Croatia is the go-to sunny spot for Americans taking Transatlantic trips this summer and fall, and while the walled Dubrovnik and vibrant Split have dominated headlines in recent weeks, other lesser-explored parts of the country have continued to fly under the radar of most.
That is the case with Pula, a smaller city in Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, far away from the busy and over-touristed Dalmatia, and one that tourists often tended to ignore as they traveled South to the resort zone of Neretva County.
You may have never heard of it before, but trust us when we say Pula is one of the trendiest Mediterranean destinations this year, and it should definitely make your bucket list:
The Most Italian Of Croatia’s Cities
With a metropolitan area home to over 90,000 people, Pula is the largest city in the Istria region and one of Croatia’s most culturally-charged ports.
Historically a part of the Itallic world – Pula was in fact an Italian city up until the Second World War – it is more closely related to the Latin World than Slavic proper, much like Dalmatia, which had also remained primarily Venetian over the centuries, up until Croatia came to be.
Buildings in Pula have Europe’s traditional pastel colors and green shutters, and the ancient monuments, including the 6th-century Romanesque Mary Formosa church, leave no room for doubt: it may now be part of Croatia, but its origins cannot be erased.
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Pula’s most famous landmark, in fact, is a Roman Amphitheater, one of the most impressive of the wider Roman World and one that rivals Rome’s Colosseum in beauty. For instance, it is the only Roman structure of its kind to have its arena ring and side towers entirely preserved.
Known as the Pula Arena, it was erected between the years 27 BC and 68 AD, and it’s both one of the last six largest surviving arenas of the Roman period, as well as Croatia’s best-preserved ancient monument.
A Booming Cultural Scene
Though gladiator games no longer take place inside the arena, it is still a house of entertainment to this day. It hosts the Pula Film Festival, one of Europe’s most prestigious cinematography events, and Pula Music Week, when partygoers gather inside the ring to attend performances of world-renowned DJs.
These events are traditionally held in July and August, but that’s not to say Pula’s tourist offer is restricted to the summer months. It is a regional capital of culture, known for its intact Roman temples, historic forts, and colorful Venetian-era houses.
If it’s some of that Old World charm you’re after, rest assured you will find it in Pula.
Additionally, the city is the gateway to the wider Istrian Peninsula, where vineyards dot the rolling green hills, pebbly beaches straddle the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea, perhaps the clearest arm of the Mediterranean, and marine parks extend for miles on end.
Pula has got so trendy in recent years that it is now planning on strengthening infrastructure amid a new influx of young visitors. Despite the recent price surges observed across Croatia, especially after the country joined the Eurozone, Pula seems to always be on the brink of ‘selling out’.
Is Pula Croatia’s Next Hotspot?
As reported by Total Croatia News, the city of Roman wonders and festivals has hosted up to 25 thousand guests at a time, and as early as May 2023, private accommodation units were all sold out and bars and restaurants full.
As a hotel owner from Pula stated, visitors to Croatia stay in ‘one destination for a shorter period’, cramming as many coastal attractions as they can into a single itinerary, so Pula is ‘reduced to a type of station tourism’.
This means accommodation providers have had to level up and provide the best possible service so to attract the most short-term visitors, and despite the rising prices, a direct result of the aforementioned tourism model which creates ‘additional costs’ for hoteliers, Pula continues to grow.
They weren’t common before, but now hostels are also popping up along the Istrian coast, and there are about 20 of them in Pula proper, making this destination more accessible to young travelers on a stricter budget.
Are Transatlantic Flights Next?
Finally, yet another proof Pula is set to become Croatia’s next hotspot is the lengthening of the airport’s runway in a bid to host Transatlantic flights for the first time ever in the coming years. Should the local authorities’ plan materialize, Pula will be only the third in Croatia to do so.
Right now, Air Transat operates flights from Zagreb, the country’s capital and financial center to Toronto in Canada, carrying passengers on an Airbus A330-200. Additionally, Drubovnik is served by a United Airlines Boeing 767-300 seasonally, with flights departing from Newark.
Connectivity between the U.S. and Canada and the Balkan Peninsula (excluding mainland Greece) is generally poor, with very limited flight options and flight itineraries generally including a stopover in a larger international hub elsewhere in Europe.
The only Balkan country to host year-round nonstop flights from North America is Serbia, yet it remains one of the least-visited destinations by Americans in the continent. Should Pula attain its goal, it will be a game-changer for Istria – and Croatia as a whole.
No plans for an official launch date, which American hubs would be served, nor which airlines could possibly operate on this route have been revealed yet, as this is still early stages, with construction underway and development plans yet to be laid out, but the news are very promising.
Read more on Croatia’s historical post-crisis tourism surge here.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com