Adventure and ancient history on a family vacation in neglected Istria
It was as we were driving cautiously over what looked like a tarmac tightrope above the estuary of the longest river on the peninsula that Hal noticed the telltale tube of Aquapark Istralandia. The Novigrad Waterpark turned out to be everything you would expect from such an attraction – seemingly unhindered by a pandemic, crowded with paying customers, and happy to temper the viral threat with what felt like an extra dose of chlorine.
We joined the queue for slides such as Escape Hole and Crazy Hills, grabbed a giant rubber ring to descend the Sky River, and nervously swallowed the ‘adrenaline’ drops – Black Kamikaza, Free Fall, Space Rocket – that Hal was (thankfully) too young to ride. Except for the hand sanitizing stations, it could have been an afternoon in pre-Covid times, all the cola spilled, tubs of fries and smeared sunscreen.
Of course, there are no dinosaurs here. But that too can be arranged. Just outside Porec, Dinopark Funtana makes Istria’s Mesozoic heritage ultra-visible to those who don’t want to travel along the Brijuni coast. There are roundabouts, mini roller coasters, and pirate ship swings. But the title act is the inventive name of “Jurassic Park,” which takes an approach to prehistoric reptiles’ greatest hits, placing 80 cast dinosaurs along a wooded trail – including a T-Rex.
Once again, Hal smirked as he communicated with the most formidable killer on pre-asteroid Earth; again, I decided that discretion was probably the best part of parenting. During a pandemic, adventure wins out over authenticity.
How to get there British Airways (0344 493 0787; ba.com) operates a seasonal service to Pula from London Heathrow. easyJet (0330 365 5000; easyjet.com) serves the city in summer from Bristol, Liverpool, Gatwick and Luton, and will launch a connection from Glasgow in June 2021.
Staying There James Villas (0808256 1950; jamesvillas.co.uk) offers a range of properties in Istria including the three bedroom Alte Muehle near Novigrad which can be booked from £ 1,300 per week – and the four-bedroom Villa Tranquility, near Porec, which starts at £ 1,450 for seven nights. Additional flights in both cases.
Local attractions Istralandia Water Park (istralandia.hr); Brijuni National Park (np-brijuni.hr); Dinopark Funtana (dinopark.hr); Pula Amphitheater (ami-pula.hr).
More information istra.hr; croatia.hr.