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. Still, many places in Croatia never get the publicity they rightly deserve.
Some of these travel destinations are slightly hidden, 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 hopping 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 – Bonus, two for the price of one!
The truth is, each 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 vacation 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 in late spring, 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?
Labin and Rabac are in Istria, 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 exciting 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 inscription” RES PUBLICA ALBONESSIUM.”
Whereas Rabac found its roots in fishing and the booming tourism industry, more recently, 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 to head to this stunning region depends 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 a little chance of rain in the shoulder seasons (more so during Autumn), the temperatures are still hot in May, June, and September; the weather is beach-time suitable.
Winter is mild and wet, but this is still an excellent time to see the authentic Istrian way of life, 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 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 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 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 only to stay overnight, so with less than two days, we would not be able to see much. That said, here are the attractions in Labin and Rabac we thoroughly enjoyed.
Labin is an old medieval town that sits above Rabac, which means stunning views!
One of Labin’s most famous historic parts is centered at the Old Town walls and is called Sanfior Gate.
This was built in 1589 as the town’s entrance and decorated in the Labin Crest with a Venetian lion. On top of this, check out the Church of Blessed Virgin Mary’s Birth, built in 1336.
The Old Town also has many coffee shops, small boutiques, and galleries to check out, which can help you fill a lazy day.
The Town Museum
The Town Museum, located in Battiala Lazzarini Palace, 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).
In addition to Battiala Lazzarini Palace, architecture lovers will enjoy checking out Francovich, Mazzini, and Negri palaces. We didn’t personally make it to these additional palaces, but we would love to check them out on our next visit!
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, they also make wine – so it’s a two-for-one 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 favorites 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
The walking trails on the hills down to Rabac are fantastic for you sporty types. They offer countless varieties of flora and fauna and more of those picturesque views.
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). What’s not to love about a bell tower? The best part – is the sweeping views from up high.
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 do is follow the ding dong sound throughout the Old Town, seven am-noon, and again at 8 pm.
I never thought I’d say this in my life, but you should poke your head into the Town’s Library – seriously cool stuff.
Labin Old Town Night Sightseeing Tours
From 13 June to 12 September on Tuesdays, 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 to the ancient people known as Liburni and the outcome of the battle with the Uskoks. The tour is a gentleman wearing a miners’ uniform who will proudly tell you about the famous Labin Republic and the local miners’ riot.
On tour, you can Discover medieval secrets and legends, discover 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 the Negri palace 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.
An old granary in Labin’s main square is now home to Teatrino, or The Little Theater, which opened in 1844. This classically designed yellow building is a famous stop in the city, and you can catch multiple productions each year performing here.
Nothing was on the schedule during our time in the city, but even if you aren’t in town during a performance, stop by to check out the building itself and snap a pic!
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 the quality, tradition, authenticity, and naturalness of the Labin area.
Look out for Sentona themes while visiting. For example, local restaurants offer authentic, healthy menus, and relaxing wellness treatments are made with natural cosmetics rich in local essential oils. Find more here.
Rabac has those prized Blue Flag Beaches to enjoy, with nature at your fingertips.
There are watersports, diving, walking trails, cafes, bars, ice cream shops, and nightlife; basically, Rabac gives you everything a holiday resort should have!
Rabac Open Air Festival
Rabac will be converted into a vast open-air stage starting on 8 June and finishing on 31 August. With a program packed with music, cinema, theater, and a bunch of concerts, there will be some activities that’ll tickle your fancy.
The festival’s motto is celebrating life, the beauty of life, and the little moments that come with it – now, that’s something we can get behind!
The program comprises four 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 Rabac’s original Istrian gastronomic and handmade products fair.
Taste superb extra-virgin olive oil. Negri, 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, aoast with Labin wines from Romeo Licul, Baćac, and Juričić’s family wineries.
Refresh yourself with natural juices and learn how lace handicrafts are made.
Find an original souvenir for your loved ones from top-designed ceramic products from the 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 feel the hospitality of Istrian people.
Visit The Belic Tasting Room
Diulio Belic produces some of the most refined olive oil in the world. With over 12 types to sample, this is a unique place to stop if you are intrigued by the history of olive oil or are interested in culinary treats worldwide.
Located towards the top of the village in Rabac, it’s a great uphill walk for those looking to exercise for the day!
