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The first time I traveled to Istria, Croatia, it was on a little bit of a whim. I used to be determined to lastly go to the Balkans on the whole and Croatia specifically; when researching, I came upon it was least expensive to fly into Pula. Well. If it was that less expensive, why not?
I did e-book that flight to Pula, deciding to spend a couple of days exploring the environment. And I fell for Istria — laborious. The Italian taste, the hill cities that rose out of the inexperienced panorama, the way in which that roses appeared to burst out of the pavement. This place was so particular. I can’t consider I virtually didn’t go to it!
Istria hadn’t been in my authentic Croatia plan — but it surely ended up being one of many highlights of my journey. So a lot that I returned to see extra. I’ve been recommending it nonstop to my buddies for years. On my final journey to Istria, I even met up with a reader!
The Dalmatian Coast might get many of the consideration in Croatia — however you could be much more enchanted by the northwest heart-shaped peninsula.
Here’s why you must journey to Istria.
Here is a map of Istria, with the preferred locations highlighted. As you possibly can see, it’s well-connected inside Croatia, and proper on the border of Slovenia, and with quick access by way of ferry or driving to Italy.
The good factor about Istria is that just about any two factors are inside a two-hour drive of one another. And most journeys are shorter than that. If you lease a automobile in Istria (and you must), actually in all places is day-trippable!
Italian Flavor in Croatia
As quickly as you arrive in Istria, you’ll be struck by how a lot Istria appears like Italy. The vineyards, the olive groves, seaside villages painted the colours of Liguria, hill cities that look straight out of Tuscany. And you’ll discover that locations right here have Italian names in addition to Croatian names — Rovinj is Rovigno, Bale is Valle, Grožnjan is Grisignana.
Look at that image above. If somebody requested you what nation that was, you’d say Italy, wouldn’t you? It’s really Rovinj!
Istria has an extended historical past of being conquered and reconquered by totally different cultures: the Franks in 788, the Venetians in 1145, the Hapsburg Empire in 1348, Napoleon in 1797. Between World War I and World War II, Istria was a part of Italy; following the battle, it grew to become a part of Yugoslavia, earlier than Croatia grew to become impartial in 1991.
As a consequence, Istria is a mélange of various cultures and has a really totally different really feel from the Dalmatian Coast. Food is the middle of life; locals paint their houses shiny colours. And the Italian affect stays regular — from the numerous sorts of olive oil to the wild, animated conversations of locals.
Picture-Perfect Small Towns
If you’re keen on charming small cities, Istria is the perfect place in Italy to discover them! Each city has its personal character, and every city’s residents will declare it’s the perfect city in Istria!
An ideal day in Istria could be setting out early and visiting 4 or 5 cities over the course of a day, stopping in a single for a leisurely lunch.
So which small cities are finest to discover? I like to recommend you discover Motovun and Grožnjan on the absolute minimal. (They’re additionally a 20-minute drive aside, so you possibly can go to each in a single day.)
But there are many different good ones: Vodnjan and Bale pair nicely collectively. Labin makes a pleasant getaway from Pula. Umag and Novigrad are lovely coastal small cities. Plus, there’s Hum — which claims to be the smallest city on this planet.
Ah, truffles. One of the most costly and splendid meals on the planet. One of essentially the most enchantingly recognizable tastes on this planet.
Did I point out that Istria is wealthy in truffles? Truffle dishes are so frequent right here that it’s virtually a humiliation of riches.
One of my favourite Istria experiences is ordering conventional fuži pasta with truffles and a glass of white Malvasia wine at one of many eating places on the sting of the hilltop of Motovun, overlooking the panorama. These truffles are shaved skinny sufficient to be translucent however thick sufficient to make a satisfying chew.
In New York, a plate of pasta with that many shaved truffles may run you round $50. Here in Istria? Maybe $11 or so.
With costs like these, why not get them for each meal?
Pula is the most important metropolis in Istria, house to the peninsula’s airport. If you’re a fan of ruins within the least, you’ll want to cease in Pula to see its huge Roman Arena!
Constructed between 27 BC and 67 AD, Pula’s enviornment is without doubt one of the six largest Roman amphitheaters on this planet. It’s the one amphitheater to have all 4 facet towers intact. It’s nicely value exploring as an historical monument — however should you play your timing proper, you would possibly even get to see a live performance right here!
Pula isn’t my first alternative of the place to keep in Istria — it’s an honest metropolis, however I believe different cities have extra to provide. But Pula is a pleasant place to spend a day or night. Check out the Arena; stroll by way of the previous city; get some pizza at Jupiter Pizzeria.
Motovun will take your breath away the primary time you see it. You flip a nook and there it’s, bursting out of the earth, a metropolis improbably constructed on high of a hill. How can a spot like this exist at the moment? How do individuals really stay right here?!
It’s an extended, steep stroll uphill to get to the highest of Motovun. (If you’ve gotten mobility difficulties, it’s your decision to skip Motovun — there’s no manner across the steep, slippery cobblestones.) Once you get to the highest, you’re rewarded with views all around the countryside.
Definitely cease right here for lunch overlooking the encompassing hills. Take a stroll across the metropolis partitions, peering into corners. And should you’re right here in late July or early August, you would possibly get to expertise the Motovun Film Festival!
(Tip: this photograph was taken at a quick meals restaurant referred to as Fast Food Vidik. Stop there for photographs! It’s the perfect view of the town.)
You don’t come to Croatia for sandy seashores — and that’s true for Istria as nicely. (Yes, there are some sandy seashores right here and there, however the overwhelming majority of Croatia’s seashores are slabs of rock or pebble seashores.) But you find yourself with completely lovely seashores and clear turquoise Adriatic water.
One of my favourite locations to benefit from the seashore in Istria is Cape Kamenjak, simply south of the city of Premantura. This protected space, on the backside tip of Istria’s heart-shaped peninsula, is house to greater than 30 km of seashores. You can swim, cliff dive, lease boats, or simply drive round till you discover your individual good seashore.
There are some good seashores on the perimeters of Rovinj, Rabac, and Umag as nicely if you would like simpler entry to city.
Keep in thoughts that Istria’s summer time isn’t so long as Dalmatia’s — should you’re searching for scorching days and swimming, I’d suggest visiting Istria from mid-June to mid-September, with the warmest water in September. More on that beneath.
Vodnjan and its Mummies
Vodnjan is without doubt one of the coolest small cities in Istria, simply located between Rovinj and Pula. Vodnjan is a fairly cool place to hang around, with dramatic colours and tons of road artwork. That shiny purple constructing is without doubt one of the symbols of the city.
But what places Vodnjan over the sting? Mummies. Actual mummies.
The Church of St. Blaise is house to the mummified stays of six saints: St. Leon Bembo, St. John Olini, and St. Nicolosa Bursa, in addition to elements of St. Sebastian, St. Mary of Egypt, and St. Barbara. You go into the again of the church they usually gentle up, one after the other, telling you their tales.
Photography is completely not allowed, however simply standing there, experiencing them by yourself, is a creepy expertise. The church can also be house to a group of sacral artwork.
Rovinj is the showstopper of Istria, and one of the widespread spots within the nation. Dubrovnik could also be extra well-known general, however I believe Rovinj is essentially the most lovely metropolis in Croatia!
Rovinj is a photographer’s dream. It’s value exploring Rovinj’s previous metropolis at totally different occasions of day, from totally different angles, and catching the sundown as nicely. One of the loveliest issues to do in Rovinj is solely sit on the sting of the water with a drink, having fun with the surroundings round you!
Rovinj additionally has some good seashores, enjoyable boat journeys, and an attention-grabbing collection of retailers. Honestly, I wouldn’t plan a visit to Istria with out spending at the very least sooner or later in Rovinj!
More on Rovinj:
Visiting Rovinj, Croatia: A Travel Guide
Grožnjan and its Art and Music
Grožnjan isn’t simply certainly one of my favourite small cities in Istria — it’s certainly one of my favourite small cities within the WORLD! This metropolis, perched on a hill in the midst of the countryside, appears like a fairy story. From the second you’ve arrived, it feels such as you’ve stepped into a brand new world.
