Once overlooked by holidaymakers, but no longer, Croatia features high on Mediterranean wish lists. Split and Dalmatia are up there with the most prized European cities of course, but in hot pursuit of its popular neighbours is Istria.
Fall in love with this heart shaped peninsula’s unique culture. While the atmosphere is nonchalant, the passionate locals are anything but. Setting themselves aside from other Croats, being Istrian is something to shout about! With picturesque towns set on the Adriatic Sea and rural villages inland creating a beautiful melting pot for escapism, you can hardly wonder at them placing their pedestal so high.
Sitting pretty at Istria’s southernmost point is its capital, Pula. Bursting with history and beauty, its pride and joy is its Roman amphitheatre. Pula Arena dates back to 27 BC and is the only one remaining to have four side towers, making it one of Croatia’s proudest monuments. Festivals and concerts take place here during the summer months.
Pula is also home to the world’s biggest collection of amphora – containers used to transport wine, olive oil and sometimes dry goods. An amphora collection sits under the amphitheatre, but you can find preserved pots all over the capital – even pieces of pottery on the beach!
Commercial and bustling, Pula is a more urban than Croatia’s other cities, but it still retains a small town charm.
Fishing port Rovinj resembles a model town. Colourful buildings line the waterfront and the cobbled streets wind between packed-in houses. Towering over this Venetian old town is the Cathedral of St Euphemia and its magnificent bell tower. Follow one of the cobbled streets to the top and the reward is a view definitely worth the walk!
Wander the local markets and you’ll come away ladened with delicious, fresh produce – ideal for cooking up back at your villa.
Being by the turquoise tones of the Adriatic also means when (and if!) you tire of the culture and pretty sights, you can relax on one of its shingle beaches.
Brijuni National Park
Take the ferry from Fazana and cruise to the hidden paradise that is Brijuni National Park. Made up of 14 islands, visitors are allowed on just one – Veliki Brijun. Will you wander at your leisure, hire a gulf buggy, or hop on the miniature train? Either way, you’re about to discover a real gem, as the elite of the celebrity world already know. Big names flock to a handful of exclusive haunts on Veliki, so it’s no surprise that an air of sophistication carries through the island.
If classy lunches by the water just aren’t you, don’t fear. The attractions on the island are endless! Get up close to wild animals in the safari area, visit the boat house (complete with interactive museum), or just cruise around taking in the stunning views.
There’s also a Jurassic Park-style experience that kids will love. Cleverly guarded by daunting gates, the dinosaur area is brandished with warning signs: “No riding the T-Rex”! Venture in and take the nature walk along the rocky cove, find real dinosaur footprints along the way and look out for the life-sized T-Rex.
Search the fields of Istria for truffles, one of the most prized foods on Earth. Join a professional truffle hunter, like those from the Karlić family, who’ll take you out to their land in Paladini with trained dogs to sniff out these treasures.
If you’re lucky enough to come across a truffle, take it back to the tasting area and tuck in to several wonderful ways of enjoying them. Truffle cheese drizzled with honey, scrambled eggs with grated truffle, and pasta dishes topped with this treat are some of the best. For desert try the traditional Istrian ‘Fritule’, sweet bite sized donuts, fried and deliciously dipped in white or dark chocolate spread with truffle. Finish off with a glass of cherry Grappa for the complete experience!
Istria is fast becoming a wine region with something to shout about. Local producers are winning international awards left, right, and centre, as they prove themselves among their famous Tuscan and French winegrowing counterparts. Family run wineries are dotted across the region, so an Istrian wine tasting experience is a must! Damjanic Winery offers a sampling session starting with easy to drink whites, up to their intense fruity reds.
Olive oil tasting
The northernmost olive tree growing area and Mediterranean climate means Istria is perfectly placed to know a thing or two about good olive oil. Family run olive oil production is as much of a way of life as winegrowing, and the passion of producers from the region is reflected in the taste.
In Fazana you can visit the home of Chiavalong Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Take a seat in the stylish, dedicated tasting room to sample their lovingly made and now hugely popular oil with some delicious bites. Sample the green, spicy, bitter and fruity tones, stored in dark glass bottles to stop the exposure to light changing the flavour. We bet you can’t resist taking a bottle or two home!
Ready to explore Istria for yourself? Find the perfect villa and you could soon be ticking it all off your list!