When in Istria Head East to Discover Rabac & Labin Croatia
I am always banging on about how Croatia is packed with fantastic sights and places to visit for total rest and relaxation, but there are many places in Croatia which never get the publicity that they so rightly deserve.
Some of these travel destinations are slightly hidden away, hidden gems, one could say, others are just overshadowed by the bigger cities nearby.
I know why you are focused on Dubrovnik and its beaches and culture or looking at Island hoping from Split, but I think it’s time you turned your attention to two of Istria’s glittering treasures – namely, Labin and Rabac.
These two destinations are separate in their own right, but they are only 5km apart and share a tourist board so they are often grouped together – Bonus, two for the price of one!
The truth is, each one has plenty to see and do, and plentiful opportunities for a holiday with a difference – they are so close that you get the best of both worlds.
A beach vacay in Rabac and the romantic hilltop town of Labin.
Let’s check out Rabac and Labin in a little more detail.
We took a family trip late spring and ventured off the well-trodden path of eastern Istria, and landed on the east side after discovering the delights of Ozalj (another great unknown!).
Where Can You Find Rabac & Labin?
Both Labin and Rabac are in Istria, and they are located on the eastern side of the peninsula.
Labin is around a 5km drive from the coastline, whereas Rabac is on the coast, making it a popular tourist resort for those who enjoy summertime beach fun.
Aside from the fun and holiday vibe of these two towns, Labin is steeped in history, including an interesting coal mining story, and of course the medieval history all these Istrian Hilltop towns share.
Labin dates back to 285AD – meaning Labin was inhabited two thousand years B.C. – yikes, so old! The first written document is a relief from the 3rd century with the inscriptions” RES PUBLICA ALBONESSIUM”.
Whereas Rabac found its roots in fishing and more recently the booming tourism industry, which led to the construction of various beachside Hotels, Resorts, and Camping grounds.
Rabac is known as The Pearl of the Kvarner Bay, and as soon you arrive in Rabac, you’ll understand why!
The Best Time to Visit Labin & Rabac
The best time for you to head this stunning region is really dependent on how hot you like the weather.
Summer sees the mercury rise considerably, so if you like it hot, July and August are for you. If you prefer milder temperatures and far fewer tourists, then spring and autumn’s shoulder months are perfect (we went in Spring, and loved it!)
While there is the minor chance of rain in the shoulder seasons (more so during Autumn), the temperatures are still very warm in May, June and September; the weather is definitely beach-time suitable.
Winter is mild and wet, but this is still a good time to see the authentic Istrian way of life and revel in the Istrian food and escape the hectic summer tourism.
We spent a quick two days in the area in April, after being invited by the local tourist board. But two days was simply not enough, we loved it and have it on the list of ‘places we’d go back to.’
I had no idea what to expect from that side of Istria. Having always spent vacays on the western side of Istria, heading east was fascinating.
We arrived on the first day of the 9th Flower Fair in Labin – it was a perfect spring day. Sunny and warm.
The arrival was made all the better, as we made our way past the colorful array of flowers, and onto the food zone – hello lunch!
Known as ‘Si naši gušti (All Our Tastes) the food at the fair was the star for us (sorry to all of the numerous flower exhibitors).
The gourmet event ‘Si naši gušti is easy to find in the main square in Podlabin, and we suggest you plan your trip around it! Restaurateurs prepare gastro delicacies, along with wines from well-known local producers. You can eat, and then wander the flower displays, and stalls selling other trinkets.
What Did We Eat (And Love) at The Flower Fair?
- Salted roast pancakes with spring vegetables, wild asparagus, and a juicy pork chop. Velo Kafe Restaurant: Mr. Leo Višković
- Homemade gnocchi & sausage with a smoked pork fillet sauce with radicchio. Vale Vista and Tomažići Restaurants: Valdi and Sonja Licul.
- Fresh pljukanci pasta with asparagus, prosciutto, and a cottage cheese sauce. Kvarner Restaurant: Josip Gobo
- Homemade polenta with herbs and cuttlefish sauce. Villa Calussovo: Iva Milevoj
- Spring lasagna with prawns. Flanona Restaurant: Mr. Serđo Peteani
- Seafood salad Fjord Raša, octopus, mussels, fresh tomatoes, chickpea, capers. Konoba Nando: Tea Gobo
What to See and Do in Labin and Rabac
There is a significant difference between the two towns in terms of vibe and what to do – Rabac is more about holiday and beach fun, whereas Labin is about history and architecture, so if you can combine the two, you get the best of both worlds!
Our Little Donkey snapped up the Labin Guidebook given to me by the friendly team at the tourist board, and we set about discovering the main sites.
