Hotel review: Croatia's Park Plaza Hotel, Pula
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 –
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.
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.
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.
Park Plaza Histria
[Verudella 17, HR - 52100, Pula, Croatia]
+385 (0) 52 590 000
Istria - Tourist Office
Outlook Festival 2013
For more guides to Croatia, check out our city guides to Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik.