Equal parts recreation and relaxation – a girl’s getaway to remember!
When it comes to vacations, there’s a difference between a tour and a getaway. A tour involves exploring, road tripping, learning, and usually cramming in as much “see and do” as possible in a finite amount of time. A getaway, on the other hand, has different goals. Primarily, to get out of the hustle and bustle of everyday life – perhaps out of your comfort zone too – and recoup. A tour can be exhilarating but draining; a getaway is designed to clear your head, heal and recharge.
Recently we discovered the perfect locale for a long weekend getaway, only a few hours from Pápa: Istria! I have had my eye on the Istrian Peninsula of northern Croatia for a while now, knowing it has lots of terrific spots for cliff jumping. I’d like to consider myself a bit of a thrill-seeker, so cliff jumping was definitely on my bucket list. The Istrian Coast turned out to be the perfect place to escape, relax, leap into the Adriatic, and connect with a friend.
Meryl has helped “coach” me out of my comfort zone for a while now as my dear friend and personal trainer here in Pápa. As the expert behind Wicked Iron Strength & Conditioning she has worked with me all year to help build strength and confidence with proper form (finally!) in lifting. I’ve set personal bests with her and found myself feeling stronger…with conditioning for all of our overseas adventures. She’s the best! So I roped her into joining me on my quest for adventure and relaxation. It didn’t take too much convincing…
After a six-ish hour drive through Hungary and Slovenia (whoops! Wrong turn! But it turned out ok…) we arrived to our little apartment, prepared to do lots of walking. That afternoon we scoped out several coastal spots and decided to walk to the nearest point the first day. Punta Verudela is a little Peninsula just south of Pula; it took us about an hour to reach the beaches on foot from Pula and scope out the area. We shared drinks at Svjetionik Bistro and watched people splash around, cliff jump and snorkel on the rocks below.
We walked past Histria Beach, Hawaii Beach, Verudela Canyon and Ambrela Beach and grabbed mojitos at Caffe Bar Kuglana. It was a truly beautiful evening! From the beaches we ubered it into town to check out the Pula Arena and snag a fresh seafood dinner at Hook & Cook (yum!) before heading back to our apartment.
Day 1: Miles walked – 7+, cliffs jumped – 0, drinks – 2, times we arrived at the border of the wrong country – 1.
Day two we were ready to take the plunge so we took our hosts’ advice and headed to the long peninsula of Premantura. We played it smart and hit up the market and bakery in town before going to the coast, packing snacks, lunch, and plenty of water. We parked for free in town and began our hour-long trek to the southern points of Kolumbarica and Kamenjak. It was a fairly easy walk, albeit long, but we couldn’t help but notice we were the only ones walking. “Uh, everyone seems to be just driving all the way there…” we both remarked about 30 minutes into the journey. I guess we must’ve misunderstood our hosts’ instructions! Nevertheless, we had worked up a good sweat and were very motivated to take a dip by the time we arrived, and now we know better for next time: just drive!
We passed the Kamenjak bunker to take in the 360° views and then continued on past the very cool Safari bar down to the step-like cliffs near the water. We scanned the rocks, watching people jump, dive and flip into the water. We noticed it was pretty wavy today – but that wasn’t going to stop us! We scoped out a great spot on a big flat stone to lay out our towels and belongings, and no sooner than we took a step in that direction did I hear a familiar booming voice cheering on his wife and son as they jumped in the water. “Yeah Coop! Way to go!” I looked up, and there in front of us was the Knack family all the way from Ramstein! I turned around and looked at Meryl in disbelief, “Meryl! I know them. I know those people right there! They’re my friends from Delaware!” Meryl, also in shock, watched as I made my way down to surprise them, still not sure if I was crazy or if she was witnessing a moment of serendipity. Sure enough, the Knacks had the same idea as we did that weekend, and before we knew it we were all taking leaps of faith into the Adriatic Sea. What a happy reunion it was! We hadn’t seen each other in over a year. So great to reconnect with these lovely people all the way across the planet!
