If your idea of having a good time includes exploring beautiful pebble beaches, walking down cobblestone streets of medieval villages, and enjoying delicious regional cuisine, a visit to Istria is a must!
I still remember my first visit to Croatia’s charming region of Istria. It’s one of those places that you instantly fall in love with. Situated in the northern Adriatic, Istria peninsula is a true traveler’s paradise.
From its stunning seaside towns like Rovinj and Pula to tiny medieval villages such as Groznjan and Motovun, this heart-shaped region in Croatia is one of the must-experience destinations in Europe. Whether you wish to try local wine and olives, hunt for truffles, or enjoy the crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic Sea, this insider’s guide takes you to some of the best places in Istria.
Rovinj is an ideal summer destination for couples. Canva/master2.
If it wasn’t for Venice and Paris, I am quite sure that Rovinj would be the number one romantic vacation spot in Europe. Famed for its huge Old Town with cobblestone alleys, Rovinj is a popular tourist destination that attracts millions of tourists each year. With its quaint piazzas dotted with medieval buildings and some of the finest examples of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque architecture, it is easy to see why Rovinj is an ideal summer destination for couples on vacation.
History buffs can visit the 18th-century Baroque Cathedral of St. Euphemia, while foodies can explore the Old Town’s food market. Rovinj is also home to many amazing beaches including Cuvi, Amarin, Katarina Island beach, Mulini, and many others.
When in Istria, make sure you order a glass of Malvazija white wine. Travelade/Nina.
Olive oil tasting is an ideal activity for foodies visiting Istria. Unsplash/Juan Gomez.
With countless vineyards, Istria is a famous wine and olive oil region in Croatia. The local Malvazija grapes are used to make the popular Malvazija wine. There are also other grape varietals like Teran, Pinot, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ordering a glass of Malvazija white wine is simply a must when vacationing in Istria.
As for the production of olive oil, the region offers superior quality and you can even find restaurants where they pair food with olive oils just like with wine. For an olive oil tasting, you can visit Cuj near Umag, Agrolaguna in Porec, or Chiavalon in Vodnjan. Some tastings are free, while others will set you back around 7 euro per person.
The medieval town of Motovun. Canva/jasminam.
Located on top of a steep hill, Motovun is a medieval town from the 14th century which offers spectacular views of the forests and vineyards below. There are not more than 700 people living here, so it’s a great place to find some peace and quiet. Visit the church of St. Stephen, walk on the city walls, or enjoy honey tasting in Livade.
Motovun is a great place to enjoy picnics and try wine from the local vineyards. In summer, the town hosts a popular international film festival which attracts thousands of visitors.
Fresh pasta at Marina in Novograd. Photo: Marina@Facebook.
In my humble opinion, the regional cuisine in Istria is one of the best in Europe. Okay, to be completely honest, Sicily comes first and Istria second. A dream destination for every foodie out there, Istria offers a wide range of tasty foods. From manestra (authentic bean soup) and fuži (handmade pasta) to delicacies like scrambled eggs with wild asparagus and seafood specialties, satisfying your taste buds in Istria has never been easier.
See also: A Beginner's Guide to Zagreb
Make sure to visit a konoba, which in most cases is a family-run traditional tavern where local grandmothers prepare local dishes. Some of my favorite restaurants in Istria include Dorina in Plomin, Pizzeria Nono in Porec, and Marina in Novigrad.
The Roman Arena in Pula. Canva/xbrhcx.
Well-known for its Roman Amphitheater which was used for jousting tournaments and gladiator battles, Pula is a lovely city that attracts many day trippers on vacation in Istria. Nowadays, the Colosseum serves as a venue for festival and performances and can seat up nearly 20,000 spectators.
However, there is more to Pula than its ancient Roman ruins. Visit the autonomous center of Rojc, an ex-military building complex which serves today as a youth center. There is also no shortage of excellent beaches in Pula where you can enjoy water activities such as swimming and scuba diving. In the evening, visit the Boca Bar where they serve tasty food and local Istrian wine.
White truffles. Canva/dp3010.
I didn’t care much about truffles before visiting Istria. I knew they had them in France and Italy, but that was about it. Truffles are abundant in the forests of Istria and one of the largest white truffles in the world was found in this region. There is even a truffle festival in the village of Livade every November.
During this festival, you can go on a truffle hunting tour for free! The procedure is simple. A couple of local guides take you to a forest and explain to you how to find truffles. There are also a couple of agencies in Istria that organize these hunting tours all year long.
A small hilltop town with a medieval vibe, Groznjan is probably the most picturesque place in all of Istria. The best way to experience it is just to walk around and enjoy the narrow cobblestone streets, visit a couple of art studios, and listen to students from the village music school playing their notes.
You might want to visit a cool Aura Distillery shop where you can purchase or taste jams, homemade chocolates, and local rakija (brandy). In summer, Groznjan hosts the annual Jazz is Back festival.
Istria’s charm ensures that your visit becomes an unforgettable experience. To be completely honest, it is not a hidden jewel and many people love spending their vacation here. The region has not yet become overcrowded with tourists, but it’s just a matter of time.
The best travel recommendations come from locals. Check out these Wanderguides from Croatia by locals sharing their travel tips and hidden gems.