Ah, Istria! All the feels of Tuscany with fewer crowds and less damage to your wallet. What’s not to love? In fact, don’t tell Italy, but you may even find yourself preferring this Croatian gem.
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Istria is right for virtually all types of travelers as it offers a little something for everyone. Food and wine rival that of neighboring Italy and prices are lower than what you’ll find on the Dalmatian coast. Below is a plan for getting the most out of this quiet and scenic area.
The romantic, fairy-tale town of Rovinj makes for an ideal home base while visiting Istria! It’s located on the coast, allowing easy access to lazy days by the ocean but it is also within a short drive to the famous hill towns of this region.
Plan to spend at least half a day touring this dreamy little fishing village. An exhaustive walking tour of all the sights won’t take you more than an hour or two. Be sure to stop at the open-air market outside of town for some great truffle products, fresh produce, cute sundresses, and more.
We stayed at the Hotel Eden and highly recommend it for its location close to the historic center as well as on-site parking. The hotel is part of the Maistra Group, a collection of moderate to higher-end hotels in the Istrian peninsula. It featured a private beach, a multi-level pool, bike rentals (very handy for going into town), wooded walking trails, a spa, and more.
Rovinj has incredible restaurants and bars! Among the best we found in all of Croatia. You’ll want to reserve a dinner spot at Puntalina at sunset where the food is only surpassed by the view. After dinner, stop by Valentino for a cocktail on the rocks and watch the many fish that are drawn to their underwater lights.
Maestral, outside the historic center, has amazing views of the old town in an unpretentious setting. Everything we tried here was great. The pljukanci pasta with beef was a standout!
Pula is the largest city on the Istrian peninsula and home to a bounty of Roman ruins. Only a 45-minute drive from Rovinj (day tours also readily available), Pula merits 3-5 hours of time exploring the sights.
Without exception, the amphitheater is the top sight to see. It’s remarkably well-preserved and we particularly enjoyed the grape press and olive mill display underneath the arena with its vast collection of amphorae.
Other places worth a stop-by include the Temple of Augustus, the Arch of the Sergii, and the Fortress. We were delighted to come upon a recently excavated mosaic floor hidden just a block off the main walking street, Sergijevaca.
You’ll want to spend at least one day of your time in Istria exploring the hill towns, wineries, and truffle farms/shops. There are literally dozens of little hill towns you can explore but today I’m going to highlight three favorites, each with a distinct feel. Be sure to stop at the many roadside locations along the way to do a little wine/olive oil/truffle tasting!
Grožnjan is a funky little artist’s colony tucked into the hills of Istria. It’s about an hour north of Rovinj and a fantastic place to start your hill town tour. Grab a coffee and some pastry at a cafe then do a bit of shopping. OBSERVATION: The little glass bikinis/bondage sets pictured below were all over Croatia! I’m not exactly sure what you’re supposed to do with them but what a unique gift.
Next head to Završje, a spooky opposite to polished Grožnjan. This medieval town is nearly abandoned and makes for some great photo ops. The EU is starting to restore this little jewel so visit soon before the hoards catch on to its uniqueness!
Motovun is no secret! It’s likely the most touristed of the Istrian hill towns but still worth a stop for its incredible views. Come here early in the morning or as one of your last stops of the day. Late morning to early afternoon you’ll be fighting an influx of tour buses.
If you’re considering a trip to Croatia, be sure to check out these additional posts on the Top 10 of the Dalmatian Coast and How to Experience Plitvice Lakes without Crowds.
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