Grožnjan is full of attention-grabbing retailers and galleries, making it a pleasant place to decide up a bit of paintings. (I personally picked up some vintage-style Croatia postcards.)
But better of all, Grožnjan is house to a music faculty. When you’re strolling by way of the streets, you’ll hear a pianist and a singer working towards collectively, then within the subsequent place you’ll hear a violinist tuning up, then you definately’ll hear an oboist working towards a solo.
Is Grožnjan touristy? Indeed it’s. But belief me, it’s value visiting.
This tiny city will at all times put me into a greater temper.
Yes certainly, Istria is a significant wine area! Croatia is a really underrated wine nation, partly as a result of most of Croatia’s wineries are small operations and don’t do a lot worldwide exportation.
Malvazija Istarska, or Malvasia, is Istria’s signature varietal. A light-weight white wine with citrusy notes, it pairs nicely with oysters and shellfish — although I personally assume there’s no higher accompaniment than a plate of truffle pasta!
Teran is a full-bodied purple varietal with berry notes that’s beginning to earn worldwide recognition.
Driving across the countryside and stopping at wineries is a superb manner to spend a day in Istria — although remember that you want a chosen driver!
The Rovinj Wine Festival takes place in September, with alternatives to pattern a lot of Istrian wines. And don’t overlook to say cheers in Croatian — Živjeli!
A Child-Free Jazz Cafe in Bale
Yeah, this could be a bit uncommon to placed on an inventory, however I believe it’s value it! Back after I first visited Istria in 2012, Bale was the city on everybody’s lips. Some massive publications like Lonely Planet had been rhapsodic about Bale. (Personally, I believe Bale is good, however Grožnjan, Vodnjan, and Motovun are nicer.)
Bale’s coolest landmark is Kamene Price — an artsy cafe, efficiency area, and guesthouse. And after we stopped in for a espresso, we seen an indication saying that they had been a child-free institution.
Don’t get me improper, Croatia is massively child-friendly. Which is nice.
But generally it’s good to have locations the place you possibly can sit and know you can get pleasure from a espresso in peace with out children turning it right into a battle zone.
Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč
Istria is house to precisely one UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica within the Historic Centre of Poreč. This spiritual advanced is famend for its classical and Byzantine parts, each of which you’ll be able to see within the photograph above.
While it’s a pleasant place to go to for the historic worth, seeing the chapel on the finish is spell-binding. The unimaginable gold-painted Byzantine monuments; all of the totally different patterns carved into the stone. It’s one of the marvelous locations to see in Istria.
Poreč is simply north of Rovinj on the coast — although you’ve gotten to drive across the Lim Channel, so the drive takes 40 minutes. The city to me felt like a child Rovinj. I hear it’s one of many larger social gathering spots in Istria.
Poreč is certainly value a fast go to, irrespective of the place you’re staying in your Istria trip.
The Smallest Town within the World
The Istrian hamlet of Hum claims to be the smallest city on this planet. Is it actually? Probably not. But that’s what they name themselves, and it’s a pleasant cease within the coronary heart of Istria.
Hum is value a wander once you’re driving round and taking a look at hill cities within the greenest elements of Istria.
I at all times warn folks that Croatia is costlier than individuals assume it’s — primarily as a result of individuals erroneously consider Croatia to be Eastern Europe. (Don’t ever name Croatia Eastern Europe, by the way in which.) You gained’t pay Scandinavia costs — however costs in Croatia have a tendency to be nearer to Italy, Spain, or Greece.
That being stated, Istria tends to be cheaper than many locations on the Dalmatian Coast, particularly widespread spots like Dubrovnik and Hvar.
It’s a good suggestion to evaluate related sorts of locations with one another: Rovinj is cheaper than Dubrovnik; Pula is cheaper than Split; Umag and Novigrad are cheaper than, say, Trogir. Getting an residence close to Premantura will probably be cheaper than close to Makarska.
Istria isn’t cheaper than in all places in Italy, but it surely’s undoubtedly cheaper than Tuscany.
