If you are looking for a family holiday in Europe that’s just a little bit different then try Croatia! A couple of years ago we travelled to the beautiful region of Istria in Northern Croatia and experienced that it’s not all pebble beaches and can offer a holiday with a difference just a short flight from the UK!
Let me share with you my top tips for exploring Istria and the many gems it has to offer….
1. Consider a villa for a real Croatian experience
Our kiddies were 2 and 4 when we decided to head to Croatia for our main holiday and have a change from our Spanish based trips. At this stage our priorities were space for the little ones to run around, not being hemmed into the en suite bathroom of a hotel when they had gone to bed and being able to self cater. For these reasons we booked a villa and whilst it’s not for everyone we enjoyed the freedom. There are also some lovely hotels around where we stayed in the town of Rovinj and self catering flats to suit all budgets. This area also has an excellent reputation for well serviced camp grounds. Our villa was booked through Holiday Lettings near Kanfanar, about 20 minutes drive from the fantastic town of Rovinj. It was rural there is no getting away from it but it was a newly built villa with wonderful facilities and a sense that you were experienced some of rural Croatia. The kids were entertained not just by the swimming pool but the large grassy areas to run around and plenty of farm animals in the next field to chat to! It was a lovely touch when the farmer from next door game around with a bar of chocolate for the kids. We went in May before the kids started school so the cost was pretty reasonable for a villa of that size. If we went back, now bound by school holidays, we would share with another family to make it an affordable break. That said I feel that the villa prices on the whole are a lot more reasonable than say Italy and Spain.
2. Fall in love with Rovinj
It’s a place like no other, a gem of a sea-side town in Istria perched on an outcrop overlooking the turquoise Adriatic. The architecture has an air of Venetian which is no surprise given that Istria was part of Italy between 1919 and 1947. Rovinj is one of Istria’s star attractions with a beautiful old town to wander around and a seaside fishing scene that sits comfortably alongside a growing number of nice restaurants and bars. I have very fond memories of heading to Rovinj to have dinner in the harbour. At the time our youngest was 2 and it seemed that we never sat at that dining table together at any point but for all the messing around I still remember it was the first time I felt that we were truly on holiday as we watched the sun set and the bustle of families enjoying the early Croatian summer. After dinner each eve we used to pop to the bakery on the sea front to grab 4 tasty croissants for breakfast the next day – it was the little things that made that holiday!
Another find was the coastal path south of Rovinj which was pushchair friendly and provided many a lovely afternoon walk through the shady pine forests with views to die for. In this area there are also a handful of hotels that are served by tour operators such as Thomson for a package trip with a difference and of course you are nearer to the buzz of Rovinj. Its true there is little sand in Istria and pebbles rule around these shores but the kids were in their element messing around with stones in the shallow waters.
3. “But surely there is not much for the kids to do?” (I heard people say)
And yes its true to a certain extent, but I guess it depends on what you are looking for at a particular point in your family life. Look more closely at Istria and you will find that with a bit of imagination it can tick many boxes for pre schoolers and beyond. Even with teenagers in tow a great villa and trips into some of the cool bars in Rovinj may do the trick:)
- A fantastic playground in every town! The Croatians know how to do playgrounds so for pre schools and even a little older you will find in most of the major Istrian towns – Porec, Rovinj, Pula some great little parks
- Ice creams to make any child’s heart sing! You will be spoilt of choice with the selection of ice cream parlours.
- Make play from the history all around – play gladiators in the amphitheatre at Pula one of the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the World.
4. Head for the hills
In the centre of the Istrian peninsular are an amazing selection of hill-top villages – a mini Tuscany. The rolling green hills and medieval architecture are enchanting and a welcome break from the sea-side towns all within a manageable driving distance. We visited Motovun which is also famous for its annual film festival the world over. Groznjan is also a lovely place to visit for a wander around the cobbled streets and there are plenty of lovely cafes to stop at along the way. The kids loved exploring and we even found a great little park in Motovun, albeit it also looked like it was medieval!
So, be bold and search out some new holiday experiences in 2018. The old favourites will always be there and sometimes it can be a real breath of fresh air to try a new option. Croatia offers much, a beautiful country with friendly people and the best of the countryside and coastal towns all in one penisular in Istria. With flights to Istria (Pula) from many UK airports its accessible and once you are there a wide range of accomodation choices. You never know you may also be sprinkled with a little of the Croatian holiday magic…and want to return like we plan to do very soon:)