Wander The Boardwalk
Starting at one end of Rabac, you can walk or catch the passenger train 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.
The Best Beaches In Rabac, Istria
Rabac is the place to be for beach-filled days, 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 – beautiful.
St Andrea Beach
Incredible sea colors and impressive rock formations make this one of the most beautiful beaches in Istria! This Blue Flag awarded beach is a short distance from the town center but still walkable and is the place to go for peace. Small pebble bays are scattered along the beachfront, forming many alcoves for sunbathers, and calm, shallow waters make for easy swimming. This is a narrow stretch of beach, but there is not much shade on offer here, so bring an umbrella or rent one upon arrival if you have small kids.
Groceries, cafes, and restaurants are all within walking distance, making spending the whole day here easy. A public toilet, outdoor showers on the beach, a children’s playground, and sporting equipment rentals.
Another one of the beaches in Rabac with Blue Flag status is Girandella Beach. It’s a great beach for everyone, from elderly sunbathers to young couples and families with kids.
It’s a quieter option, with pine trees offering some much-needed shade
Most of Girandella Beach is made of pebbles, but some parts are paved or rocky. Activities on offer range from banana boating and tubing to playing beach volleyball, picnicking, and enjoying a seaside stroll along the promenade.
Not far from Girnadella Beach, you will find Maslinica. This is an excellent family option as it has a kid’s play area!
Where To Eat In Rabac And Labin, Croatia
There are plenty of places to sit down, have a coffee, or perhaps go out and have a delicious evening meal, with some authentic Istrian cuisine to try or some international dishes.
Where To Eat & Drink In Rabac
In Rabac, be sure to head to Pingo 2 if you’re an ice cream lover, which is one for the kids! There are all different flavors of ice cream on offer, and this is the perfect answer to those hot summer days.
Trattoria La Pentola
With a large terrace, this hotel restaurant is an excellent spot to find a decent meal in the city. The menu offers a nice variety of cuisine, from pasta and pizza to fish & chips, calamari, and lamb chops.
The Beat Beach Club
If you are looking for a cocktail bar, the sea views and the lively music make this a top spot for a drink in Rabac.
Where To Eat & Drink In Labin
Labin has many small, quaint coffee shops to sit and have a cappuccino, wine, or a sweet treat, and these are primarily located in the Old Town, where you can wander around the maze-like streets.
Velo Kafe Restaurant
The best food we had was at Velo Kafe Restaurant, where we enjoyed a long, 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!
Velo Kafe’s ambiance 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. One mouthwatering highlight was these Labinski Krafi sweet treats.
In the village Montozi, not far from Labin, you will find the most delicious old-school Istrian cuisine: seafood, homemade pasta, polenta, and meat & fish stews. If you’re up for a drive, it’s worth it!
If you desire upscale seafood, this is the place to find it! Located in the boutique Hotel Peteani, the restaurant offers traditional Istrian cuisine prepared using modern techniques.
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 have all the fun of a summer beach holiday right before you.
For a little lower 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 and Bed & Breakfast Kvarner, with its pretty ocean views from high up.
Studio Apartments Stella and Villa Venera are other high-quality choices in the three-star bracket range.
How To Get To Rabac & Labin, Istria
Most people fly to Croatia, and the best airport options include Zagreb, Pula, or Rijeka. Flying into Venice is also a good option because of Istria’s proximity to Italy. You can either take a private transfer or a bus (though very tricky from Dalmatia), or you can drive yourself.
Hiring a car is a fantastic option because you can see the passing landscapes – and drive between Labin and Rabac and the surrounding areas!
From Dalmatia, you head down the Adriatic Highway and follow the signs to Rabac & Labin, which are signposted, 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 looking for a new Croatian destination, Eastern Istria should be where your compass points – and you can find more about the destinations here. You can find more about the destinations here.
Rabac and Labin Croatia await you!
Super thanks to the Labin Rabac Tourist Board in helping us discover two great new places <3
Perfect timing! We will be in Rabac in a few days! Can’t wait!
Ohhh fab timing. Are you staying at a beach resort? If so, be sure to take the train (or walk if it’s not too hot) along the promenade. The views are so WOW.
Sarah-Jane thank you a lot, text is beautiful and reach. We see you soon!