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Tourist train with St Mary's Church
The Brijuni (or, in Italian, Brioni) Islands National Park is only 6km from Pula, off the Istrian coast. There are two main islands (Mali Brijun and Veli Brijun)and about a dozen islets but only the largest island, Veli Brijun can be visited (unless you have your own boat). It's an extraordinarily beautiful island, carpeted with ancient pines and olive trees, surrounded by a sparkling sea.
The other islands are Vanga, Sveti Marko, Gaz, Obiljak, Supin, Galija, Grunj, Pusti, Vrsar, Jerolim and Kotez.
One of the reasons to visit the Brijuni islands is its connection with antiquity. The islands were inhabited in the neolithic era, and then fell under Roman rule in 177AD. Upon the collapse of the Roman Empire, the islands first were ruled by the Ostrogoths and then came within the Byzantine Empire until 776AD. The Franks and the Aquilean patriarchs were the next rulers and in 1331 fell under the rule of the Venetian Empire. They were allowed to deteriorate into malarial swamps until the late 19th century when the were purchased by an industrialist and turned into a swanky resort. It was at this point that the hotels on Veli Brijuni were built, waterworks were built and the island was groomed for swimming and strolling. After WWII, the Brijuni islands became the summer residence of Marshal Tito.
Veli Brijuni is an extremely well-manicured park. The native Mediterranean plants and trees have been supplemented with imported species such as stone pine, pine, cedar, sequoia, eucalyptus and bamboo. When Tito was in residence during the summer he invited high-profile celebrities and politicians to come visit. Many brought exotic animals as gifts (!) who were then housed in a fenced-in portion of the island.
If you stay in a hotel on Veliki Brijun, you have the run of the island. There are no cars but you can easily rent a bike or a golf cart to tool around.
Otherwise, the best way is to arrange an excursion through the Brijuni National Park service, based in Fazana. You can reserve by telephone but you should do it at least a day in advance. Your visit includes the services of an English-speaking guide and a mini-train to take you around. The price depends on the season but note that you pay the same price whether or not you take the tour.
There are a number of daily boats back and forth between Fazana and the National Park. Nothing stops you from staying on after the tour and exploring on your own or lolling on the beach. In fact, it's highly advisable! The water is unbelievably clear and the fish life is abundant. It's a great place for snorkelling.
The tour begins at the harbour in front of the Hotel Neptun. The order may vary, but you're sure to see:
Tito Museum with photos and memorabilia of the former Yugoslav leader's time on the island. It's a good way to connect with a part of Croatia's history.
Former quarries, now a pretty and restful space
Olive tree about 1600 years old
Tito's former cadillac in which he tried to seduce Gina Lollobrigida
St Mary's Church from the 13th century
Swamp left as an example of the swamps which once covered the island
Safari Park with zebras and an elephant. There are also native Istrian fauna such as Istrian bulls and goats.
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