We made numerous jumps from various places around Kolumbarica and later decided to scope out the rest of the spots along the tip of the peninsula. We took a walk towards Kamenjak and noticed a less crowded spot near something called “Klippen & Höhle” that looked immense – but also the kind of challenge I was looking for. “I’ll be back. I’m going to jump this later,” I said to Meryl as we walked by, noticing one person already taking the giant leap. I just wanted to know what that felt like…and soon I would find out!
Then we explored Kamenjak a bit. It wasn’t very busy, and half of the people there were enjoying topless sun time. The water was very calm and warm in this little inlet beach area, and the cliffs were low, so this was a better place for kids [and families who are comfortable with nudity]. There were plenty of flat rocks to lay out on and it was easy enough to climb out of the water compared to the Kolumbarica “beach” area that required a bit more strength and experience to do so.
Overall we enjoyed this area but it wasn’t our favorite spot. The proximity to Safari Bar made Kolumbarica preferable to the Kamenjak side of the peninsula tip, and a more widespread area allowed for people to enjoy a wide range of options on the water from swimming and sunbathing to cliff jumping and kayaking. Some people were even just there to take in the views! It was lovely. Downsides to this area were that there wasn’t any natural foliage for shade, so plan accordingly. The Safari bar is awesome for shade but it has limited seating and space and can fill up quickly on busy summer days. And in general, swimming with little ones who aren’t strong enough to climb up rocks would be a hazard in this whole area. There are better places for that in Istria, and we discovered one the next day!
On the walk back, we passed by the huge cliff I wanted to jump off, and by then I had built up enough courage to do it. I decided not to think about it too much, but had to wait long enough for Meryl to climb down to get a good vantage point to document it. A few people stopped to peek over the edge (and shake their heads “she’s crazy!”) but I had seen a couple of other people do it earlier so I knew I would be safe. I had this strong desire to see how far I could push myself and this felt like the reasonable limit! We estimated this cliff to be around 40′, which basically means that water is going to feel like getting slapped by the BFG. I wasn’t thinking about any of that though, as I stepped off that cliff and lept into the water below.
Phew! It really felt amazing to tackle that fear. In doing so I realized a universal truth – scary stuff is scariest before it happens. The actual leap? Exhilarating! I may have had some shaky legs on top of that cliff and residual shakiness climbing out of the water, but ultimately those after shakes were the adrenaline and excitement I felt – not the fear! What a rush! The consequences of such a big jump were a sore hind end (for about one minute) and a terrific bicep bruise that lasted about a week. I was actually proud of that battle wound as it reminded me I can do scary things!
Walking back up the peninsula was arduous but we putted away, making jokes about the people passing us in cars, “there’s room on the roof of that one…can we just hitch a ride?” The sky had begun to threaten a thunder storm so we were pretty motivated to make it to the random dinner spot we found – Istarksa Farm and Restaurant. It didn’t look like much when we first arrived but it turned out to be a great little place for dinner. The waitstaff was cheeky and friendly, the food was decent, and we even got to pet the horses and donkeys when we were done! What a day!
Day 2: Miles walked – 9+, cliffs jumped – 4, drinks – 1, horse-biting donkeys – 2.
Our final destination d’exploration was a place within walking distance of our apartment on a peninsula due west of Pula called Felsen Strand, or Fižela, or – depending on your map ap – Seagull’s Rocks. Of course we hit up the market and bakery before our long walk…what’s a beach day without burek? To get to Seagull’s Rocks, we walked about an hour along zigzagging town roads until we reached Stoja Campgrounds and Uvala Valovine. This is a little bay and beach area that featured a dock that leads out to a bar, where a huge structure was built in the water to pull water skiers along a track that resembled a massive zip line! We had never seen anything like it!
