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By Zdenko Kahlina
The Lim valley – protected area
One of Istria’s most dramatic natural phenomena, the Limski kanal drives a narrow 10 km-long sliver of sea straight into the heart of the peninsula. With densely forested cliffs – rising straight up to a height of 150 metres – and calm, green crystal-clear water below, those who never took in basic geography might well mistake it for a Scandinavian fjord.
Hollywood certainly banked on the fact. The Limski kanal was the main location used during the filming of The Long Ships, a 1963 film about jolly little Vikings off on their rape and pillage jaunts, and starring the rather Nordic Richard Widmark.
Richard left his mark here alright. A local family was so chuffed with Mr Widmark’s compliments on the cooking, they vowed to open their own restaurant. The happy result is Viking, one of Istria’s best fish restaurants sited directly at the water’s edge. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have world-class ingredients right on your doorstep. Limski kanal is feted for its oysters which, together with those from Ston in Dalmatia, are among the best you’ll ever find.
As a protected area, sailing in the kanal is heavily restricted but you can take private guided boat trips from Rovinj.
There is no local public ferry service but private boats can be hired. Anton Crnec (098 254 990 mobile) offers five-hour day trips in summer, with a break for swimming in the kanal itself. The 230kn cost includes live music and refreshments. If you prefer to keep your feet on dry land, there’s a viewing platform by the main road.
In its historical heyday, Vrsar was a highly influential and the seat of the Porec bishopric. The old town itself is perched on top of a high cliff with wonderful views across the bay and the Vrsar archipelago of 18 little islands – all is topped off by its 12th-century castle. Largely unspoiled, Vrsar’s Venetian-style architecture lines a maze of atmospheric narrow streets while down below are a large marina full of foreign yachts and a harbour where most of the town’s modern hotels are sited.
If you’d rather have a holiday au naturel then head for nearby Koversada, one of the world’s largest naturist colonies. With facilities for 15,000 residents, this self-contained holiday town is right on the beach and offers nudists all the facilities they could wish for. Popular with Dutch and German tourists, Istria has a long tradition of nudism but Koversada is the original and probably still the best such resort.
Much of the land surrounding the Limski kanal is under government protection as this large and unique tract of unspoiled land is home to a vast array of indigenous wildlife. One of Istria’s most important nature reserves is Palud Bird Sanctuary. To reach it, take the main road from Rovinj, heading for Bale, and then take the turning for Vestar. Palud is signposted.
In Roman times this marked the boundary between the Poreč and Pula regions – Lim is derived from limes, a Latin word meaning “border” or “limit”; later it became a favourite shelter of pirates, who used it as a base from which to attack the Venetians. An appealing local legend associates the kanal with pirate and adventurer Captain Morgan, who liked it so much he decided still to settle down here with his crew, founding the village of Mrgani (which exists 51km inland from the kanal) in the process.
Mussels and oysters are cultivated here – you can sample them, along with other fresh fish, in the Viking and Fjord restaurants, both expensive but highly rated by locals. If you’ve a car, you can get down to the northern side of the water (and the two restaurants) via the side-road which leaves the Rovinj-Porec route near the village of Kloštar. The best way to see the inlet, however, is by boat. Numerous excursions, often including a fish picnic or a lunch stop en route, are advertised on the quaysides of Rovonj,Vrsar and Porec; expect to pay around 150-180Kn for the trip.
Occupying high ground near the mouth of the Limski kanal is VRSAR, a hilltop village curled tightly around a campanile-topped summit. It’s quieter than Rovinj and Porec, although there’s a marina and hotel on below. A kilometre south of town on the coast is one of the world’s ist colonies, Koversada. Established in 1960, this was the first of naturist communities, and is nowadays a self-contained mini-city 15,000 residents can dress as nature intended on a 24-hour basis.