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Travel & Holidays in later life

ISTRIA MAKES A COME-BACK

Shopping for decorative shells from a boat moored in Rovinj harbourFrom Austria or northern Italy, Reg Butler discovers it's only a short hop to the coastline of Slovenia and Croatia by self-drive car or coach tour. 

Or you can fly cheaply by Ryanair to Trieste in the top right corner of Italy for a quick direct route into the region.

Some package tours take you by charter flight to Pula or Rijeka. These varied options open up the top end of former Yugoslavia - the Istrian peninsula - which was highly popular with UK holidaymakers during the 1980s.

 

Travel Facts

 

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TRAVEL FACTS

The Croatian currency is called the kuna and is very stable.  You get the best rate by exchanging on arrival. 

Euros are accepted in most shops and restaurants.

Food and drink prices are now on a par with or slightly above average European prices. However cigarettes are still significantly cheaper.

More information: Croatian National Tourist Office, Lanchesters, 162-164 Fulham Palace Road, London W6 9ER. Tel: 020-8563 7979. E-mail: info@croatia-london.co.uk

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That gorgeous coastline has now made a big comeback, with an idyllic climate and prices that are much lower than in neighbouring countries. It's a big favourite for Italian visitors.

An Istrian holiday can easily be combined with a trip inland to the Slovenian resort of Lake Bled, famed for its setting amid stunning mountain scenery. 

Bled is also ideally placed for excursions to the incredible limestone caves of Postojna. It's worth making plans to visit Ljubljana, the charming historic capital of Slovenia which is now a member of the European Union.

But most people base themselves on the Croatian coastal resorts. The Istrian peninsula is highly strategic, and has changed rulers with great frequency. The Austro-Hungarian Empire needed an outlet to the sea, and kept control for centuries. 

During the 19th century, Viennese medical men began recommending their high society patients to visit that Istrian coast for health reasons. There was belief in a magic menu of thermal mud baths, hot springs, or a bubbling massage of warm seawater.

Top rating goes to the stately holiday town of Opatija, which boomed during the great days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The waterfront looks out onto the Bay of Kvarner - a virtual lake, enclosed by the curve of the coastline and the offshore islands of Cres and Krk. 

It's a four-season resort thanks to a suntrap location, backed by the Ucka mountains, 1400 metres high. By early last century, Opatija had become one of the great resorts of Europe, flooded with royalty, aristocracy and the wealthy. 

Opatija still keeps a dignified air in its period hotels, though the town also has plenty of lively appeal. The annual events calendar is packed with every type of land and water sport, and a crowded programme of festivals and entertainments.Among the resort's facilities is a 2,000-seat open-air theatre featuring opera, concerts and a screen for movies. There is choice of open-air dancing, two casinos and the usual discos and nightclubs. 

A paraglider comes in for landing on the beach, over the hotel rooftop During my last visit, a paragliding event was in full swing. Participants jumped out of helicopters, and swooped in above the rooftop of the Palace Bellevue Hotel to make a precision landing on the beach. 

For keen walkers, a 7-mile promenade called the Lungomare follows the shore to the former fishing village and resort of Lovran. It's one of Europe's most perfect seashore walks, with benches for relaxed enjoyment. 

By night, the path is illuminated the whole way. For those who wilt en route, there's a parallel highway with buses back to base every 15 minutes. The old town of Lovran itself is a jewel of medieval and Venetian architecture. 

Although seemingly cut off by the mountains, the other highlights of Istria can easily be reached, thanks to a 3-mile road tunnel. On a packed one-day excursion round the coast, Pula is the highlight at the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula. This strategic location was occupied by the Romans, Venetians, Austrians and Italians. Each occupation (and a few others) left its mark, to make 2,000 years of cultural and historical heritage.

The Roman arena at PulaThe most famous monument is the 1st century Roman arena - a well-preserved venue for opera, classical music and pop concerts, plus a traditional summer film festival. You can relax in the former Roman Forum, where outdoor cafes face the remains of Roman temples. Two were recycled during the early middle ages into today's Town Hall. 

Neighbouring Rovinj is pure Venetian, even to the Lion of St Marks that looks down on the harbour, crowded with pleasure and excursion boats. Built in the style of a walled Italian hill village, an extremely narrow cobbled street climbs steeply to the hilltop church of St Euphemia. 

This main street, carved with steps for medieval pack-mule transport, is lined with art galleries and shops that sell local specialities like truffles, wines and grappa. Other resorts along the Istrian coast - such as Umag, Novigrad and Porec - offer similar appeal.

Along this coastline you can also get closer to Nature, with many well-established nudist-only settlements where textile is banned on the beaches. These are signposted FKK for "Freikorperkultur", German for "Free Body Culture".

The oldest is Koversade, established 1960 near Porec, with olive, pine and fig trees to provide shade from the midday sun. There are good facilities for self-catering, and a wide choice of sport facilities.
Balcony flower display at Lovran
Mere sightseers are not welcome, and cameras are frowned upon except for purely family group snaps.

There are also numerous unofficial naturist beaches - often called free beaches - sometimes controlled and maintained by local tourist authorities and sometimes not. Just ask the hotel desk for directions. 

Naturism is an important part of the Croatian tourism industry. Estimates claim that around 15% of all visitors strip off at some time during their stay

Consider these alternative Balkan destinations

DUBROVNIK -  Star city of the Adriatic

MACEDONIA - Mini Switzerland of the Balkans


"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Croatia (Bradt Travel Guides S.) by Piewrs Letcher - an extremely well-written book which captures the author's enthusiasm for the dramatic coast. Best of the bunch!

Insight Guide: Croatia - Surveys the whole of Croatia, including inland sites, mountains, the coast and the islands. Buy this one if you are planning to return to Croatia to visit the points of sightseeing interest which you couldn't manage the first time. Read it before you travel, to capture a full understanding of the pleasures to come.

Croatia (Rough Guide Map) - Ideal for the individual traveller, whether by car or public transport, showing all details of the intricate coastline and inland.


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