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Northwest Istria: What To See, Do & Explore In Umag & Surrounds
Tennis fans will know of the northwest corner of Istria, but many others may not. But they should. Do you know about this slice of paradise?
I’ve been living in Croatia for six years, and I had no idea just how delightful this part of Istria is. I have been visiting Istria since 2008, and each time I go, I discover more reasons to go back.
I spent a week in Istria with the ShareIstria team and proclaimed it to be my favorite part of Croatia – and had my dalmatian readers annoyed by such a claim given I live in Dalmatia. But in all my travels, I had never been to the Northwest – well, not more so than just driving through.
We spent a pre-Easter break in Umag, a picturesque town on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. A place where there is an abundance of sunshine and warm temperatures nearly all year-round – which makes it the ideal choice for family holidays, as well as couples and groups.
The vibe of Umag is laid-back and calm, with stunning natural sights to take in.
Umag’s main claim to fame is tennis! The Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag is a well-known ATP Tour tennis tournament. The event began in 1990, and each year seems to get more popular. It’s the most prestigious tennis tournament in the region, which takes place each July.
Anyone who is into history will love Umag. You can still see preserved town walls and towers around the town, dating back to the Roman empire. And, of course, many flock to Umag for its natural beauty, with stunning beaches and a very famous marina, which prestigiously holds the Blue Flag award.
Umag has something for everyone, so pack your bags; let me show you what you can enjoy in Umag and the surrounding area.
You don’t name your blog Chasing the Donkey without LOVING donkeys! Everyone who knows me knows that I melt at the sight of a donkey and often share cute pictures of them on my socials.
So, when the Colours of Istria offered me the chance to head to a private farm – that has dozens of donkeys, I leaped at the chance.
It was supposed to be a family thing – but as we arrived at Ranch Radin, my baby donkey was fast asleep in the car, so my little 6-year-old and I hopped out of the car and set off to explore the farm leaving Mr. Chasing the Donkey to watch the sleeping baby.
The super friendly host of the Ranch, Antonio, took us around his enormous farm. We saw cows, ponies, chickens, ducks; you know the usual.
It was so much fun, even if my side-kick had his fingers up his nose complaining about the smell every 7 seconds.
I was looking left and right at each turn, waiting to get a glimpse of the donkeys. Then, finally, Antonio says his drove of donkeys are at another location – alrighty then – let’s get a move on and meet the jacks and jennets (male and female donkeys).
As we pulled up, I saw them in the distance – all one hundred of them.
Okay, so there was not 100 – but that’s what it looked like. I had never been in a place with so many donkeys in one area. I was giddy with excitement.
Here are a few pics from my fab-u-lous experience.
Things To See And Do In Umag
Donkeys aside, there is lots to do in Umag (and the surrounds); let’s take a look.
Here are the top Umag attractions you can’t miss while you’re in the area:
Umag Old Town
The Old Town is part of Umag’s major history center, dating back to the Middle Ages.
Here you will find remains of walls, villas, and the lovely narrow streets are ideal for losing a few hours exploring. The West Tower is the most famous part of the old town, and the Umag Town Museum is a must-visit, it’s where you’ll find a precious collection of archaeological finds and items from the Roman period found in the town over the years.
The Assumption of Virgin Mary and St. Peregrine
On the pretty Rosazzo promontory, you will find the famous and timeworn Church of St Peregrine. While this church may be small, it has a plentiful history that is intoxicating and interesting to learn about.
The locals built the church to mark the spot where the patron saint was executed, back in the Diocletian era. The area the church is built in is very picturesque, so don’t forget your camera.
Cocktails On The Promenade
Umag’s main promenade, which runs along the beachfront, is ideal for tasting some new and exciting seafood. Because Umag is surrounded by the sea, you will find fresh fare caught daily, and the restaurants that line the promenade are seafood-heavy on their menu.
Of course, you could have a few drinks and watch the sun go down as we did, but the beach and harbor area is a pleasant place to rest and relax any time of day.
What To Do In The Surrounding Area Of Umag
Because the town of Umag is small, you’ll want to know a few other amazing sights to behold – all are very easily accessible by car.
The oldest lighthouse on the entire Adriatic Coast is found north of Umag was built way back in 1818.
The light from the house is visible up to 32km away, and the story which is associated with its past is really quite heart-warming; Count Metternich, a married man, fell in love with a local girl, and despite the fact it was a rather illicit love affair, it was one of true love. The Count was said to have built the lighthouse in recognition of his love for the girl.
