on display to view up close. The Bishops Room is absolutely breathtaking with his seat in a large round windowed platform. Here he would greet guests and have meetings. Breathtaking! We climbed to the top of the bell tower to take in the beautiful sea views. From there we made our way the cathedral itself where the golden mosaics and intricate wood ceiling show off the incredible talent of the workmen who created the space.
The cathedral and complex were definitely a highlight on our Istria day trips. We loved spending the afternoon in Porec. I think it would be a terrible shame to miss this gorgeous town and incredible cathedral if you are in the Istria region.