Hotel review: Croatia's Park Plaza Hotel, Pula

Park Plaza Histria

Looking for a bit of holiday inspiration this summer? Croatia could be the answer. We took a trip to Pula, the regional capital of Istria: a land of fine wine, finer truffles, sleepy beaches and a thriving festival scene, including the legendary festival, Outlook.

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What's to love?

History and modernity beside the sea. The confluence of 5,000 years of civilisation, including the Austria-Hungarian and Roman Empires, the locals are proud of their colourful heritage. Harking across the Adriatic, Istria proudly lays claim to being the new Tuscany.

Pula harbour

First impressions

Like the diminutive, burnt-orange roofs that line many a Croatian street, the Park Plaza Histria is an impressive yet understated venue, perched smartly on a peninsula on the edge of Pula. Excellently equipped, it also has some lovely cultural touches, including an art gallery and daily local hors d'oeuvres and aperitifs served by staff in full traditional Slavic dress. The rooms are spacious, spotless and well-lit, and the beds are dangerously cosy. There are two restaurants, two bars and an roomy outdoor terrace to take in the ocean view. The service is crisp and friendly.

Review: The Park Plaza Hotel & Outlook Festival, Pula, Croatia

Best rooms in the house?
The hotel features 241 rooms, 63 of which are "premium", and 8 suites. All are furnished with the full range of mod-cons, including LCD TVs and WiFi, and balconies with either a garden view or a soothing Adriatic vista. Inside and out, light is the predominant theme, with windows that stretch from floor to ceiling, and clean and minimal lines in the bathrooms that add to the sense of comfort, calm and ease.

Top tip?

Aside from sampling the excellent olive oil, truffles and white wines for which the region is famous, the hotel is somewhat removed from the town. As many of the delights of the region are located further afield in Rovinj, Porec and Brijuni Island, you may want to rent a car. Taxis and buses from the hotel to Pula city centre, however, are plentiful.

This place is perfect if you're...
...hoping for peace and Mediterranean-inspired calm, with a generous sprinkle of history, fine wine and seafood-laden dining – and some of the best festivals on the continent [see Outlook Festival, below].

Where to eat...
While the hotel has two restaurants, it's well worth venturing further afield. Featured in Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, and named as one of the best restaurants in Europe, take the six mile journey to the sumptuous Konoba Batelina in the nearby fishing town of Banjole.

Batelina  restaurant

A family run tavern, with bustling character and charm, you will be treated to the freshest fish you are ever likely to taste. Try the shark's liver pate, fish stew, or fish brodetto with shell-shaped polenta. The desserts are almost every bit as good.
Be sure to reserve a table before you arrive.
Cimulje 25, Banjole, Pula 52100

If you make it to the mysterious Brijuni islands [below], stop in at the charming Korta on the waterfront on your way home.

Korta restaurant

Featuring excellent meat and pasta dishes as well as superb seafood, it's hard to go wrong.

Try to snare a table upstairs if you can, and while away the evening – and let the ebullient owner regale you with local tales and honey grappa.

Things to do, places to see...
Pula – Other than being James Joyce's temporary residence in 1904-5 (see if you can find his statue), Pula's most impressive asset is its Roman Amphitheatre – the third largest outside Italy.

It's a staggering and staggeringly well-preserved piece of architecture, and is still put to good use, from open air concerts to ice hockey matches. While somewhat muted in places, the town is an intriguing patchwork of narrow streets with galleries and trinket shops that refrain from tackiness and retain a degree of authenticity. A cluster of markets and squares, including the charming former Roman Forum, and it's Temple to Augustus (arguably the greatest of all the Roman Emperors), add cultural sheen. Set slightly above the town is a military fort that offers a perpetual reminder of the city's maritime and military heritage.

