Istria Sights



Nacionalni Park Brijuni

Nacionalni Park Brijuni Review

When Austrian industrialist Paul Kupelwieser set off for Brijuni by boat from Fažana in 1885 with a bottle of wine, roast chicken, bread, and peaches (and a couple of brawny locals to row him and his son there), the archipelago had long been a haven for the Austro-Hungarian military and for malaria. Kupelwieser was to change all that. In 1893 he bought the 14 islands and islets, eradicated the disease with the help of doctors, and fashioned parks from Mediterranean scrub. Thus arose a vacation retreat par excellence—not for rich Romans, as had been the case here 17 centuries earlier, but for fin de siècle Viennese and other European high-society sorts. Archduke Franz Ferdinand summered here, as did such literary lights as Thomas Mann and Arthur Schnitzler; James Joyce came here to celebrate his 23rd birthday. Two world wars ensued, however, and the islands' fate faded as they changed hands—coming under Italian rule and, later, Yugoslavian. From 1949 to 1979 the largest island, Veli Brijun, was the official summer residence of Marshal Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia's "president for life." Here he retreated to work, rest, and pursue his hobbies. World leaders, film and opera stars, artists, and writers were his frequent guests; and it was here that, together with Nasser of Egypt and Nehru of India, Tito forged the Brioni Declaration, uniting the so-called nonaligned nations (countries adhering to neither NATO nor the Warsaw Pact). The archipelago was designated a national park in 1983 and opened to the public. These days, Fažana itself seems to exist mainly as a low-key access point to Brijuni, but it too has a rich past. The archipelago's development in the late 19th century yielded a spate of construction in Fažana, including several hotels, a toffee factory, a liquor plant, a fish-processing facility, and a shipyard. Today Fažana seems to offer little more than the usual collection of touristy restaurants along its small harbor; since tourists tend to pass through on their way to Brijuni, however, the town is at least refreshingly quiet compared to some other tourist-traveled spots along Istria's west coast. Its main cultural attractions—all just a short walk from the harbor—are the 15th-century Church of Saints Kosmas and Damian, whose bell may be in need of oiling, as it sounds like a fork striking a plate; and the smaller but older 14th-century Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which you enter through an atmospheric loggia and whose ceiling features several layers of fascinating 15th-century Renaissance frescoes. But you are presumably here to visit the archipelago. Before doing so, call or email the Brijuni National Park office in Fažana at least one day in advance to make a reservation; you can also do so in person, but especially in midsummer there is a substantial risk that there won't be space. (Though various private tourist agencies in Fažana and Pula offer excursions, they do not generally measure up, either cost-wise or quality-wise, to making your arrangements directly with the national park. Indeed, some of the tourist agencies simply reserve you a spot on the "official" tour, adding their own commission when doing so.) To get here, take the National Park ferry from Fažana, which takes about 15 minutes. The entire tour of the park takes about four hours. Your first view of the park is of a low-lying island with a dense canopy of evergreens over blue waters. Ashore on Veli Brijun, the largest island, a tourist train takes you past villas in the seaside forest and relics from the Roman and Byzantine eras. The network of roads on this 6½-km-long (4-miles-long) island was laid down by the Romans, and stretches of original Roman stonework remain. Rows of cypresses shade herds of deer, and peacocks strut along pathways. The train stops at the Safari Park, a piece of Africa transplanted to the Adriatic, its zebras, antelopes, llamas, and elephants all gifts from visitors from faraway lands. In the museum, an archaeological exhibition traces life on Brijuni through the centuries, and a photography exhibition, "Tito on Brijuni," focuses on Tito and his guests.

Those who have made the rounds of Kupelwieser's golf course—the oldest golf course in Croatia—report that it is more a historic experience than anything else, since it looks much the same as it did when built in 1923, with "natural," sandy tees and deer grazing where there is grass; it's blessed by an absence of fertilizers. Even if it isn't quite up to snuff by modern golfing standards, how often do you find a course that allows you to take a dip in the sea between holes?

    Contact Information

  • Address: Nacionalni Park Brijuni, Brijunska 10, Fažana, 52212
  • Phone: 052/525–883; 052/525–882
  • Cost: July and Aug., 210 Kn; June and Sept., 200 Kn; Apr., May, and Oct., 170 Kn; Nov.–Mar. 125 Kn
  • Hours: Apr.–Oct., eight tours daily; Nov.–Mar., four tours daily; reservations required
  • Website:
  • Location: Nacionalni Park Brijuni
Updated: 12-06-2012

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