The pretty town of Vodnjan (or Digano in Italian) is located in the pretty Istrian interior, about 12km north of Pula. It is home to about 6,000 people and its quaint, winding streets, Italianate architecture and colourful street art make it very suitable for a day trip in Istria.
Why do we also mention the Italian name of Vodjnan? Italians are a minority group in Istria, with several tens of thousands of Istrian Italians living in the Croatian county. Istria itself was originally populated by the Roman Histri tribe and was also long-controlled by the Venetian Empire; it was also part of Italy for parts of the 20th century (during the World Wars). Around 15% of the population of Vodnjan have Italian as their first language.
Getting to Vodnjan
It is undoubtedly easiest to reach Vodnjan with your own set of wheels. The town is an easy drive from Pula, Rovinj or other destinations in Istria.
Otherwise there are reasonably regular buses to the town. Arriva Autotrans offer services from Pula (journey time is 15 minutes) and Rovinj (30 minutes), for example.
There are also local buses, run by Pula Promet, from Pula to Vodnjan. Line number 22 runs a few times a day on weekday days (‘radni dan’) and Saturdays (‘Subota’); the timetable can be found on the Pula Promet website.
Sightseeing in Vodnjan
There are a number of interesting sites in town and, given the small size of the place, it won’t take you long to uncover many of them. It’s best to explore Vodnjan on foot and it’s certainly a pleasure roaming around the small streets – there’s something interesting to see at every turn.
The main square in the town – People’s Square (Narodni trg) is a welcoming space to walk through, and is home to a number of cafes, the Town Hall and the Bradamante Palace. This impressive building with its red facade gives off an Italian feel…and it may come as no surprise to learn that it is presently used as the centre of the Italian community of Vodnjan. Over the years it has had many diverse uses – amongst them as a loggia, a theatre, a residential building and even a prison.
There are a great number of churches in and around Vodnjan, the most prominent of which is the Church of St Blaise. This church is not only the largest church in Istria but also has the tallest belltower in the county – at 62m tall. Inside are a number of prized works of art and the mummified bodies of a number of saints, wearing the clothes they were buried in and set in glass coffins. (Yes, you did read that last sentence correctly.)
Museums and Galleries
Apoteka is a contemporary art space housed in a former pharmacy (Croatian: apoteka). It hosts regular exhibitions as well as focusing on art research and generation.
As you wander around the town, you may notice some large, brightly painted murals appearing on the sides of a number of buildings. (See below.) Totalling almost 40 altogether, these were created for and during the Boombarstick Street Art Festival which took place in 2013. There is a useful map on the Vodnjan Tourist Office website which shows the location of all of the murals, should you want to tick off all of them!
Eating and Drinking in Vodnjan
Vodnjanka offers traditional Istrian fare – think dishes comprising cheese, salamis, pastas, olive oil – in a cosy indoor setting. (Outdoor terrace also available!)
Stancija Bursic is a prosciutto and olive oil producer just on the outskirts of Vodnjan. Whilst it’s possible to enjoy prosciutto and oil tastings here, there is also an onsite restaurant that is open daily in summer. Offering pasta and meat stew dishes, their menu also allows you ample opportunity to try their prosciutto.
Pizza and BBQ Buffalo is for those times when you’re in a fast-food kind of mood, with a heavy emphasis (unsurprisingly) on meat and pizza dishes! Give their cevapcici (grilled mincemeat sausages) a go!
Winery Babos offers wine tastings of their white, red and sparkling wines as well as their olive oil.
There are, however, a good number of private apartments and villas to stay in in the Vodnjan region. Take a look at what’s available on the Booking.com – Vodnjan website.
You can learn more about the town on the delightful Vodnjan Tourist Office website.