The Brijuni archipelago lies off Istria’s west coast, a 15-minute boat journey from Fažana, just north of Pula. Most of the 14 islands are off limits to the public. Luckily, there is so much to see on the other two that you’re unlikely to feel hard done by.
Veliki Brijuni is the largest and contains the vast majority of local treasures. Beautiful and vaguely surreal – English country estate meets Jurassic Park – it consists of hectares of well-maintained, green parkland surrounded by the dazzling Adriatic and planted with avenues of prehistoric-looking pines. This is where you’ll find a golf course, bird sanctuary, botanical gardens, zoo and safari park, three museums and the main archaeological sites. A map of the islands is posted at its harbour – including details of where to find the dinosaur footprints that dot the shoreline.
Brijuni had to wait until 1893 before it was rescued by Austrian steel magnate Paul Kupelwieser. He excavated Roman treasures, built villas, planted trees, landscaped gardens, built the first 18-hole golf course in continental Europe and even established a zoo. Kupelwieser had, in fact, created his own Xanadu – but he died in 1918.
Brijuni later passed into the hands of Mussolini’s Italy. After World War II the Brijuni archipelago, along with the rest of Istria, became part of Tito’s Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav leader used Brijuni as his base, conducting diplomacy with the Non-Aligned Movement and inviting the world’s rich and famous to his idyllic playground. As you step onto Veliki Brijuni’s quayside you are following in the footsteps of Haile Selassie, Queen Elizabeth II, JFK, Sophia Loren – anyone who was anyone in the 1960s. You can see them documented in the ‘Josip Broz Tito On Brijuni’ exhibition.
A tourist train pootles around the main island for you to see most of the attractions at one go.
The archipelago and surrounding waters were proclaimed a national park in 1983, served by a frequent shuttle boat from Pula 6km away.