A group of 14 islands quarried by the Romans and later used to supply stone to build the palaces and bridges of Venice and the grand edifices of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Brijuni archipelago has had a complex, international history. Now a national park renowned for its beauty, its two larger islands and 12 islets off the coast of Istria are covered in ancient ruins, meadows, oak forests and rocky beaches. On this full-day trip with a private driver and guide, you can explore the history, wildlife and architecture of Veliki Brijuni, the largest island while cycling its quiet roads.
Your guide and driver will pick you up at your hotel in Rovinj or Bale on the morning of your tour and drive you to the coastal town of Fažana. You’ll have some time to walk around the waterfront cafés and shops while you wait for the ferry which will take you to Veliki Brijuni Island.
First settled by the Ancient Romans, this archipelago was controlled by the Venetians in the Middle Ages, became part of the Austrian Empire in 1815, and then later, a resort with exclusive hotels that hosted the European aristocracy.
After World War I, the islands became part of Italy and when they finally came under Yugoslavian control in 1945, President Josip Broz Tito built his State Summer Residence here. Protected as a national park since 1983, Brijuni is a great place to explore by bike.
On arrival you’ll be set up with a single-gear bike and helmet before setting off for a private tour of the island. The trails are paved and well maintained and although there are few hills along the way, it’s a generally easy-going and comfortable ride.
One of the highlights is the Saint-Mary’s Basilica, whose ruins dates back to the 5th or 6th century. The remains of a 9th-century Benedictine monastery stretch north and south of the basilica, with additions and repairs were made by the Knights Templars in 1312.
As you walk around the site, your guide will explain its history and connection to the nearby Byzantine castrum (fortified military camp) which provides evidence of civilisation dating back to the 1st century BC. An extensive site used right up until the Venetian era, you can see original olive and wine presses, cellars, a Roman villa and defensive walls.
After a stop for lunch, you’ll visit some remote, rocky beaches to swim in the clear blue Adriatic Sea. Your guide will point out some of the island’s 200 dinosaur footprints which date back 100 to 125 million years and are some of the best of their kind.
The island is also home to 600 indigenous plant species and you may see wild hares, aksis and fallow deer, and mouflon, which were introduced in the early 20th century.
At the end of the tour, you’ll return the bicycles and board a ferry with your guide back to Fažana from where you’ll be driven back to your hotel.
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