I tried glamping in Europe – the holiday parks are right…
AS SOON as I saw the large, freestanding hammock gently rocking in front of my safari tent, I knew I had come to the right place.
Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula on Croatia’s west coast, is full of huge campsites with pools and waterparks.
But Arena One 99 Glamping was a step above the others.
This was grown-up, stress-free camping on a more intimate scale.
Picture luxury safari tents equipped with en-suite bathrooms, well-appointed kitchens, air conditioning and wooden decking that invite long hours of lazing around and gazing at the Adriatic Sea.
Step outside your tent and you’ll be immersed in pine trees, their gorgeous soothing fragrance filling the air of the campsite along with whiffs of rosemary and lavendar from interspersed shrubs.
If the intention was to put me instantly in a relaxed mood, it did the trick.
And that was even before I headed for the heart of the glamping site to the welless area and its five outdoor hot tubs, treatment rooms in tepee tents and yoga platform.
There are also sunbeds scattered between weaving trees and on the beach as well as a sauna offering serene views overlooking the woods.
Less than eight miles south of Pula airport, Arena One 99 sits just outside of the tiny village of Pomer and faces Istria’s southernmost part, Cape Kamenjak, home to rocky coves and a large nature reserve.
The footbridge will take you across the bay to the cape and a small beach directly opposite the glamping site.
But Arena One 99 had its own stretch of pebbly beach too, so I didn’t have far to go to flop on a sunlounger under the pines and swim in clear water.
There was even a section set aside for dogs, who can join in the fun from the comfort of their own doghouses with water bowl alongside the sunbeds. Now that’s what I call a dog-friendly beach.
Guests also have use of the onsite bikes, which are great for exploring the area.
The attractive town of Medulin is only a few miles away and has even more stunning beaches as well as ancient Roman ruins in the Vizula archaeological park.
A little further afield and a short drive away is one of Croatia’s most irresistible sights, Pula’s magnificent Roman amphitheatre.
Considering it was built in the first century AD — around the same time as the Colosseum in Rome — it’s in remarkably good shape.
With its magnificent stone archways and curved steps overlooking a huge arena, it’s not hard to see why it’s still used to host concerts and film screenings.
Be sure to visit the exhibits in the subterranean gallery.
That’s where the Romans kept wild beasts used for gladiatorial contests and sheds a fascinating light on Croatia’s ancient past.
Another six miles north of Pula is the pretty fishing village of Fazana, where I boarded a boat for the 15-minute crossing to the Brijuni National Park.
It’s an archipelago made up of 14 islands, although there’s only one you can visit, Veliki Brijun — but what an island it is!
In the late 19th Century, Austrian industrialist Paul Kupelwieser turned it into an exclusive resort for the cream of European society.
Then, after the Second World War, former Yugoslav president Tito created his own summertime playground, entertaining world leaders, Hollywood stars and even our own Queen Elizabeth.
In this protected area of just over two square miles, you can join a guided tour on a little train, or rent an electric buggy or bike to explore on your own.
On my buggy tour, I travelled through the centuries, passing Roman and Byzantine ruins, a safari park with an adorable baby zebra and even a golf course.
If you’ve got €750 to spare, you can even take a ride in Tito’s 1950s Cadillac.
There are also two hotels and three villa rentals on the island for those who want to extend their stay, but for me nothing could beat the hammock waiting for me back at Arena One 99.
It was hard to find a more laid-back place.
People were sedately pedalling on their free-to-use bikes, while others were learning how to windsurf or paddleboard and some were just watching the world go by from their decks.
The place is super family-friendly too, with two large tents by the beach set up specifically for kids — one for teens, the other for younger children — and there are three restaurants on site.
Beach Bar Green has a pizza oven on the go until 6pm, while Beach Bar Blue, which was closer to my tent, had a more sophisticated vibe with grilled fish on the menu.
The camp’s biggest restaurant, The One, is the place to go for the widest choice of grub, with grilled meats, seafood and pizza all on the menu.
And just outside the camp, right by the footbridge spanning the bay, was the rustic Scuza waterside restaurant, where a bowl of mussels came with a grandstand view of the sunset.
For my first go at glamping, I couldn’t have picked a better spot.
GETTING THERE: Ryanair flies from the UK to Pula from £21.49 one way. See ryanair.com
STAYING THERE: Two-person mini lodges at Arena One 99 Glamping cost from €181 (£156) a night with a three-night minimum stay. See arenaglamping.com.
OUT & ABOUT: Excursions to Brijuni National Park cost €40 (£35) for adults, €15 (£13) for children aged 7-17 and free for under-sevens. See np-brijuni.hr.
Pula’s amphitheatre costs €10 (£8.70) for adults and €5 (£4.40) for students and children. See pulainfo.hr and istra.hr.