It is very difficult to choose which island to visit in Croatia – in the land where there are over a thousand of them, each one is unique in its own way and has its own special charm. So, if you’d ask locals which island to visit, the answers would differ for sure. However, at the mention of Brijuni Islands, everyone will sigh, either with nostalgia or admiration as they are known not only for their incredible natural beauty but are also of great significance for the country’s history as well as the history of the world.
Turned into a presidential residency by the Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito after World War II, the islands were known as “the islands of peace” and the “meeting point of the Non-Aligned” with president Tito spending about four months per year on the largest of the islands, Veli Brijun. Running the country’s as well as the world’s politics, he hosted to world leaders, political elite and monarchs, from Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt and Fidel Castro to Queen Elizabeth II as well as many world renowned artists and actors such as Sofia Loren.
Situated along the coast of the western Istria in Croatia, just across from the town Fažana, the island group of Brijuni consists of 14 islands and islets that spread out in the clear, blue Adriatic Sea. The largest islands of the group are Veliki and Mali Brijun which perfectly represent the beauty of cultivated nature that people created for enjoyment. In addition, the now national park has ideal, mild Mediterranean climate which make it a beautiful surrounding and perfect place to be for the most part of the year. No wonder the islands were always a top pick for those who could afford to visit, even from the time of ancient Rome.
When visiting Brijuni, most people go to the island Veliki Brijun which is just 2 km off the coast. Once you get to the island, you will realize just why it was and still is the most beloved resort of the high society – in the pristine nature, everything on this island is maintained, looking well-groomed and just designed for the people to enjoy, in perfect harmony with the flora and fauna of the island.
Once there, whether you came just for a day or you are staying a bit longer, the most beautiful way to get around is by bike, which you can easily rent. If you don’t feel like pedalling, you can always rent golf carts but there are also cute tourist trains driving around the island covering the main points of interest – both of historical and natural significance and beauty. Make sure to take a stroll through the Mediterranean garden, a home of over 160 different autochthonous and exotic plants which are carefully labelled and have a QR code that makes it easier for you to learn more about the beautiful plants that add to the special scents of the island.
One of the reasons why many people visit the island is its many animals which roam around freely such as deer, rabbits and peacocks which you also see running across the greenery and sometimes even making themselves comfortable in the middle of the golf field. However, the animals of the Safari Park get the most attention, the vast area at the northern part of the island is inhabited by an interesting mix of autochthonous Istrian and exotic animals from South America, Africa and Asia.
You will pass by the zebras and llamas in the meadows as well as Istrian ox, boškarin, and Istrian sheep and donkeys. Still one of the most famous inhabitants of the Safari Park is the Indian elephant Lanka that Tito received as a present from Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1972.
The second most famous animal is definitely Koki, the cockatoo, that was Tito’s gift to his granddaughter Aleksandra. Koki is a living legend at the island, being a rare kind of yellow-crested cockatoo that live up to 100 years and who speaks to the visitors, sometimes even wanting to shake their hand.
Going around the island will be like traveling through time and going through centuries – you will pass alongside the ruins that go back all the way to the Roman Empire and remained during the Carolingian period and Venetian times. One of the most interesting ones is definitely the Byzantine castrum. Stop by the information panels and learn more about the Roman villas that once stood there, imagine what life was like centuries ago and take a swim with the view of the remains, sensing all the history surrounding you.
Go even further back in time, discovering one of the many dinosaurs’ footsteps in stone, left by the oldest inhabitants of the area over 100 million years ago when they were roaming around freely in what is now the Brijuni National Park.
And though there are many remains from ancient times that remind us how Brijuni were inhabited a long time ago, the most interesting era that defined the look of the islands that is still present today was not so long ago – the president of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, really gave the special mark to the island and made it world famous.
Though some of the villas that were used for state purposes are still closed to the public, you can visit a few and see where all the statesmen, monarchs and celebrities were spending time with Tito. A good way to experience it is also to visit the museum where you can see some of the artefacts brought to the president of Yugoslavia as gifts, learn about his work and life and see a vast number of photographs from this era, witnessing what a special time in history it was.