Food and wine in Istria tends to be cheaper than Dalmatia, too, particularly when it comes to the well-known truffles.
No matter which nation you’re visiting, small cities, inland locations, and rural areas will run you lower than cities, coastal areas, and widespread vacationer spots.
Finally, should you’re trying to have an inexpensive journey to Istria, contemplate tenting! Istria is a very fashionable vacation spot for tenting in Europe, and there are a lot of wonderful campgrounds.
Easy Access to the Rest of Croatia
If you’re trying to make Istria a portion of an extended Croatia journey, that’s an important thought. In truth, that’s what I’ve at all times completed.
From Motovun, it’s a three-hour drive to Zagreb, a 3.5-hour drive to the Plitvice Lakes, a four-hour drive to Zadar (certainly one of my favorites!) and a five-hour drive to Split, from the place you will get ferries to islands.
Whatever you do, I like to recommend stopping for a espresso in Opatija on the way in which out. Opatija is on the entrance to the Istrian peninsula however technically not a part of Istria county. It is VERY widespread with Austrian vacationers, a lot that it’s referred to as the “Austrian Riviera.”
It’s a peculiar place. There are massive Hapsburg-style buildings, crenellated in pink and orange and yellow, virtually like marriage ceremony muffins. Oh, and talking of muffins, there are many them — as a result of the Austrians know their manner round espresso and cake. As for the seashore, right here there’s only a slab of concrete pushed up towards the intense blue water, topped with a whole bunch of seashore chairs and umbrellas.
I might by no means select to spend prolonged time in Opatija, but it surely’s value a espresso, a cake, and a stroll alongside the water.
Best Places to Visit in Istria
There are so many fantastic locations to go to in Istria — however until you’ve gotten a couple of weeks to spend right here, you’ll want to pare down the listing. I believe there are a couple of locations that stand head and shoulders above the remainder.
Spend sooner or later in Motovun and Grožnjan. These are the 2 quintessential hill cities of Istria — two marvelous small cities through which you’ll need to linger. If you’ve obtained extra time, add in a go to to Buje, too.
Spend sooner or later in Rovinj. I believe Rovinj is the prettiest metropolis in Croatia — sure, much more so than Dubrovnik — and you really want a full day to discover all that makes Rovinj magical.
Spend half a day or a full day beach-hopping in Kamenjak, adopted by a night in Pula. On the way in which again, cease in Pula to take a look at the Arena, stroll the previous city and seize some dinner. If you’re solely spending a couple of hours in Kamenjak, add in fast visits to Bale and Vodnjan, subsequent door to one another.
Those are the highest locations I’d prioritize. But in case you have extra time:
If you want seaside villages like Rovinj, take a look at Umag, Novigrad, Poreč, and Rabac.
If you want small cities like Grožnjan, Bale, and Vodnjan, take a look at Labin, Buje, Buzet, and Pazin.
If you want nature locations like Kamenjak, be certain to take a look at the Brijuni Islands, go to the Lim Channel, and go exploring, searching for lesser-known seashores!
Where to Stay in Istria
ROXANICH, a household owned boutique wine lodge in Motovun, is my high suggestion for the place to keep in Istria. This is the lodge that I like to get pleasure from on my travels — it’s family-owned and really native; it’s quirky, trendy and daring; and it’s sufficiently small for you to really feel particular. (ROXANICH hosted me for 3 nights; all opinions are my very own).
ROXANICH is positioned in Motovun, which supplies you quick access throughout Istria, but it surely’s additionally positioned on the backside of Motovun, not on the hill, so that you don’t want to spend 20 minutes climbing the hill to get there day-after-day. There’s ample area and loads of parking, too.
Just check out this place!
ROXANICH is a small property that appears like a resort — and there’s loads of area. The meals is great, too, and you might simply spend a couple of days with out going removed from the property.
But what’s attention-grabbing is what they do with wine.
Owner Mladen Rožanić is consistently making an attempt out new improvements along with his wine. Like most Istrian wineries, they’ve their very own Malvasia, together with loads of whites, reds, and rosés.
But additionally they mix their native grapes with grapes from totally different areas — like Dingač, my beloved purple wine from Pelješac.
