Istria is the largest Croatian peninsula, unique and magnificent, around which the Adriatic Sea has deeply etched itself into the land, sprinkling its jagged coastline with a thousand lagoons and islands, and surrounded in the northeast by the Cicarija and Ucka mountains, Istria is prepared to reveal its thousand years of history to the chance traveller.
The peninsula is located at the head of the Adriatic between the Gulf of Trieste and the Bay of Kvarner The peninsula lies mostly in northwestern Croatia, in the Istria county.
A small slice in the north belongs to Slovenia and a tiny region encompassing the town of Muggia (Slovenian Milje) belongs to Italy.
History of Istria and Kvarner
Important towns in Istria include Koper/Capodistria (“head of Istria”), Pula/Pola, Porec/Parenzo, Rovinj/Rovigno, Pazin/Pisino, Labin/Albona, Motovun/Montona, Buzet/Pinguente and Buje/Buie.
Of special mention are the smaller towns of Visnjan, Roc and Hum.
The larger geographical features of Istria include the Ucka (Monte Maggiore) mountain in the east, the rivers Dragonja, Mirna, Pazincica and Rasa, and the Lim bay.
The peninsula Istria is the most popular destination for foreign visitors to Croatia. Umag and Porec continually top the annual poll of best holiday resorts in Croatia, as organised by the Croatian National Tourist Board and Croatian TV. Most visitors arrive by car, but you can fly in to Pula Airport. Istria is also easily reachable from Trieste or Venice-Treviso airports, where Ryanair fly to, or Venice Marco Polo airport, where Easyjet fly to.
Istrian Lifestyle” is a local saying that sums up all that is great about the place. The people are rightly proud of their fine wines, truffles, Istrian Ham, olive oil, the classic stone houses, gastronomy, history, traditions and landscapes – come and live the ‘Istrian Lifestyle’ with the Istrian!
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After a breakfast of coffee and still-warm pastries, follow any quiet inland road (no frenetic motorways here) and chance upon a quaint church festooned with frescoes. Or simply stop at the roadside, awe-struck, at the sheer natural beauty of the fertile valleys, the rich dark orange-coloured earth, the oceans of olives, figs, almonds and grapes, the waterfalls, the steep pine-clad sides of so many fiords.
For lunch a shady roadside tavern serving the crisp white, and temptingly quaffable, Malvasia wine – as good as anything from France or Italy – an excellent liquid accompaniment to the simplest tastiest pasta, fish or roasted pork dishes. One of these dishes will probably be flavoured liberally with white or black truffles.
An afternoon stroll may lead you to chance upon a village celebration, the locals dancing the ancient balun dance in the main square with swirling costumes and music from age-old instruments – and always a genuine welcome.
The twilight evening road brings you to fairytale coastal towns such as incredibly picturesque Rovinj or Vrsar, complete with their own island entourages. Time for aimless unhurried wanderings around quaint stalls and shops. An alfresco dinner set next to a vast panorama of calm sea or maybe a bustling square with squadrons of swallows, performing impossible aerobatics, wheeling and chirruping overhead.
Afterwards, join the locals in a slow amble, in the cool scented air, over the characteristically shiny pink flag-stones reflecting the lively colours from different shop doorways. Or maybe a quiet stroll around a sleeping port, boats gently bobbing, and guarded by the ever present yellow-lit Venetian campanile.
Alternatively, take a road that will lead you to a lazy day at the sea-side, but no ordinary bucket-and-spade day this – Istrian seas are, without exception, clean, clear and every shade of pure azure blue. Sitting at the water’s edge on bright white pebbles, gaze out to misty islands, themselves all green pine forests and white beaches. Many are reachable by boat so why not spend a day exploring them or else just relax on your chosen island with a picnic?
Don’t miss the Brijuni Islands – a fabulous seven kilometer long necklace of fourteen islands, a paradise national park where the abundance of unusual flora and fauna mingle happily with numerous bird species, deer and mouflon. Join the celebrities and world statesmen who rightly choose these islands as their private holiday hideaway.
Istrian food is similar to Italian food, but with its own identity, nurtured over the last ten years. There are 600 restaurants in Istria, quite a feat for such a small region, so the choice is huge.
Yet quality is assured because the tourist office vets all restaurants and tavernas and recommends a fine-tuned 80 of them. Ask your local tourist office for the Istria Gastro Guide.
Original dishes prepared with the freshest ingredients and with a bygone level of service await you in these eateries.
Here is a ‘hit parade’ of Istrian food that simply must be tried: Creamy fusi al tartufo, little pasta cylinders, with white truffle shavings; scampi alla buzzara, with tomato, garlic and lemon – serviettes in collars are a must for the delicious soup that comes with this dish!; Cevapcici – herby little sausages – eaten with a side dish of onions and ivar (a red, peppery sauce); fresh wild asparagus in April, sold at the roadside by charming old ladies; Istrian ham, cut thicker than the Parma variety and very flavourful on its own or as an ingredient. Istrian truffles (both white and black) are even exported to Italy. And it is the white truffle that is most highly prized.