From harbours to islands, from beaches to trendy seaside resorts, from small perched and intimate villages to green cycling, from gastronomy to the wine route, all types of tourism are possible in Istria, certainly the most diverse region in terms of tourist potential
Istria, a peninsula between sea and countryside
There are several ways to approach Croatia's largest peninsula. By road, from Venice or Trieste, along the north-western coast, you drive about twenty kilometres to Slovenia and then Istria. Even today, this closeness to Italy is expressed in the way of life of the Istrian Croats. They speak the Venetian language, they prepare their own grappa, antipasti, pasta, polenta and gnocchi. In the 19th century, the Habsburg influence permeated the north-western part of Istria, inland, from the aristocratic Opatija to Pazin and Rijeka, using the numerous Slovenian passageways. A true crossroads of civilizations, Istria has today become one of the most popular tourist regions in Croatia, thanks to low-cost flights in particular, putting France and Belgium less than 2 hours by plane from Pula. On this small territory of 2,820 km2, you will be tempted to leave the motorway, a large Y-shaped axis, which criss-crosses the whole region, to stop in the middle of nature and discover the historical villages. Without too much travel, you can enjoy the beach in the same day. The most beautiful ones ? Kamenjak beach (Medulin) which attracts surfers, Maslinica beach (Rabac), Kanegra beach (Umag). You can easily choose a quiet place to stay in the countryside and enjoy the pleasures of the beach... or vice versa. Those who are lucky enough to sail in this northern part of the Adriatic can leave the ports of Umag, Novigrad and the marina of Porečand enter the Lim Fjord, an impressive natural channel. Once they have reached the archipelago of the Brijuni Islands, they will surely find a deserted cove south of Pula before approaching the wild cape of the Premantura peninsula
An excellent spot for bicycle touring
Numerous agencies in Poreč, Vrsar, Pula, Labin or Buzet offer two-wheeler rentals. Among the small county roads, the green and hilly paths, the Parenzana, 123 km of cycle tracks, which take up the route of the old railway network. Of course, it goes up and down, but nothing terrible for the lovers of gentle travel
When you're in turquoise Istria, the emblematic colour of the crystal clear sea, don't forget green Istria. This controlled appellation evokes the inland, the green of the forests even in the middle of summer, the agrotourism. The authenticity of the land connects with the hilltop villages (Motovun, capital of the white truffle, which dominates the valley of the Mirna River, Roč and Hum, cradles of the Glagolitic culture, but also Pazin, Buzet, Labin, Grožnjan) as well as with the prehistoric caves (Baredine, Mramornica, Festinsko kraljevstvo, Romuald and Pazin).
Cycling in Istria allows short tours, visits to small chapels where you never stop by car! It's also the pleasure of the side roads, of the bucolic picnics. You can buy fresh produce from the market or from the farmers themselves on the roadside: asparagus, cherries and chanterelles in spring. And in autumn, the season blessed by the gourmet gods, figs, apples, walnuts, almonds, grapes, etc
In konobas, family-run inns, the menu is a harmonious blend of Croatian and Italian flavours, such as Istrian manestra, a thick soup with seasonal vegetables, fuzi, fresh pasta usually served with white truffle sauce, cheese and smoked ham. The culture of the Istrian wine cellars takes you along other routes. A visit to a wine cellar or an olive growing estate is a must. You will probably be told about the extra virgin olive oil of the house, the regional red wine, the Malvasia, a wine made from traditional white grapes
From Pula to the Brijuni Islands, a host of visits
Non-motorized tourists can safely use the country's reliable bus network. All villages are served from towns, ports and resorts. Most villages have their own bus station, with Pula providing the most connections. Situated on the north Adriatic coast, this modern city of 60,000 inhabitants is often the starting point for a holiday in southern Croatia. Ancient monuments in a perfect state of preservation, Byzantine churches, a fortress, a harbour and museums make it worth spending a few days here. Seeing a show in the Roman amphitheatre or having a drink in the forum, in front of the temple of Augustus, are all privileged moments that the Istrian capital offers to visitors
Still in the region of Pula, the Brijuni National Park, classified since 1983, is not to be missed. You can go there on foot or by bike. Today, the Brijuni islands are home to 700 plant species, typical of the Mediterranean, to which other imported non-native plants have been added
The visit continues in the peaceful bay of Verige near the remains of a Roman villa (1st century AD), part of which is dedicated to Neptune. For swimming, plan a good time on this enchanting site!
Old towns and nature
A leisurely drive up the east coast of Istria will take you to the hilltop village of Labin, a stop at Rabac Cove, and then back on the Riviera road to the festive and fashionable Opatija. Inland, there are other pretty medieval strongholds, but you can also head back up to the east coast and see Poreč, its magnificent Euphrasian basilica, built in the mid-6th century, in Byzantine style, classified by Unesco in 1997. Then there's Vrsar, the port where Casanova set his sea legs, and Rovinj, the pearl of Istria. Just walking through the old town and admiring its polychrome facades shimmering in the sea is enough to delight the walker. Every lost step in the beautiful peninsula city leads to the high church of St. Euphemia, the patron saint of Rovinj
Outside the walls, south of Rovinj, a pretty pine forest (Zlatni Rat), several pontoons for swimming, a pleasant coastal walk, some good restaurants and charming hotels encourage holidaymakers to take their time here. In one of the most attractive parts of Istria, allow for a day or more!
When is the best time to visit? The summer months, but you won't be alone! Choose the middle season to avoid the crowds on the coast: spring in bloom or Indian summer. From November to April, many establishments close, especially inland
Getting there. By plane, there are direct flights between Paris and Pula in summer. Allow two hours
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