Family Fun in Istria!

The heat has been intense here in Hungary and we decided that a last-minute summer escape was in order. Where better to head than straight to the Croatian coast! After a super fun girls getaway to cliff dive and visit Pula on the Istrian Peninsula with my friend Meryl (blog here) I knew it was the perfect place to return with the whole family. So we packed up our floaties and drove about 6 hours west to the tip of Istria!

We used my previous exploratory trip as a guide for this one, and went to pretty much the same cliffy beaches. The kids were SO excited to jump in – so the first night we settled into our apartment in Pula and then went straight to Verudela Beach. It was perfect timing for sunset…

What a sight!
Verudela Beach
Watch your step, Willow!
Great jumps, Beau!
Cliffs at sunset all to ourselves…

The first evening Beau managed to step on a sea urchin, and he was incredibly tough about it, not really complaining until the next morning when he realized a tiny piece of the spike got stuck in his foot. After some cringe-worthy poking and picking I wasn’t able to get it out, and as a last-ditch effort I sucked on it. That did the trick! It popped right out. (Note to self: try to just suck out splinters next time!) The only bummer from that encounter is that for the rest of the weekend the girls were paranoid about sea urchins (which we rarely saw after that) so it made them a little unnecessarily scared at times until they got the “all clear.”

The next day we grabbed a bunch of fruit and burek and hit up Seagull’s Rocks (also known as Felsen Strand) and found ourselves jumping off various cliffs, practicing diving, and floating around in and out of caves. This is a great area because it has trees and shady spots as well as a wide range of terrain including beach, cliffs, caves, coves and hilly overlooks. Beautiful!

No trip is without oddities…this day we managed to rip through our hammock (RIP eno!) and lose 2 pairs of goggles but that didn’t stop us from soaking up every bit of saltwater and sunshine Seagulls Rocks had to offer! Also, the girls had a run-in with a cactus, but I saved the day by getting the micro spikes out with my sucking power again! HA! It was super busy…I mean, we’re talking boatloads of people…but it didn’t seem to hinder us having a cozy “spot” on the rocks to lay out and for our stuff and have plenty of wide open space on the water to float around. It’s an awesome destination for sure!

Beau’s biggest jump! Over the cave…
Beau practicing his diving…
Lounging on the rocks in the sunshine!
RIP Hammock. You were good to us…
Another jumping spot!
Beautiful coastline!
The most popular jump spot at Seagull’s Rocks (can you spot Beau and Didi?)
Jumping off another set of cliffs near a little cove at Seagulls Rocks (see Derek, Didi and Beau?)

When we ran out of water and were all pooped out from sunshine and sea water, we headed back into Pula to find some dinner. We ended up getting yummy bakery items at Mlinar (the best) bakery and then walked around town. It was a beautiful night for a walk around Pula! We scoped out some dinner spots for the following night (more on that later) and we got to see the sights of Pula and enjoyed the sunset on our walk around the old town before bed.

Nice door, Lolo…
Entrance to the walking street
Temple of Augustus
Pula Arena

The next day we went to Kamenjak (AKA Mala Kolumbarica) to do more jumping and exploring! Parking was easy right near the Safari Bar, and we were there early (before the big crowds) so we found a perfect spot to set up for the day. There is a vast coastline at the tip of Primantura peninsula, and all of it has various cliffs, caves, and jutting rocks to climb on, jump off, and explore. We took the floaties into a cafe near one of the more popular jumping spots under the Safari Bar, and then swam over to the huge cliff I jumped off on the last trip (that was now teaming with people) and swam under the cliff into a cave! It was amazing! The kids loved taking turns jumping, floating around, and watching mommy do tricks. Willow made friends with the sweetest little dog near us, and we all got plenty of sun! This time we managed to pop a hole in the unicorn floaty (RIP, uni!) and the girls got a few battle wounds from the rocks, but again, it didn’t stop us! What a great day.

A great spot to jump!
Beau with a burned up back about to jump!
A 10′ cliff is perfect for flips and tricks…
Swan dive!
Good form, honey! 😉
Get it, Didi!
You can see people swimming towards the cliffs – the go directly into a tiny opening as high as their heads to emerge inside a huge cave inside the cliffs! Its awesome! There is Derek and Beau on top of the cliff!
Beautiful waters!
One of the small coves near where we put our things (top right)
It was pretty busy by the time we decided to leave late afternoon…

We had worked up quite an appetite! We had saved so much money by packing our own food and just grabbing bakery and market items for our meals that we were really looking forward to a nice dinner. Unfortunately we struck out. Well, not exactly…there were lots of options, but we ended up picking just about the worst one. They all looked about the same, so I am going to go out on a limb and say Pula restaurants are pretty touristy, poor quality and overpriced. This tappas restaurant we chose in the old city turned out to be the grossest meal we have had in Europe and cost us over $100 for basically a bunch of frozen vegetables, canned sauces and overall tasteless, basic “food.” It was disappointing. We did learn, though – when the waiter says “the pictures aren’t what the food is,” to ask, “what’s good here?” and also, “do you take credit card?” Because we used every last penny on that sorry excuse for a meal! Hahaha The high point, however, was on our walk back to the apartment we discovered Amore (I think that’s the name), a very delicious homemade gelato stand. That perked us right up!

The last day we decided to check out one of the many beaches we had seen even though they tend to be busier. The beaches have fun pay-as-you-go novelties like blow up water playgrounds and rental SUPs and family paddle boats. It was nice to have a gradual-entry point for a change for Willow, and the kids got in lots of snorkeling and floating. We enjoyed an hour out on the family paddle board and the kids even went skinny dipping! Ambrela Beach has good facilities and some cool sculptures near the free parking area. There are places to stay nearby and a couple of bars and eateries, too. Its rocky, though, and gets busy – bring water shoes!

There was one more place we wanted to explore, so we headed back to put on our Keens and drove up to Fort Punta Christo, which we had heard was much quieter even in the peak season. It was true – there weren’t many cars and hardly any people around when we found a spot near the old fort and hiked down to Punta Christo Lighthose, Prostina Beach and then found our own little wave-pool cove down one of the trails. The big kids were super brave and walked across the long rickety bridge by the lighthouse (Didi swam back – she wasn’t going back on that thing!). The skies were starting to look ominous but we made the most of the last rays of sunshine and walked back to the car feeling like we were still in the waves!

Fun to hike along this coast! Lots of lookout points, fortresses, bridges…
Great cove!
Our own private wave pool!
Tiny little cave
Feeling tired…
But we don’t want to leave!

When we left the upper peninsula we realized the weather was looking a bit threatening. We knew better than to go to a restaurant from the last night’s experience, so we had our hearts set on something quick like kebabs. That didn’t work out (every place was either packed or out of meat!) and the skies were looking ominous, so we ducked into a great little place and grabbed some yummy salad and pizza while the streets outside turned into rivers. I have never seen a storm system quite like that…it was remarkable!

Check out that sky! The streets soon turned to rivers…a real downpour!

We ended up running home when the rain slowed some, about eight minutes back to our apartment. The kids were such good sports – it was fun! We missed out on another night of delicious Amore gelato, but at least we had a decent meal and would be cozied up and well rested for the ride home the next day.

Before leaving in the morning, we grabbed a bag full of bureks and went to a crepe restaurant to gorge on waffles and crepes before heading home. It was a delicious way to end a perfect weekend in the sunshine and Adriatic seas!

Goodbye for now, Pula!

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