Around Istria: Tito's hidden paradise

Sailing Destinations
Stanislav Kubíček 4 min read

When I sailed in my newly renovated sailboat Fera almost twenty years ago, we spent the first weeks in one of my favourite area in Croatia- around Istria and Brijuni islands.

Istria offers several beautiful historic towns and interesting places on its west coast. From the north, it is primarily Poreč, Rovinj and Pula. Outside the mainland, you can visit the islands and the Brijuni National Park.

The history of the Istrian peninsula is incredibly varied. We can find a fortress from the Bronze Age, discovered only in 1953 on a hill called Monkodonja. It lies just east of Rovinj, where the foundations of historic buildings and walls were uncovered. Some walls have been partially renovated, and everything is very reminiscent of ancient Mycenae in Greece.

Entrance in Monkodonja, ancient pre-historical city, hill fort occupied about 1800-1200 BC during the Bronze Age, fragments of mycenaen ceramics have been found.
Entrance in Monkodonja, an ancient pre-historical city, hill fort occupied about 1800-1200 BC during the Bronze Age. 
Source: 123rf.com

Furthermore, Istria was for a long-time part of the Roman Empire, then ruled by the Goths, Byzantines, Langobards. In difficult times, the people of Istria found protection on a fortified island in Rovinj, where the city walls have stood since the 7th century. These were necessary to defend against the attacks of Croatian and Saracen pirates.

After the Napoleonic Wars, Istria was acquired by the Habsburgs and became part of the Habsburg Monarchy. After the First World War, Istria fell to Italy, and to this day, most towns in Istria are known under the Italian name. After World War II, Istria fell to Yugoslavia, and after 1991 it split into Croatia and Slovenia.


It probably doesn't make much sense to describe the cities of Poreč, Rovinj and Pula. All of them are worth a visit, and in each city, you will find a well-protected port or marina. We'd better move straight to Brijuni National Park.

Zebras in national park Brijuni
Zebras in Brijuni National park 
Source: Unsplash

The park includes an archipelago of 14 islands, including the surrounding water, covering an area of more than 36 km2. The largest island of Veliki Brijun is the only one that you can freely visit with your yacht. The Brijuni Islands have historically lived as exciting lives as the rest of Istria. During the First World War, the island was a submarine base for the Austro-Hungarian Navy. During World War II, after Italy surrendered in 1943, the Germans came. Therefore, the islands were bombed in 1945 - almost all buildings in the port and seaside resort of Saluga were destroyed. 

On Brijuni, Tito hosted numerous statesmen, politicians and diplomats (Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Elizabeth II Queen of Great Britain, but also Richard Burton, Kirk Douglas, Sofia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor … )
Josip Broz Tito, president of Yugoslavia (front, right), gives actress Sophia Loren (front, left) and her husband Carlo Ponti (rear, left) a cart ride on the Pontis' visit to Yugoslavia. Tito's wife, Jovanka Broz completes the foursome. On Brijuni, Tito hosted numerous statesmen, politicians and diplomats (Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Elizabeth II Queen of Great Britain, but also Richard Burton, Kirk Douglas, Sofia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor) 
Source: Facebook/@lindagajski

Since 1947, the islands have closed to visitors because President Tito has chosen them as one of his preferred residences. The remains of old buildings were partly demolished, partly rebuilt and renovated. After Tito's death (1980), the islands became a national park. The island of Veliki Brijun continues to be used by the Croatian government for state receptions and as the summer residence of the Croatian president. To this day, the islands are referred to as status symbols. Berthing rates and charges are deliberately astronomically high to deter all but the wealthiest yachting visitors.

Flora & Fauna

The islands have very diverse flora and fauna; there are about 680 species of plants, many of which are endangered species in the rest of Istria. In addition to various native Mediterranean species, oak forests, and other imported trees, such as pine, cedar, eucalyptus, fir, redwood, or cypress, thrive here. Exotic plants such as palm trees and cacti are also planted here on a large scale. A unique attraction is the so-called ancient olive tree, whose age is approximately 1600 years! 

Brijuni National Park, 1600 year old olive tree with milky way in the night. Night view of milky way in brijuni park landscape. Milky way over old tree and olive melting water. Monument to the beauty of ancient history and travel. Majestic milky way through old olive trees in brijuni desert. Summer night landscape of the national park. Travel and beauty of nature. Sunny day of the year.
Brijuni National Park, a 1600-year-old olive tree with milky way in the night.
Source: 123rf.com

In the northern area of Veliki Brijun, a safari park was set up in 1978 on a fenced area of 9 hectares. You can see elephants, llamas, zebras, antelopes, Somali sheep, Indian sacred cows, and typical donkeys. The Brijuni Islands are extraordinary and worth a visit.

Touristic road in Safari park. The islands have very diverse flora and fauna; there are about 680 species of plants. 
Source: 123rf.com