What is Parenzana? Northwestern Istria is known for many sights: the Škocjanski zatok Nature Reserve, Sečovlje Saltworks, beautiful beaches of Poreč and Umag, the famous Euphrasius basilica and the Savudrija lighthouse, Baredine Cave and the Observatory in Višnjan, the charming medieval towns that adorn the Istrian hills and fantastic Istrian wine, olive oil, and truffles.
However, the attention of travelers, tourists, and adventurers is lately attracted by a thin, winding road linking all these sights – Parenzana.
It was a narrow-gauge railroad that from 1902 to 1935 through the north-west of Istria, connected Trieste and Poreč with places in the interior of the peninsula. In only 33 years of traffic, it has significantly contributed to the economic progress of that part of Istria by transporting wine and olive oil from Buje and Motovun, salt from Pirana and Sečovlje Saltworks, Istrian stone, lime, coal and wood, various agricultural products and of course travelers.
On its 123 km long road, a small railroad connected 33 Istrian towns from Trieste to Poreč which means that today it would pass through the territory of three countries: Italy (13 km), Slovenia (32 km) and Croatia (78 km). Parenzana is abundant with architectural and technical legacies, of which we are most impressed with: 9 tunnels, 11 bridges, and 6 roadways.
Although it was relatively short in operation, the tiny railroad left an indelible trace all over the place. The stone arches of her viaducts continued to bridge the canyons of the rivers, and the dark openings of the tunnels seemed forever caught in the forest hills of steep slopes. Along the route, there are still traces of characteristic stones and milestones with a mile mark distance from Trieste and the abbreviation TPC (Trieste-Parenzo-Canfanaro), which points to the builders’ desire to extend the railway from Poreč to Kanfanar, where it would merge with the important line for Pula. And people continued to live with Parenzana: in most station buildings, the families of the employees of the railroad station stayed, and in time the other tenants also moved there. Some parts of the route continued to be used as local trails, and in cool tunnels, enterprising locals found ideal conditions for mushroom growing.
At the 100th anniversary of the opening of the railway, an initiative for the reconstruction of this unique railway was launched, which in the early 20th century connected people and nations. In 2002, the Istrian County and the administrative department for tourism, together with the Poreč-Kopar-Trieste Railway Reconstruction Association, laid the foundations for the future project “Parenzana – the Route of Health and Friendship“, in order to make the whole track of the line organized for the movement of walkers and cyclists.
From then on, the whole course is decorated and marked by characteristic signs, bridges, and viaducts, tunnels illuminated, and accompanying facilities tell the visitors about Parenzana’s story. Additionally, there are 26 standardized resorts, 5 viewpoints, 6 parade grounds, 4 service stations for small bicycle repairs, 4 bicycle counters, several e-bike charging points, and a whole range of ancillary services such as Bike & bed accommodation, specialized bicycle services, bicycle rental, and transportation and guided tours by licensed bike guides. Also, for the purpose of promotion and branding of the route, various manifestations are regularly held of which the most important are: MTB Spring Parenzana, Ocean lava Parenzana, MTB Parenzana, and Parenzana in Vižinada.
In 2018, more than 105,000 cyclists cycled through Parenzana (this is the number without the end of November and December), and the biggest traffic is in the months before and after the season. It is important to note that the track is suitable for MTB bikes, but not for road and trekking bicycles.
Parenzana is full of unique places and towns, such as the “city of artists” Grožnjan and Završje, the most beautiful medieval town in Istria, Motovun, to another important Istrian historical town of Vižinada. The route is abundant with gazebos, stone viaducts, some of which are over 50 m high and conserved tunnels with ecological lighting. The lush vegetation and the richness of flora and fauna along the strip will simply enchant you, and the passages entwined in the rocks and the crevices below the path surely will not leave you indifferent!