We planned to only stay overnight, so with less than two days, we were not going to be able to see much. That said, here are the attractions in Labin and Rabac we thoroughly enjoyed.
One of the most famous historic parts of Labin is centered at the walls of the Old Town and is called Sanfior Gate.
This was built in 1589 as the entrance to the town and is decorated in the Labin Crest and with a Venetian lion. On top of this, check out Church of Blessed Virgin Mary’s Birth, built in 1336.
Old Town: Labin is an old medieval town which sits above Rabac, and that means stunning views!
The Town Museum is a must visit, and you can even check out a miniature coal mine, which will help you learn about the former mining history of the region – the Little Donkey was fascinated with it! He went through the exhibition twice and was begging to go again. A total hit for kids (..and Mr. Chasing the Donkey was impressed also).
The Old Town has many coffee shops, small boutiques and galleries to check out, which can help you fill a lazy day.
Olive Oil Tasting: We spent a great hour in the tasting rooms owned by William Negri. The Negri olive oils are tasty and are very well priced given the extraordinary way they are made.
Oh, and they also make wine – so it’s a 2 for 1 tasting. Be sure to take cash as you’ll be hard pressed not to leave without a bottle of each – they are that good. So good, we left with over 12 bottles of wine and oils.
Explore the Art Galleries: Labin is full of small galleries just waiting to be discovered.
One of our favourites was the gallery of Vinko Šaina. An Istrian native, Vinko restored and transformed the run down neglected Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel into a gallery. Be sure to pop in and say hello.
Walking & Bike Trails: For you sporty types, the walking trails on the hills down to Rabac are fantastic. They offer countless types of flora and fauna and more of those picturesque views.
Bell Tower: What’s not to love about a bell tower? The best part – the sweeping views from up high. On the day we visited the Little Donkey begged to go up and see the bells (he has a mad fascination with bells and bell towers).
It’s possible to climb the stairs to reach the dizzying height of 33 meters – take your camera I heard the view is killer. I was sick with the flu and pregnant and did not feel up to the climb. Mr. Chasing the Donkey had to carry Little Donkey up – so he never managed to get a clear shot. Sorry!
The bell tower is easy to find, all you have to to is follow the ding dong sound that sounds throughout the Old Town and 7am, noon and again at 8pm.
Library: I never in my life thought I’d say this, but you should poke your head into the Town’s Library – seriously cool stuff.
Labin Old Town Night Sightseeing Tours: On Tuesdays, from 13 June to 12 September, head to Labin Old Town, and enjoy a free night sightseeing tour.
The female guides are dressed as Sentona-the patroness of travelers, and they will introduce you do the ancient people known as Liburni and the outcome of the battle with the Uskoks. Along for the tour are the is a gentleman wearing miners’ uniform who will proudly tell you all about the famous Labin Republic and the local miners’ riot.
On the tour, you can Discover medieval secrets and legends, find out who invented a speedometer, where a replica of a mine is now located in a Baroque palace and wander around the house of Matthias Flacius, Labin-born theologian and a close associate of Martin Luther.
The tour starts at 9:30 PM in front of Info point in Labin Old Town, and finishes around 11 PM in front of Negri palace – the place to try indigenous Istrian olive oils.
The best part is that the tour is free of charge, and is available in Croatian, English, German, Italian and Czech.
Rabac has those prized Blue Flag Beaches to enjoy, with nature at your fingertips.
There are watersports, diving, walking trails, and also many cafe’s, bars, ice cream shops and nightlife; basically, Rabac gives you everything that a holiday resort should!
Rabac Open Air Festival: This year (2017), for the first time ever, Rabac will bring top quality entertainment to the streets and squares for the entire summer season.
Rabac will be converted into a huge open-air stage starting 8 June and finish 31 August. With a program packed with music, cinema, theater and a bunch of concerts there will be some kind of activity that’ll tickle your fancy.
The festival’s motto is the celebration of life, the beauty of life and the little moments that come with it – now, that’s something we can totally get behind!
The program comprises four different categories: Street Performance, Street Music, Cinema and Theatre and Special Events; you can find out more here.
Enjoy The Istrian Lifestyle Evenings: On Fridays from 16 June to 8 September, enjoy in the original Istrian gastronomic and hand made products fair in Rabac.
Taste superb extra-virgin olive oil. Negri and Oil Perin, and olive oil with garlic and pepperoncino, from the world’s best olive region of Istria.
Surprise your palate with Istrian prosciutto, homemade goat cheese Blagevica, healthy yogurt and whey, toast with Labin wines from Romeo Licul, Baćac and Juričić’s family wineries.
Refresh yourself with natural juices and get to know how lace handicrafts are made.
