Once the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s chief naval base, PULA (in Italian, Pola) is an engaging combination of working port and brash Riviera town. The Romans put the city firmly on the map when they arrived in 177 BC, bequeathing it an impressive amphitheatre whose well-preserved remains are the city’s single greatest attraction, though it’s just one of an easily accessible cluster of classical and medieval sights in the city centre. Pula is also Istria’s commercial heart and transport hub, and the rough-and-ready atmosphere of the crane-ringed harbour makes a refreshing contrast to the seaside towns and tourist complexes farther along the coast. The city also possesses the peninsula’s sole airport, so you’re unlikely to visit the region without passing through at least once. Central Pula doesn’t boast much of a seafront, but there’s a lengthy stretch of rocky beach about 3km south of the city centre, leading to the hotel complex on the Verudela peninsula, which was built in the 1980s to accommodate package-holidaying Brits.
According to legend, Pula was founded by the Colchians, who pursued the Argonauts here after the latter had stolen the Golden Fleece. The prosaic truth is that the city began life as a minor Illyrian settlement, and there’s not much evidence of a significant town here until 177 BC, when the Romans arrived and transformed Pula into an important commercial centre endowed with all the imperial trimmings – temples, theatres and triumphal arches – appropriate to its status.