You’re probably familiar with the large cities in Croatia like Dubrovnik (hello Game of Thrones fans!), Split, Zagreb, and Pula. But are you aware of the smaller medieval towns scattered through the hills and along the coast? This is the story of how I accidentally found Labin, one of these little known towns and why it was the best thing to happen in a while.
For the last two months I was staying in Rijeka. The photos online looked cute and they had an adorable shopping district, which was so necessary since I was coming from Italy, which was under a strict lockdown for most of my time there. However, the vibe and the weather definitely didn’t agree with me.
It rained constantly and I was wearing sweaters well into the month of May. The apartment where I stayed was in a basement, so natural light was pretty limited. I felt my mood grow darker with each week and my productivity and motivation was lacking.
So, my boyfriend suggested that we leave a week earlier than planned. We were both so tired to being in this dark, humid place. We searched AirBnB for a great apartment with lots of light and near the sea. We had no destination in mind other than staying on the Istria peninsula. And that’s where we found one of the best places we’ve ever stayed just outside the town of Labin.
The medieval town was situated up on a hill overlooking Kvarner Bay with plenty of greenery around it. The small streets told stories of the past, both good and bad times. Driving up to the city was quite the adventure with winding streets, but well worth it!
What is there to do in a small town on the coast of Istria? More than you may think!
Where to Stay
There were plenty of villas and apartments available for tourists around Labin. I swear we found the absolute best one, though!
It was a one-bedroom apartment with an astonishing sea view. Right from the bedroom we could see the sea and watch the sunrise in the morning. We enjoyed breakfast and aperitivo outside on the patio and did yoga watching the water. It was such a change from Rijeka! I could feel happiness and motivation seeping back into my mindset.
Not to mention, the bed was so comfortable! It was the perfect setting for the two of us and it truly helped me find a new appreciation and love for Croatia.
You can check out the AirBnB here.
Where to Eat
You definitely won’t miss out on eating fantastic food while staying near Labin. In town we ate at two restaurants that surely did not disappoint. We also ventured out to nearby towns to try other restaurants that were also quite impressive.
If you’re looking for a restaurant with a view and fantastic, elegant food, Kvarner is the restaurant to go. With a terrace on the side of town overlooking the bay and all of the greenery just before it, this restaurant offers quite an experience. Not to mention the food was outstanding! I recommend the seafood, especially the grilled squid or mussels. My boyfriend said the steak was also one of the best he’s had in a while.
We ate here almost every day we were in Labin! Located in the main square of town, Pizzeria Napoli had some of the best food we experienced in Croatia. A mix of Italian and Croatian cuisines, the pizza was fantastic as was the cevapcici. But it was the Black Truffle Burger that stole our hearts and our tastebuds.
Truffles are popular in Istria and some of the best I’ve ever had. So, if you see something on the menu with truffles while traveling this part of the world, order it! You won’t regret it.
Located in a small town Sveta Marina, Giardin was another great restaurant we visited that had fantastic food. You can enjoy modern Mediterranean cuisine under string lights on a garden-like patio. It was definitely one of the most adorable restaurants we enjoyed a meal in.
What to Do in Labin
How did we spend our days in the middle of nowhere Croatia? Actually, there were plenty of things to do!
While we are both digital nomads, we did have to spend some hours of the day working, but we could hardly complain considering the view we had at the AirBnB. To fill the hours we weren’t working, we did quite a lot. Being near the sea was perfect and offered so many fun activities, especially since the weather was warm and sunny every single day.
Spend an Afternoon in Rabac
Rabac is a small seaside town just across the bay. We could actually see it from our AirBnB, which looked so beautiful at night with the lights of the houses going up the hills. Rabac has a fantastic boardwalk along the sea with souvenir stands, gelaterias, cafes, and restaurants. You can climb down onto the rocks to watch the water or walk down to the beach for a few hours of relaxation.
If you choose to spend some time here, make sure to eat at Trattoria La Pentola. They serve excellent seafood, salads, and crisp white wine.
Rent a Boat
How could you be near the water without renting a boat for the day?! Most boat rental places are located in Rabac, so you can kill two birds with one stone. There are many stands along the boardwalk offering their services.
We rented ours from Merlo Boats. The owner Vieko was so nice and was our skipper for four hours. We were looking to rent a boat ourselves, but you need a nautical license in Croatia. He did inform us that to get your nautical license it’s simply a test and a 120€ fee.
For reference, at the end of may we paid 200€.
With a bag of snacks, my book, and my boyfriend’s fishing stuff, we spent our time on the water enjoying watching fish swim under the crystal blue waters. Unfortunately, it was still too chilly to jump in for a swim.
Sail to Cres
Cres is an island just a 45-minute boat ride from Rabac. We were able to visit it for about an hour during our boat day, but I wish we had more time to explore it. The old town is absolutely gorgeous and so much fun to get lost in. The island definitely exerts a laidback lifestyle with a relaxed atmosphere.
Stop for some gelato or a glass off wine and get another perspective of Croatia from one of its most popular and beautiful islands.
Walk Around Labin
Lastly, you have to spend some time exploring the town of Labin! It isn’t very big, so you could spend an afternoon wandering through the narrow streets admiring the old buildings. Something I love while traveling is finding small details in windows and doors, especially in old medieval towns.
There are a couple of art galleries where you can admire local art and ceramics or you can visit some of the museums the town has to offer. Oh and don’t forget about climbing the tower for a panoramic view of the city!
The town has plenty to offer – you just have to wander around and come across it.
A New Love for Croatia
As someone who has always identified as a “city girl,” escaping the city of Rijeka to Labin was one of the best experiences I could ask for while in Croatia. It was here that I discovered a new love for the country and dubbed Istria my new favorite region there. Sometimes you don’t have to always be in the hustle and bustle of everything. You can still find joy, fun, and especially peace right along the seaside.