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Steeped in Istria; MAGNET FOR STARS.

Byline: By ALAN HART

THE turbulent history of Istria is best summed up by the family tree of one its most prominent tycoons.

Businessman Dr Ivica Matosevic was born in Yugoslavia.

His father came from Italy, his grandmother from Austria and his daughter was born in Croatia.

"Yet we are from the same place," said the 42-year-old president of the Istrian Wine Producers Association. All four were raised in the ancient city of Pula on the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsular.

In less than 80 years this proud province of Croatia, by the Adriatic Sea, has changed hands four times.

But now the war that brought Croatia independence in 1995 is over, peace and stability are bringing tourism and prosperity.

British A-list celebs like Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sting, Ralph Fiennes and Naomi Campbell have holidayed in Istria in the last year.

And when Ryanair flew their inaugural flight into Pula from Stansted at the end of last month, mayor Boris Miletic, 31, was delighted. He said: "We have a lot to offer our friends from Britain. You are only two hours away and you will be made most welcome."

President Tito of Yugoslavia entertained world leaders and Hollywood legends like Sophia Loren, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton on Istria's Brijuni islands.

This magical playground, now with 18-hole golf course, dinosaurs' footprints, the substantial remnants of a Roman town and a safari park, is only a 15-minute boat ride from Fazana, a coastal suburb of Pula.

In the summer months you can have a chat with Koki, the white male cockatoo which Tito presented to his beloved granddaughter Sasha. Croatian visitors are both startled and amused because he swears like a trooper.

From a base at Pula it is a cheap one-hour bus ride to the coastal town of Rovinj, which survived the Black Death in the Middle Ages when it was an island.

Now the channel which saved its inhabitants has been filled in to allow to tourists to explore its winding cobbled streets. Further north is another ancient city, Porec. Its main street, Ulica Decunamus, dates back 2,000 years to The Roman occupation.

But don't mention the war. The RAF gave Istria a good old pounding as we bombed the Axis ships in their harbours.

Now it's the locals who are making a bomb.


PULA has a stunning Roman amphitheatre. Now it's a venue for top concerts, from opera to rock.

TRUFFLE fans must visit the Restaurant Zigante in Livade. Near here, in 1999, the world's largest was found.

DON'T miss out on fish and seafood delicacies like octopus salad, grilled squid and brodet (fish stew).


WE stayed at the five-star Valsabbion Hotel on the edge of Pula (rooms from pounds 50 a night). Details: 00 385 52 218 033, fly from Stansted to Pula three times a week from pounds 42.99 return. From February 8 they will also fly three times a week from Dublin from e58-99 return. For further info: 09062 705656,


ISLE-DYLLIC: Rovinj' ROMAN RELIC: Pula's coliseum' CHARM: Rovinj's Balbi archway
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Nov 19, 2006
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