Find an original souvenir for your loved ones from top-designed ceramic products from Labin family traditional craft shop Merania, cosmetics and decorative objects of lavender from family farm Faraguna, handmade natural cosmetics and treat yourself with homemade jams.
Or just, feel the hospitality of Istrian people.
Wander the boardwalk: Starting at one end of Rabac, you can walk or catch the passenger train all he way along the beach promenade to the other end.
We caught the train to the end, and then walked ever so slowly back. We stopped for ice-cream. We sat by the water and enjoyed drinks and views to die for.
Sentona, Saint Patron of Travelers
Labin’s Goddess Sentona – the Patron Saint of travelers,’ is the new face of the tourist brand of Labin and Rabac.
Sentona marks quality, tradition, authenticity, and the naturalness goodness of the Labin area.
Look out for Sentona themes while in the aea. For example in authentic, healthy menus offered in local restaurants. Or while you are treating yourself with relaxing wellness treatments made with natural cosmetics rich in local essential oils. Find more here.
The Best Beaches in Rabac Istria
Rabac is the one with the beaches, and these are some of the best on the Istrian coastline!
Lanterna Beach is a Blue Flag beach, and this is the busiest beach in the resort – really beautiful.
For a quieter option, but still, with plenty of watersports on offer, Girandella Beach is the one to go to, with pine trees offering some much-needed shade, or you could also check out Maslinica Beach (which also has a kid’s play area close by).
St Andrea Beach is a short distance from the town center, but still walkable, and this is the beach to go to for peace and quiet. This is a narrow stretch of beach, but there is not a lot of shade on offer here so if you have small kids bring an umbrella. But it’s great for those who want rest and relaxation.
Where to Eat in Rabac and Labin Croatia
There are plenty of places to sit down and have a coffee, or perhaps go out and have a delicious evening meal, with some authentic Istrian cuisine to try or some international dishes. In Rabac, be sure to head to Pingo 2 if you’re an ice cream lover, and this is definitely one for the kids too! There are all different flavors of ice cream on offer, and this is the perfect answer to those hot summer days.
Labin has many small, quaint coffee shops to sit and have a cappuccino, wine, a sweet treat, and these are mostly located in the Old Town, where you can wander around the maze-like streets.
But the best food we had was at Velo Kafe Restaurant where we enjoyed a long, and tasty three-course lunch! Located in the Old Town of Labin it’s super easy to spot.
It offers a stunning view over the Old Town Square from its terrace, where we sat last month for several hours enjoying a 3-course lunch that left me unbuttoning my jeans so I could breathe!
The ambiance of Velo Kafe is particularly appealing (I hear especially so in winter by the fire). Here you can discover the unique flavors of Labin, prepared using the recipes that the chef at Velo Kafe Restaurant, Jasna Pušec learned from her Mother and Grandmother.
Jasna includes traditional and local ingredients on the menu, and her passion and love for cooking are reflected on each plate, and one mouthwatering highlight was these Labinski Krafi sweet treats.
Must-Try Labinski Krafi by Chef Jasna Pušec
Where to Stay in Labin or Rabac
There are many hotels around Labin and Rabac. However, the big four-star establishments are more in Rabac, as this is where the beach is!
For your Hotel Resort experience, check out the Hotel Adoral, Hotel Narcis, Casa Valamar Sanfior, Hotel Mimosa or Valamar Girandella Resort which was newly renovated in 2017. This way you’re right on the beach, and you have all the fun of a summer beach holiday right before you.
For something a little lower in price, but still ultra-comfortable, check out the Allegro Hotel, Miramar Hotel, or the Hotel Flanona, for three-star options.
Labin tends to have more self-catering options available, and less in the way of mass tourism, while still being close enough to reach it (just 5km away).
Apartment Cekada is a highly rated three-star option, as well as Bed & Breakfast Kvarner, with its pretty ocean views from high up.
Studio Apartments Stella and Apartments Villa Venera are other high-quality choices in the three-star bracket range.
How to Get to Istria
Most people fly into Croatia, and the best airport options include Zagreb, Pula, or Rijeka. With Istria’s close proximity to Italy flying into Venice is also a good option. From there, you can either take a private transfer, a bus (though very tricky from Dalmatia) or you can drive yourself.
Hiring a car is a fantastic option because you get to see the passing landscapes – and drive between Labin and Rabac and the surrounding areas!
From Dalmatia, you simply head down the Adriatic Highway and follow the signs to Rabac & Labin which are sign posted or from Zagreb, you take the coastal road down to Plomin and follow the signs.
It’s that easy!
So, the next time you’re on the look-out for a new Croatian destination, the Eastern Istria should be where your compass points – and you can find more about the destinations here. can find more about the destinations here.
Rabac and Labin Croatia await you!