Istria’s spectacular and diverse landscapes, many architectural vestiges of its fascinating history, and delicious regional cuisine make it one of Croatia’s must-see and must-experience destinations. This heart-shaped peninsula nestled in the Adriatic Sea has a unique charm and a lot to offer. For this reason, a trip to Istria deserves plenty of time so it can be fully savored and experienced.
Planning a trip? Make sure you cover our 5 things to do in Istria:
1. See the seaside towns.
Picturesque Rovinj is the best known of Istria’s many stunning seaside towns, but Pula, Vrsar, Poreč, Novigrad and Umag have their own charms and also deserve a visit. The clear waters and pebble beaches draw many tourists to the beach resorts of Istria’s west coast during the summer months, but those who like to get off the beaten track will enjoy the quieter but just as scenic beaches of Rabac on Istria’s east coast.
2. Head to the hills.
The spectacular landscape of rolling hills of central Istria easily rivals that of Tuscany. A walk through the cobble-stoned streets of the charming hilltop towns like Grožnjan, Motovun, Oprtalj, Buje, Završje, Labin and Gračišće are like taking a step back in time. Once encircled with ramparts and towers, many of the old buildings making up these medieval fortified towns date back to Venetian and even Roman times.
3. Hop over to the islands.
Brijuni National Park is made up of a collection of small islands off Istria’s south-west coast and just a short 15-minute ferry ride from Fažana. The two larger islands, Veliki Brijuni and Mali Brijuni, are open to the public and best explored by bicycle (available for rent).
Just off Istria’s eastern coast and a short ferry crossing away from Brestova, are the beautiful islands of Cres and Lošinj. These sparsely populated islands are a haven for nature lovers, with many hiking and biking trails passing through charming port towns and fishing villages with stunning sea views.
4. Eat at a typical konoba.
A konoba is a traditional tavern, often family-run, serving up Istrian specialities like fuži, a type of handmade pasta; kupus (sauerkraut) and maneštra, a soup made with vegetables and beans. Here you can taste fresh local produce like mushrooms and wild asparagus, as well as white and black truffles, a gourmet specialty unique to only a few regions in Europe.
5. Sample the wine and olive oil.
Istria is also well-known for the excellent wine and olive oil produced here. The marked ‘wine roads’ lead the way to local producers who cultivate the home-grown Malvazija grapes used to make a popular local wine. Other grape varietals grown here include Teran, Merlot, Pinot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The many signposted ‘olive oil roads’ point you in the direction of local oil producers. Istrian olive oil is cold-pressed only once, and extracted by mechanical and not chemical means, with the result being an exquisite unadulterated olive oil with a subtle fruity flavor.