Trapan Winery – If you'd like to see how wine is made (as well as drink it) take a trip to the lovely Trapan Winery, one of the region's finest. It is located a couple of miles south of Pula. Be sure to try the malvasia (or malvazija) a rich, fruity, full-bodied white grape for which Istria is best known. Giordano Dobran bb, Šišan, Pula, 52100

The Brijuni Islands – A mile Off the coast of Istria lie the 14 Brijuni Islands, a charming and mysterious National Park that has played host to a wealth of flora, fauna and human history –

Brijuni National Park

including dinosaur footprints (allegedly), Roman palacial ruins and a safari, the product of President Tito, who kept a residence here and hosted numerous heads of state (and their animal gifts, including Shetland Ponies from Queen Elizabeth II) during his premiership. The best way to Brijuni is to take a boat from the town of Fazana, which is situated some six miles north east of Pula.

Further afield
Rovinj– It's a longer trip (over 20 miles), but consider paying a visit to the charming historical town of Rovinj, and the Saint Euphemia Cathedral, which offers unparalleled views of land and sea.

The Outlook Festival (September)
Founded by two Yorkshiremen in 2008, and running the musical gamut from reggae, to hip-hop, to drum n' bass, the Outlook Festival has rapidly grown to become one of Europe's premier dance festivals, with over 15,000 happy souls in attendance.

Nestled snugly and smugly in and around the spectral remains of the 19th Century Punta Christo Fort, and lasting four usually sun-drenched days, it is a triumph of location, logistics and musical largesse.

While the setting itself is at times stunning, it is the cleanliness, friendliness and diversity that makes Outlook particularly impressive. There is enough choice and scale for bass-driven revellers of any taste.

Indeed, while most festival-goers would be content with a beach, or even a beach stage, Outlook goes much, much further.

It is a Tolkienesque landscape with delicately lighted trees and glades, paths and vistas that lead into a haunting network of tunnels, moats, courtyards and caves comprising the fort – and out of which, at night, Gotham-like shards of light patrol the sky, adding an ethereal quality that binds the site together. Beaches and booming boat parties complete the picture.

Final thoughts
Pula and The Park Plaza are modest yet refined, packing considerable cultural punch: from the Amphitheatre, to the cuisine, to the festivals that playfully light up the peninsula.

Highlights of Istria
See Gallery
Hotel review: Croatia's Park Plaza Hotel, Pula

The historic Roman Arena was built in the first century AD and still dominates Pula's skyline today.  It is the third largest outside Italy. 

Roman ruins, ancient monuments and soaring church spires - Pula's skyline boasts a wealth of architectural gems, including the iconic belltower of the Church of St. Francis, next to the Amphitheatre.

The Amphitheatre was built under the reign of Emperor Vespasian, who was also responsible for the construction of the Colosseum in Rome.

This magnificent Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Roma and the Emperor Augustus was completely destroyed in 1945 by a bomb. It was rebuilt in 1947 and now houses a collection of ancient brass and stone sculptures.

Joyce arrived in Pula in October 1904. During his time here he worked as a professor of English at the Berlitz School. You can find his statue on the Portarata Square, outside Uliks coffee shop.

Sun-soaked, secluded and fringed by golden sands and azure waters, Pula's shoreline is surprisingly sublime.

Istria is famous not only for its wine - it also has some of the best beaches in the Adriatic, easily reachable from Pula.

This sheltered, temperate archipelago was once home to dinosaurs and is now inhabited by wild native species including deer and buzzards, as well as imported animals like zebra and Indian elephants, housed in the Safari Park.

The entrance to the famous Fort Punta Christo, which leads to a network of tunnels, caves and mini amphitheatres with superb acoustics and atmosphere. 

One of Europe's premier dance festivals, Outlook makes full use of an impressive array of landscapes and settings, from caves to boats.

In addition to the Fort and the Dock, The Clearing makes up the third significant area of the festival, and plays home to a vast range of arts, crafts and visual delights.

Forget beach parties alone - Outlook is a festival with a difference. Some of the most exciting action takes place on the water on giant boats in tranquil bays and waterways.


Park Plaza Histria
[Verudella 17, HR - 52100, Pula, Croatia]
+385 (0) 52 590 000

Useful Links
Istria - Tourist Office
Outlook Festival 2013
For more guides to Croatia, check out our city guides to Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik.

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