The lighthouse isn’t so pretty to look at, but the coastline by which it sits sure is! Pack a picnic or a take a dip; you won’t regret either option.
Sipar Promontory – Sunken Town Of Sipar
There is no doubt that Umag has a rich history, but it also has a lot of natural beauty to explore, and the Sipar Promontory is certainly one of those areas.
At low tide, you will come across a series of stones that seem to rise majestically from the sea; these stones are the remains of the castle of Sipar, which was built way back in the 5th century. The town around this natural site is also full of remains from houses, villas, and mosaics dating back to Constantine. The town was plundered by pirates in 876 and destroyed.
Umag is blessed by the fact it is in the heart of wine country, and just 20 minutes’ drive away from Umag, you will find Kabola Winery, situated in Momjan.
There are regular vineyard tours and regular tasting sessions, too – enjoy the countryside, learn about the process of making the famous wines of the region, such as Malvasia and Teran varieties, and then taste them for yourself.
Cycle the Parenzana
This route was once a railway line that connected 33 different locations between Istria, Trieste, and Poreč. In the early 1900s, the railway closed after only being in operation for 33 years. However, it has certainly left its mark on the region and today is known for something else. Cyclists have become enamored with the old railway line and follow parts of it as a guide for their biking trail.
Located just off the Istrian Peninsula, though not in Umag, if you are driving to or from Umag via Pula, it’s a great chance to see these islands. You will find the 14 beautiful islands of Brijuni, which are one of Croatia’s National Parks. Floating within the glittering Adriatic, Veli Brijun is the largest island, and here you can go on walking tours, checking out the beautiful flora and fauna, as well as the wildlife which calls this region home.
The history here is also plentiful, with Roman Villas and dinosaur relics.
Where To Eat In Umag
I’ll have to update this section when we next go back as we ate several dinners at the hotel (see below) buffet with the kids. That said, we had one lip-smacking meal at Lunch in Konoba Morgan, in Brtonigla (just 15 mins from Umag).
Bracanija 1, 52474 Brtonigla
Best Beaches In Umag
Right on the Adriatic Sea means there are loads of beaches to enjoy. The only problem is which one to choose.
Laguna Stella Maris Beach
Just a 3km drive from the center of the town, you will find Laguna Stella Maris Beach. Green trees surround the beach, so it provides plentiful shade for those visiting with children or simply those wanting to get out of the sun for a short while. It is also a very private beach because it is separated from the main road by a row of trees. The beach holds blue flag status, and the Adriatic sea is crystal clear. For those looking for more thrills, there are numerous watersports available at the beach to get the blood pumping. This beach is also ideal for families offering all the amenities you need to keep the family happy and entertained.
Just outside the center of town, you will find another Blue Flag choice, Katoro Beach. The beach is paved, pebbly, and rocky in parts too, and there are showers and facilities to make your beach day go without a hitch. There are bars and restaurants around the beach, so this is a good chance to grab some refreshment in the heat of the day. Watersports are available throughout summer, and being away from the main beach in the center of town, it is a quieter choice, with less in the way of crowds.
Aurora Beach is a paved beach, which is situated just 2km from the center of Umag. Again, this beach is Blue Flag, and there are stairs which allow visitors to enter the sea gradually – this is perfect for older people or those with children. The shaded area just above the shore is also a good way to escape the sun’s heat for a few hours. This is a perfect choice for families, and there are plenty of sun lounges for anyone working on their tan.
The fine gravel beach at Kanegra is another Umag Blue Flag beach and is located in a picturesque cove, with trees providing shade from the summer heat. The sea is family-friendly, so kids can play at the shore without parents worrying about deep inclines into the water; this fact, combined with the available shade and relative quietness of the area, makes it a great choice for a full family beach day. Of course, there are also plentiful campsites nearby, which adds to its appeal.
Where To Stay In Umag & Surrounds
Your Umag to-do list is now full, you’ve got your daily beach stop sorted, now you need a place to sleep. Here are a few options.
Kempinski Hotel Adriatic
This hotel offers room-only, B&B, or half-board options, located right on the beach, close to the famous lighthouse and Portoroz Beach. The on-site coffee shop will cater to your cup of java needs, as well as the beach bar, lounge, and poolside bar.
Every morning you will find a complimentary buffet breakfast on offer, as well as a world-class on-site wellness spa with massages and treatments. Wedding services are also offered, so this could be a great base for those wanting a honeymoon in the beautiful town of Umag. Free wifi is on offer, as is an indoor and outdoor pool.