A bit farther up the trail we reached our destination. The features of this place are amazing. There are cliffs that people were jumping off at Obala Bitnica Obina as well as the cliffs s Cyclon’s Beach. The beach itself was great! Rather small, but there are stairs leading down to it it from a parking area (Free I think?) which we noted for future visits. The parking area was near these old abandoned buildings that looked like some sort of compound. It was gnarly! We walked around a bit to get our bearings and headed back down towards the beach.
The rocky beach was surrounded by huge cliffs on one side and a gradual rocky cliff shore on the other. Up the shore were plenty of trees and foliage for shade, and we noticed people had hung up hammocks there. Great idea! Following the cliff shore we saw little groups of people – jumpers! – and followed them to the best jumping area of the weekend. Right above Grotte Von Pula (a little cave grotto) is the most beautiful cliff. There is space all around that area to lay out and leave towels and bags. We explored all around the area, noting safe areas to climb back out of the water after taking a jump or a dive. There were plenty of options!
The summer in Croatia is busy with lots of tourists and Europeans vacationing here. Still, Meryl and I were always able to find a fairly private spot to lay out our stuff at each place, and we never felt like the water was crowded. Cliff areas are always dotted with people – either jumping or cheering on family and friends. A few tour type boats and kayaks came by the grotto for people to go in and explore but for the most part the number of people didn’t hinder our experience in any way. I was amazed at the warmth of the water…and I would also note that it was especially buoyant!
Meryl took her highest jumps here, and I got in a couple of tricks. I would’ve loved to practice more flips and dives but there was too much of an audience for my comfort level! After yesterday’s daring feats (and getting bashed into the rocks by waves a few times at Kolumbarica), we were ready to just enjoy this space and relax. It was so fun to jump, then recover, watching people climb and do tricks. Then, the rest of the afternoon, we alternated between long swims and laying out. Pure heaven! We joked about skinny dipping as so many people were enjoying topless or nude sunbathing, but that wasn’t in the cards until later…heheheh
When our water bottles were empty it was time to leave. We walked back to Uvala Valovine to where the “Water Ski Lift” was now in full operation. We watched upwards of six skiers at a time get pulled around a track – so fun! There appeared to be a nice bar out on the platform where water skiers were launching from so we went over to relax and watch. We learned this had only been in operation for one year and it seemed to be a huge hit for the area.
After enjoying a couple of drinks (including a complimentary one from our waiter – thanks!) the sun was setting and we got the nerve up to skinnydip. I say “we,” but I think Meryl was skeptical until we found a reasonably private spot to take the plunge! Ultimately it was a free and relaxing reward after a lovely long day of launching ourselves off cliffs and lounging in the sun!
Day 3: Miles walked – <6, cliffs jumped – 2, drinks – 4, skinnydip – 1!
Stock Up On The Good Stuff
On our way out of Pula we stocked up on plenty of burek for the gentlemen and kiddos back home. Then we set out on a beautiful drive up the entirety of Istria to Šempas, home of Batič biodynamic winery. I had discovered this place on a previous trip and fallen so in love with their wine I honestly don’t want to drink anything else! Meryl, also a fan, agreed that we couldn’t go home empty handed. A quick tasting and 40+ wine bottles in our trunk later, we were back on the road! When you’re lucky enough to get away for the weekend and leave all the household duties to the hubbies, you can’t come home empty handed! Haha!
Day 4: Miles driven – 338, burek – 14, bottles of Batič wine – 20 (each)!
where’s the next getaway?
It was a pedometer-happy weekend filled with sun, salt water, laughter, letting go, risks, rewards, delicious discussions, and unlimited burek – in case it wasn’t obvious, my favorite Croatian pastry. Over the weekend we tried apple, Mexican chicken, potato, chocolate, meat and spinach burek. My favorite will always be potato but the chocolate one came in a close second!
A huge thank you to Meryl for being such a fantastic friend on this trip – from her great attitude and support of this crazy venture to snapping videos, long walkie-talkies, tolerating my peer pressure and clowning around, and making sure we were both well lubed with sunscreen. I’m starting to think these little getaways are just the self-care we need! Where to next?