Combining your individual grapes with grapes grown in one other area? Many winemakers would contemplate that sacrilege. Not Mladen. It’s all a beautiful experiment to him.
And it goes nicely past Istria. I couldn’t consider my eyes after I noticed their Georgian qvevri — underground wine containers fabricated from clay that I by no means dreamed I’d see outdoors Georgia! There’s area of interest, after which there’s qvevri wine made in Istria.
Can you wine style? Can you wine style!! Oh sure. We did fairly a little bit of tasting of wine. Endlessly attention-grabbing.
I actually loved staying at ROXANICH. After an extended day of road-tripping round Istria, I liked coming again to have a dip within the pool and a cocktail, and at night time, it was nice sitting below the celebrities and having fun with the newest wine advisable by the sommelier.
Rates at ROXANICH begin at 77 Euros per night time ($90 USD). I like to recommend staying three nights to get essentially the most out of the lodge and its idyllic environment.
Beyond Motovun, in case you have greater than 4 days to spend in Istria, I counsel basing in two totally different locations — maybe pair someplace inland with someplace alongside the seaside.
Additionally, be sure to don’t base someplace too small. As a lot as I like Grožnjan, it’s tiny and it will get fairly useless at night time. Plus I wouldn’t be a fan of driving that slim hilltop street in darkness!
Best Time to Visit Istria
Most vacationers to Croatia come in the course of the summer time months — and that goes for Istria as nicely. This is when Istria will get essentially the most guests and costs are at their highest.
Summer is beautiful, although it may well get very popular in July and August. But you must remember that whereas Istria has a Mediterranean local weather and is perched on the Adriatic, it doesn’t get as scorching as Dalmatia within the south of Croatia. When your folks are sunning themselves in Hvar in May, it’s possible you’ll be going round in a jacket or cardigan in Pula.
In Dubrovnik, you possibly can go swimming in October; I doubt you’d need to do this in Istria.
For that motive, I like to recommend visiting Istria within the shoulder season: September could be my high advisable month. By this level it’s nonetheless heat and beautiful, however children are again at school, which cuts down on the crowds. And should you keep into the autumn, you’ll get to get pleasure from the perfect of the harvest. Including loads of new wines!
Best Time to Visit Croatia
How to Get Around Istria
The finest manner to get round Istria is to drive — plain and easy. Like I stated, I wouldn’t get round Istria every other manner!
Croatia is certainly one of my favourite international locations in Europe to discover by automobile. The roads are in wonderful situation. The signage is evident and straightforward to navigate for English audio system. The drivers aren’t practically as aggressive as their neighbors (yep, I’m speaking about you, Slovenia and Montenegro).
The solely catch is that the tolls on the main highways may be fairly dear. For instance, Zagreb to Pula, simply over a three-hour drive, prices 139 kuna, or $12.68.
But should you’re staying inside Istria, these highways can simply be prevented, and it doesn’t make an enormous distinction in driving time. Plus, these curvy smaller roads are far more enjoyable to drive!
Remember that automated vehicles are costlier than handbook vehicles (driving stick) in Croatia, and should you’re driving into Slovenia or Italy, as many Istria guests do, be certain to let the corporate know, as this might change your pricing and insurance coverage protection.
If you don’t drive, there are methods to get round Istria by public transportation, primarily by bus, however this limits your means to go to smaller, less-connected cities. If I had been exploring Istria with no automobile, I might base myself within the largest, best-connected cities and use a mixture of buses and taxis to get from place to place. Uber is just not out there in Istria.
Istria is Waiting for You!
Istria is without doubt one of the finest locations in Croatia — and it appears like such a shock. Istria has meant so much to me over time, and I do know it can imply so much to you, too.
Go get pleasure from your time in Istria — then come again and inform me about it!
More on Croatia:
What NOT to Do in Croatia
Best Time to Visit Croatia
Visiting Rovinj: A Travel Guide
Destination Guides: Dubrovnik, Korčula, Zadar, Krka NP
See all Croatia posts right here.
Have you been to Istria? Have any suggestions? Share away!