Sol Garden Istra
This is without a doubt the way to go for families; it’s where we stayed. This particular choice not only ticks that box but also offers a fantastic setting – right on the beach! There is a large outdoor swimming pool, which also has a separate pool for children, as well as a playground where your little ones can roam free.
The on-site kids club (only open in summer) also means entertainment all-around, with several restaurants and bars across the hotel setting.
For a half-board option, the Maestral Hotel (Novigrad) offers B&B and half-board options. It is located just a short walk from the center of town and just 100m from the nearest pebble beach; this hotel is decorated in a traditional yet modern style, with large and bright rooms to get cozy in.
The two on-site restaurants mean you don’t have to wander too far for your culinary needs, and there is also a large swimming pool, so you have the convenience of taking a dip just meters from your room.
If you are looking for luxury, then look no further than the Melia Coral. This hotel is aimed at guests aged 16+, and its facilities scream total rest and relaxation, with some of the rooms having breathtaking sea views. Located right on the beach, the indoor and outdoor pool allows you to swim in any weather, and the on-site spa, Asian-themed, gives treatments and massages all day long. Many restaurants boast over 200 different types of wine. You will also find plentiful watersports and entertainment on the beach, such as beach volleyball and football.
Best Hostel in Umag
Hostel Emi San Valentino
Hostel Emi San Valentino is the central hostel in Umag and is upmarket as far as hostels go. They are superbly located, making it popular, and offer private rooms. If you are looking for budget accommodation but you’re not really in love with the idea of a dormitory-style space, Hostel Emi San Valentino a great choice.
Best Apartments in Umag
The four-star Apartment Dante offers accommodation for up to three people within its large and spacious rooms. Located just 200m from the Old Town, it is perfectly positioned. Apartment Dante has everything you need for your holidays, such as free Wi-Fi, large TV with satellite channels, a private kitchen with all cooking facilities, and a private bathroom. The apartments are large and bright, offering beautiful views of the town.
If you are looking for a home away from home, then you can’t go past Apartment Nika. This is a four-star apartment, which is also located very centrally – just 200m from the Old Town. Even though this apartment is close to everything, it is set within a quiet area so that you can enjoy a chilled-out base for your holiday. The apartments sleep up to four people, with a large balcony included, complete with beautiful sea views to wake up to every morning.
Three Star Hotels in Umag
Of all of the 3-star hotels in Umag, we’d suggest that you book one of these:
Situated right on the promenade, giving you stunning views every single morning on your doorstep, the Sipar Hotel is a B&B or half-board option, with plentiful attractions nearby. The hotel has an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, Wi-Fi in public areas, and a gym available. This hotel is a great budget option for those who want amenities but don’t want to spend a fortune on their base for their holiday.
Tourist Settlement Savudrija
Considering the price, this is a fantastic option, especially for families or those wanting a more private setting to their accommodation, while still having the safety blanket of a hotel base. Situated near the lighthouse, just 200m from the beach and 2km to the center of Umag, this is almost like a holiday village, with bungalow-style rooms set across the gardens. The kids club means adults can chill out for a while and relax, and the on-site entertainment options mean you won’t need to wander too far in the evening.
Traveling To Umag
- Air. To Umag by air, you will need to fly into Pula airport – it’s a 50-minute flight from Zagreb and 20 minutes from Zadar. From there, it is around one hour to drive from Pula to Umag.
How To Get To Umag From Zagreb
- Bus: The bus from Zagreb to Umag takes you around 4 hours. If you get one of the non-direct buses, which have numerous stops, the trip can take up to 8 hours, so make sure you catch the right bus!
- Car: A road trip from Zagreb to Umag is surprisingly quick and will only take you around 3 hours. Of course, you can stop a few times along the way if you so wish, and because you’re traveling by road and not in a coastal region, you can see more in the way of traditional towns and villages.
How To Get To Split From Umag
After you’ve seen Umag, you’ll probably want to head south. To do that, you can go by:
- Bus: Heading from Umag to Split by bus takes around 9 hours and stops in Rijeka. Again, this is lengthy, but you will see plenty as you travel.
- Car: To hire a car and drive to Umag from Split will take you around 6 hours, and because you are heading down the coast, you will see some jaw-dropping scenery. If you stop along the way, it will take you longer.
Now you know what to do in Umag – where to go – what to eat and places to sleep, but that’s not ALL Umag has to offer. So, if I’ve missed one of your Umag highlights, let me know below