When looking for a family-friendly travel destination, we want a place that appeals to parents as well as children: we’re talking delicious gastronomy, gorgeous surroundings and plenty of history.
Of course, we also want the kid-friendly stuff: lots of different animals to see, beaches with crystal-clear waters that are designed for swimming (and water sports!) and the opportunity to discover new interests and turn your kids into budding future astronomers and marine biologists.
In an ideal world, we’d also like to minimise our travel time, and ensure the climate is just perfect for our visit.
Well, we think we’ve found your new favourite family getaway: the Istrian peninsula, located on the northern end of Croatia’s Adriatic coastline, is the European destination that offers something for everyone.
The landscape is, quite simply, gorgeous: think charming medieval towns (with a heavy Roman influence) and lush green hilly woodland as far as the eye can see, surrounded by pristine blue coast. The renowned local wine, olive oil and truffles tempt like none other and make it a gastronome’s paradise.
As parents know all too well, holidays can’t just be about what they like anymore. Not to worry: the Istrian Peninsula appeals to kids of all ages and provides the ideal backdrop for them to commune with nature and run wild and free.
And it couldn’t be more convenient to get to: BA is starting a new direct route to Pula (a sea-front city on the tip of the peninsula) all summer long direct, with twice-weekly flights from London Heathrow (the journey only takes two hours and twenty minutes).
There’s nothing like a trip to the Istrian Peninsula to re-wild your little one and enjoy the great outdoors. Read on for all of the brilliant activities they can enjoy. They won’t ask for the iPad once. We promise.
There's no shortage of activities for the young animal lover to try in Istria. Like marine life aplenty: you'll find aquariums with animals from the Adriatic in the towns of Umag, Poreč, Rovinj and Pula. The aquarium in Pula doubles as a must-see for history buffs as well: located in the old Austro-Hungarian fortress Verudela, originally from 1886, it even has a moat.
The Brijuni Safari Park (in the picturesque paradise that is the Brijuni National Park) is a smattering of islands six kilometres away from Pula and accessible by boat. Children will have a chance to meet zebras, an elephant, Istrian oxen and goats, as well as taking in plenty of exotic flora, like eucalyptus, bamboo and pines.
The Funtana Dino Park takes you back in time – way, way back – and features life-sized dinosaurs (dinosaur fossils have been discovered on the Istrian coast) as well as playgrounds, paintball, archery, horseback riding and plenty more.
For those who prefer their animals pint-sized, there’s a dedicated Squirrel Park in Umag, where children can observe various species of squirrel and learn about their origins. And if your child is in that fairies-and-butterflies phase, the hippie-haven Eia eco-centre, with its quirky straw house and teepees, has its own dedicated Butterfly Garden with over 50 species.
Istria has plenty of opportunities for pastoral explorations, with an inviting outdoor landscape that’s perfect for walks and cycle rides with the kids. Head to the Motovun Forest in the hill town of Motovun for a hike in the wilderness and a glimpse of the rare longoze, a type of lowland hardwood forest around the Mediterranean. If you’re after something less wild and more fragrant, the Park Histria Aromatica near Golaš offers glorious views and a feast for the eyes and nose with vibrant fields full of herbs like mint, marigold, sage and lavender.
How often do you find yourself looking up at the sky with your children at home, admiring the stars and the sublime blanket of sky that is our universe? Um, never? There simply isn't the time.
But in Istria, there is - and a pretty impressive place to do it. The Višnjan Observatory is the site where over 1,500 asteroids and two comets have been discovered, and is the ideal place to introduce your little ones to the stars and planets in the night sky. If you happen to plan your trip for mid-August, you might see the sky perform its own striking celestial show, erupting in meteor showers. Known as the “tears of St. Lawrence,” it happens on 11-12 August.
Travelling with young explorers? Then they’ll love all of the caves they can explore (Kingdom of Festini cave, Romuald’s cave, Pazin cave, Mramornica cave, and the Baredine cave, to name a few). We’re talking total underground lairs here: craters, stalagmites, stalactites, and transparent fish that swim deep in the depths of the caves. Thrill-seeker in the family? Embark on a Speleolit rope climbing and vertical drop adventure to enter the cave, followed by a guided tour.
Water, water everywhere – the Istrian peninsula is packed with beaches, whether you prefer sand, gravel, white pebbles or something rockier. Expect stunning panoramas against the sparkling Adriatic and look out for beaches with a Blue Flag certification, which symbolises eco-friendliness and a clean sea and coastline.
In addition to swimming, splashing in waves in fishing villages like Novigrad and chilling out poolside, there are plenty of water-based activities to tempt the active kid: take a boat ride out to Brijuni National Park and go snorkeling around ancient Roman ruins underwater. Windsurfing is another popular option in Medulin, on Istria’s southern coast. For an activity that will delight youngsters of all ages, head to one of Istria’s water parks in Poreč or Brtonigla.