Take the imagery of Tuscany (without the crowds) and combine it with a family-friendly biking and hiking trail that meanders through various villages offering comfortable accommodations and fantastic culinary delicacies, and you have Croatia’s Parenzana Trail in a nutshell.
The 123 kilometer (approximately 77 mile) biking and hiking trail’s history is quite comical. Originally built as a train rail line that transported goods and passengers throughout the region of Istria to and from the Italian port of Trieste, the slow train operated from 1902 to 1935.
It was such a slow train that it was said “people would hear its whistle, go home to change clothes and still be on time for the train’s arrival into the village.”
Eventually the train stopped running due to declining revenue and because road transport was faster and less expensive. The train tracks were left in place until Benito Mussolini decided to have them removed and placed on a ship bound for Ethiopia (considered a wartime prize for its mineral resources). However, the ship sank at sea, so no one had a train line in the end.
Back in Istria, the trail was left unused until 2006 when the surrounding communities (today the trail crosses three countries – Italy, Slovenia and Croatia) saw the development of the Parenzana Trail as a hiking and biking destination that would provide a boost for tourism.
While parts of the trail are considered moderately difficult, there are sections that are well suited for younger children. We biked with our guide, Luka, along a 22 kilometer (approximately 14 mile) section, near Motovun, which was filled with natural beauty and serene stillness. Along the way, we saw a couple of other families leisurely biking and hiking on the well-maintained route.
There are plenty of accommodations along the trail (ranging from rustic homes to luxury villas) and many restaurants, such as La Parenzana, which was responsible for introducing my nine-year-old son to the wonderful (and expensive) taste of truffles.
The experience is perfect for a weekend getaway for Europeans or a relaxing few days in Istria as part of a longer tour of Croatia.
Check out our Croatia and Slovenia Family Adventure.