Perched in all its compact medieval redolence atop a hill a short drive or walk from the sea, Labin is Croatia's former coal-mining capital and the birthplace of Matthias Flacius Illyricus, a Reformation-era collaborator of Martin Luther. Its narrow, historic streets are well deserving of a good walk, followed, if time allows, by a dip in the sea at Rabac, the relatively crowded and less inspiring complex of hotels and beaches 3 km (2 miles) away. From Labin's endearing
little main square, Titov trg, with its 16th-century loggia and bastion, it's an easy stroll to Šetališste San Marco, a semicircular promenade with a spectacular view of the sea. Walk to the end, past a half dozen or so busts of historical luminaries, and take a sharp left up the cobblestone road. By following the spray-painted "Panorama" signs on the stone walls, you will soon reach the top of the hill, where (for 5 Kn) you can climb another 98½ feet up for an even better view from the town's onetime fortress, the Fortica. From here Labin's relatively bustling commercial center, which seemed nonexistent a few minutes ago, comes fully into view below, as do the dry, craggy hills of inland Istria. Making your way down the other side of the hill back toward the main square, you will pass by Labin's other major attractions, not least the Crkva Rođenja Blažene Djevice Marije (Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary). With a facade featuring a 14th-century rose window and a 17th-century Venetian lion of the sort you will encounter elsewhere in Istria, the church was thoroughly renovated in 1993 to repair serious damage from mining under the Old Town in the 1960s. That said, its mix of architectural styles essentially dates from a late-16th-century renovation, though its foundations may date to the 11th century—and, farther back, to an earlier church built here by the Avars in AD 611.