No one beyond historians had heard of Istria. Or, maybe no one beyond historians and Polish tourists had heard of Istria, even up to 5 years ago.
Now, this little patch of Northwestern Croatia has become a tourist site offering everything you can ever want, from truffles to great wine to stunning sea coasts and fertile valleys, to medieval hilltop villages, to enough pieces of history to engage everyone.
Istria was one of the unexpected highlights of our visit to Croatia last November. It was our first visit and we did not know what to expect. Seeing the place on the Internet does not do Istria justice. It is more fascinating when you are right there with the locals enjoying life as it should be lived.
The streets are not clogged with cars, waterfront and harbour presents post-card views of seas and islands and vintage fishing boats and the restaurant owners can be seen on the docks buying today's lunch.
The wine is massively underpriced but not undervalued. The locals are very proud of this and have been for 2000 years.
Where is Istria?
The Major Places to Visit in Istria
A heart shaped peninsula on the Adriatic, south of Trieste and east of Venice, Istria is at the heart of tourism in Croatia hidden beneath big names like Split and Dubrovnik. In the last few years, its towns of Umag and Porec topped the poll for the best destinations in Croatia. But Istria offers places beyond these two which are just as worthwhile to visit.
We chose these places based on our drive through the whole peninsula of Istria. This drive to Istria took our breath away but arriving in the different villages made our experience even more breath taking. To give you a peek at some of these fascinating places, here they are:
Rovinj is a small city with all the colours of Italy, the seafood of Dalmatia and the quiet seaside way of life that separates it from the sun seeking weekend party chasers.
The architecture is small, manageable and historic and the scenery and the views are just amazing. Looking out over the Aegean, you can bring back to life the great oared trading vessels of Venice and the warrior fleets of pirates and small nations trying to control history. The smell of olives and grapes is everywhere.
In the crazy chaos of Europe's massive tourist cities, Istria is still a place of great beauty, old values and relative peace. This will change over the next 5 years so go now and enjoy all the best of Europe.
Pula is one of the most unexpected surprises for us. As the largest city in Istria and given its highly strategic location, it has been ravaged and rebuilt several times but it continues to amaze visitors with its huge arena in the middle of the town which in the Roman times provided seats to around 20000 who would watch some of the then famous gladiator fights.
Today, this amphitheatre hosts open air concerts in the summer. Some of the famous performers scheduled for this summer are Icelandic singer Bjork and the German electronic music pioneer, Kraftwerk. This is also the stage for the annual Pula Film Festival usually held in July.
Historically called Ursaria or Ursarium or Vrsarium, this tiny village close to the Lim fjord still retains its old charm as a fishing village. Walking along the seaside, you can still watch fishermen preparing their boats and if you're social enough, even have a chat with them. It will not be long before they warm up and tell you of their cousins in Toronto or Maine and friends who left the village long ago.
We enjoyed sitting on the benches along the water front on the port, watching the boats and inhaling the sea/harbour tainted breeze.
This hilltop and seaside village used to be a fortress and the remains of the fortification built in the 12th century should be visited. Make sure you look out through one of its old gates for the statue of the Lion of St. Mark, part of the legacy of Venice from when it dominated the Adriatic.
Because the famous lover, Casanova visited this village, the people here celebrate the annual Casanova festival with activities celebrating love and romance.
Lucky for us, it was November and the town hosted a huge fair showcasing their agriculture products. We were tipped by a local in Brijuni and we were thrilled to see an array of local produce and the chance to interact with the locals.
It was a market for producers and exporters of local products
including wines, salamis and cheese and the use of truffles in everything from ake-up to infused olive oil. the smells were just amazing. Some the food styles are those of Trieste...much firmer salamis, and cheese.
There is much more to this place that just its produce though I would gladly come here just for these tasty delights. Vodnjan has these some of the most interesting monuments and cultural artifacts:
While driving in Istria one day, we reached the coastal town of Fazana and seeing life in there, we parked and went to the port area where we found out, we could rent a boat to cruise the Brujini islands. As we had time to kill, we booked our trip and went to enjoy a drink in one of the al fresco cafes dotting the beachfront.
Having been revived, we ventured to the town centre and found its quaint square as shown in the picture above. The beautifully painted houses gave the place colour and life.
To celebrate its fishing heritage, the town celebrates the "Party of the Mackerel" where there are contests such as fish carrying, rowing, and rope tugs. Also a seafood festival where seafood specialities are offered and you can sample some of the best produce of the sea.
Beyond the tradition of the sea, there is also "Fazanski Tanac", a festival of young Istrian folklore dancers. The most special is the "Zvizde, Sviće I Ferali" where amidst the music of street players and musicians, Fazana gives back its jewels to the sea. So, time your visit to become part of these celebrations.
This is a group of 14 tiny islands on the Adriatic Coast. In 1983, Brijuni was declared a national park.
Josip Broz Tito made this as his official summer residence in 1947 and until his death in 1980, this place had hosted some prominent political meetings.
Even in November, you still can take a boat in the Fazana harbour and cruise the islands. We did just this and had a great trip with our guide whose picture you can see below.
Novigrad has a very engaging coastline, attractive restaurants and fishermen dot the port. As you arrive, you can't help but park and take a walk around the town. Here are some of the things Novigrad offers:
Located on the northwestern tip of Istria, this old fishing village of Savudrija is much more quiet and charming. We did not stay there this time but next time we visit Istria, this is a wonderful place to stay in. There are some attractive hotels there and the beachfronts are more calming.
We took a day trip there from Rovinj and upon arrival, we found a restaurant on the beach which was ready to serve us. We enjoyed that lunch so much. Fresh seafood and fresh produce.
There are more villages and towns that await discovery and exploration in this peninsula of Istria, each one offering something unique and different, a charm all its own.
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