If you, like me, are always looking for an excuse to soak up the sun, regardless of it being summer yet or not, look no further than the sunny Croatian peninsula of the Istrian region.

Gay guide to Croatia and Pula

Pula is the main centre and on the edge of the water lies a large resort complex run by Park Plaza. I had the pleasure of staying at the Park Plaza Arena Pula, which is a beautifully built new resort complex nestled among the trees, right at the water’s edge. The resort has 175 rooms, which are beautifully appointed with large comfortable beds, spacious bathrooms, and balconies you can sit in to enjoy the sun. At Arena Pula you have the option of waterside or park side rooms, either side gives you a wonderful vista across the peninsula. For those with a little more pocket money, or just in need of a little more space, you can splash out for the penthouse suite, a favourite of celebrities that come to Pula to perform. Or the newly build garden suites which include two bedroom, two bathroom suites and a large patio or balcony, depending if you’re on the ground or level one.

Park Plaza Arena Pula, Croatia:
Prices from £101(EURO 117) per room per night, based on two people sharing a standard room with breakfast.
Price inclusive of VAT. Tourist tax not included: daily 1,00 Euro per adult and 0,50 Euro per child (12-18)
To book, visit: www.parkplaza.com/croatia

Once you have settled your luggage, the resort facilities offer a pool, access to the Adriatic Sea via a small beach directly in front of the hotel, a spa and massage service (extra fees apply), I highly recommend the Gold Massage, where you are luxuriously pampered as you are massaged with gold-infused oil. The massage left me feeling very relaxed and shimmering with a golden sheen that lasted all afternoon. Also available in the facilities in the resort are a small gymnasium, which is open daily, and a comfortable foyer bar and terrace where you can enjoy drinks as you soak up the sun’s rays. The bar has a more than competent staff, and a decent cocktail list. They can also whip something up for you should you so ask.

The resort also provides a buffet breakfast and dinner, and an a la carte lunch. While we visited, we were able to sample some wonderful local style foods, which take their influence from the rich history of Croatia, particularly Pula, which has at times been controlled by the Romans, Venetians and Austria-Hungary. This gives their food a wide range of influences, not least of which is the use of locally pressed olive oils in pretty much everything, as well as an excellent, and award winning local wine industry. Each of our courses on this trip were coupled with a different local wine, chosen to suit the food we ate.

While in Pula, travel further afar from the resort area to the local sites. In Pula city, you will find the ancient Roman amphitheatre, which you can explore as a tourist. The building is mostly destroyed, though there are still some seats remaining, as well as an exhibition of an ancient olive oil press that once ran underneath the complex.  If you are in town at the right time, you can enjoy the arena as a functioning entertainment stadium. Throughout the year the stadium hosts the opening night of the Pula International Film Festival (July) and the opening night of the local music festivals which continue throughout the summer months in various abandoned Venetian fortresses which surround the city.  Outside of the festivals, the fortresses can be visited to look at and wander around, but not to enter. The Old town in Pula boasts several squares where one can enjoy a coffee, or many local stores.

If you’re staying in Pula at the Park Plaza Arena Pula, I suggest hiring a car so that you can explore the local areas. One of which is Fažana, a local sea-side village, from where you can take a short ferry ride to the Brijuni National Park. Here you can take a ‘train’ ride tour of the islands, where you get a trip through the zoo, populated with animals that were mostly given as gifts to the President of Yugoslavia. The President, Tito, had a summer residence on the island, which is now used by the President of Croatia, and visiting dignitaries from other countries. My advice would be to visit the island in the morning, as school trips and the majority of tourists head over in the early afternoon. We returned on the 1 pm Ferry to Fažana, where we found the village mostly empty of tourists, as they had all been on the return ferry. We enjoyed lunch at the Stara Konoba, where we were treated to several local specialities, including Boskarin (ox meat) and sardines cooked in more ways than there are numbers. This was again accompanied by a selection of local white wine.

Once in Fazana, you can take an hour or two and enjoy an olive oil tasting session with one of the local producer. I enjoyed the olive oil of Balija a small local producer, one of the few managed by a woman. She and her team produce only 2000 bottles of olive oil per year.

Getting there: Jet2.com – Stansted-Pula Leading leisure airline Jet2.com offers friendly low fares and great flight times to Pula from London Stansted Airport, with flights operating up to two times per week. Jet2.com also flies to Pula from Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford and Manchester Airports. Fares from Stansted Airport to Pula with Jet2.com start at £25 one way including taxes. Fares from Edinburgh Airport to Pula with Jet2.com start at £25 one way including taxes.

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While Pula is a small city, of about 85,000 people, during the summer it comes alive with the hundreds of thousands of tourists who arrive to enjoy the many natural delights. During the summer the small city entertains 2 million overnight stays. There are of course a number of bars and clubs that are available to enjoy, long into the morning. While we were there, we found a little bar called the Shipyard, Pula’s newest bar. Filled with the young people of Pula, attentive bar staff and a DJ to play music, it is a great place to take in a few drinks.

Back at the resort, if you’re interested in exploring various local things, the hotel can arrange a culinary experience, where you can learn how to make some local pasta, which you can enjoy as a side to your next meal. For guests at the Park Plaza hotels, the hotels guest relations people have a large range of activities that can be organised at the front desk of the hotel. These include information about places around the Istrian region that you can drive to with your rental car or towns you can get to by taxi for short excursions. The Histria hotel also has a 300msq gym, an indoor heated pool and a large spa/massage centre which can be booked by guests of that hotel. In addition, a yacht club restaurant is open to the public to enjoy a great selection of local food and excellent cocktails right on the waterfront.

Not far from the Histria hotel is the Ribarska Koliba restaurant. A local seafood restaurant situated directly in the marina. Here you can try some truly wonderful locally sources seafood, prepared freshly each day. The new chef recently hired at the restaurant has created a menu that is rooted in the local cuisine of Istria with a modern twist.

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Getting there: Jet2.com flies directly to Pula from Stanstead, Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford, and Manchester. Flights from Stanstead leave at a bright and early 8am, so you might want to stay at or near the airport. Holiday Extras offers a choice of UK airport hotels that can include your holiday parking along with lounges at all major UK airports.

A night’s stay at an airport hotel is the perfect way to get your holiday off to a hassle-free start. Holiday Extras offers a choice of UK airport hotels that can include your holiday parking along with lounges at all major UK airports so you can start your holiday in style. Hotel room at Stansted Airport from £55.00. To book, visit www.holidayextras.co.uk or call 0800 1313 777

Aaron stayed in Pula as a guest of Park Plaza Arena Pula and the Croatian National Tourist Office

About the author: Aaron Holloway
Australian photographic artist living in a small city in Germany. I travel a lot around Europe and blog about my travels, as well as photograph the cities and people I meet.