In the centre of Pula, the Amphitheatre is a Roman colosseum with a near intact circle of stadium walls dating from the time of Claudius. Hosting gladiatorial battles 2,000 years ago, the Pula Arena today stages an annual film festival, live concerts and the Outlook music festival.
The long European sojourn of Irish writer James Joyce began in Pula, where he spent the winter of 1904-05 teaching English to naval officers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His stay is now marked with a statue outside a café themed in his honour, Uliks (Ulysses).
Set in a former military school and barracks, Rojc was converted in the late 1990s and now plays a vital role in the cultural life of the city. An arts and community centre, Rojc is the main outlet in town for alternative artists, staging exhibitions, workshops, DJ sessions or live shows.
Built around 30BC, the Triumphal Arch was originally a city gate, erected in honour of the Sergii brothers who took part in the Battle of Actium. A war chariot is depicted on the frieze, the names of the Sergii inscribed elsewhere. Providing access to a busy, pedestrianised street in the city centre, the arch is still very much part of the urban fabric.
Occupying two key locations around Pula, Outlook is a celebration of underground dance music that takes place every September. The main site is the abandoned fort of Punta Christo, its surrounding beach and substantial greenery on a headland a short drive from the centre. The other is the Roman amphitheatre right in town, providing a historic backdrop to the house, techno and dubstep.
Set on the hilltop vantage point of the Roman citadel, the star-shaped fortress built by the Venetians in the 1600s commands views over the city centre and gaggle of cranes dotted around the Uljanik shipyard. On the lower slope nearest the Amphitheatre stands the Archaeological Museum of Istria.
With no real beaches in Pula itself, many take the city bus to the peninsula of Verudela, where shingle beaches fill with holidaymakers. Should the heat become too much, you can entertain the kids for a while at the Aquarium, set in a former Habsburg fortress.
Still the city’s main square, the Forum was laid out by the Romans in the first century BC and still contains the wonderfully preserved Temple of Augustus. A collection of Roman finds is on display inside. Alongside, the Communal Palace dates back to the 1200s, its arcaded Renaissance façade added some three centuries later. A table on the terrace of the Cvajner café provides the perfect view of the historical scene.
A short drive south-west of Pula city centre, Medulin is the best equipped resort in Istria for active recreation, most notably watersports. Diving, parasailing, jet-skiing, sailing, windsurfing and many more, they’re all available here. With plenty of cycling, horse-riding and court sports too, plus the long sandy beach of Bijeca, it’s no surprise that the coast here is one of the busiest in the region.
Right on the Forum, the Enoteca Istriana is the ideal spot to sample the products for which Istria is best known for: prosciutto, cheese, olives and wine. With a dozen available by the glass, there’s also the handy option of tasting three types and seeing which one suits. Staff will talk you through the menu. There’s also a selection of cakes if you’re here mid-morning or late afternoon.
Enoteca Istriana, Forum 11, Pula, Croatia, +385 95 414 4441
The Summer Festival is a loose term for the string of high-profile, open-air concerts staged at the Pula Amphitheatre during July and August. Guests in recent years have included Elton John, David Gilmour, Sting, and big-name opera singers, for whom the historic Roman setting provides the perfect backdrop.