Schnitzel and chips is off the menu in Pula

Croatia's Roman city on the Istrian peninsula is reinventing itself as a centre for gastro tourism and wine-making, Adrian Mourby reports

Pula has been Venetian, Austrian, Italian and Yugoslavian in its time. Now it's Croatian. Gina may have seen it all. She has been running restaurants in this small walled city since 1947. Her dyed hair is coiffed like Mme Pompadour, as she fixes me with a stare. "Iz daleki?" ("He is from far away?")

Bruno and Oz agree. Bruno is a wine producer. Oz markets Gourmet Istria. The three of us have ended up in Gina's restaurant late this dark March afternoon. And I have, indeed, come a long way to discover how this soil-rich region is reinventing itself as a major centre for gastro tourism.

Bruno used to work in his mother's accountancy business, but substantial government grants to develop Istria's wine potential started him brewing in the family garage. Now he has his own vineyard and the garage is full of 2,000-litre stainless steel fermentation tanks as well as oak barrels bought from France at €700 a piece. His malvasia is the best I have tasted so far.

Oz is half-Kenyan, half-Croatian. He lives on his nerves and his mobile phone and markets Gourmet Istria with a passion. He rejects the old communist days when there was no incentive to do better. He hates mass tourism and despises Istria's Albanian restaurants that offer Wiener schnitzel with chips every July and August.

"To be part of Gourmet Istria, a restaurant has to be open all year round, to have great architecture or ambience, offer Istrian ingredients and an Istrian wine list and good service," he says. "No more banging people's food in front of them like this is some canteen!"

Gina bats her heavy eyelids. She ran a konoba (food and wine bar) under Tito. She has seen the disintegration of old Yugoslavia and the worst excesses of Croatia's experiment with capitalism. Recently, she's witnessed the recession hitting this maritime city hard, with many shops now not bothering to open in the afternoon. But she believes in good food. She always has.

I've spent the morning walking what's left of Roman Pula. Its round, rocky citadel was such a perfect defensive spot on the Adriatic that the Romans built one of their few circular cities around it. They left an amphitheatre and a temple of Augustus that are both in remarkably good nick considering how many European nations marched in and out of Pula over the years, not forgetting the heavy cost of being liberated by my countrymen in 1944.

I've also sat at Café Uliks where James Joyce held court when he wasn't in Trieste (for some reason he didn't enjoy Pula, likening it to Siberia), and I've visited the truffle shop set up by Giancarlo Zigante, the man who discovered the world's biggest truffle (about the size of a human brain) and never looked back. Now, however, with Oz, Bruno and Gina, I am experiencing the full impact of Gourmet Istria as we sit inside this small sturdy stone building, snacking on finger food as the sun goes down.

There are certain things you learn quickly about the Istrian love of food. Firstly, there is merenda, what Tolkien's hobbits call second breakfast. It starts about 10.30 and is conducted across Pula in every café and restaurant and even in the city's first wine bar (a new phenomenon over here).

According to Oz, at any one time most of Pula's working population is sitting in a café. Secondly, lunch doesn't take place till 4.30pm (about the time that some merendas end). This means that this compact city – which didn't really overspill its Roman walls until the 20th century – spends a good portion of its day eating. No wonder gourmet tourism is taking off.

"In 1996 there were 10 really good restaurants in Istria," says Oz. "Today there are 250. It's about the same for wine producers."


How to get there

Adrian Mourby flew to Pula with Croatian Airlines (croatiaairlines .hr), which offers return flights from Gatwick from £229. He stayed at Valsabbion (00 385 52 218033;, where B&B in a double room costs from £110 per night.

Further information

Croatian National Tourist Office (020-8563 7979;

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own