Read my latest on Istria, Croatia on W Dish.
2300 hours of sunshine a year, 3000 years of fascinating history, and a heart-shaped
peninsula that spans 3600-sq-km. All the numbers in Istria, Croatia add up to an
unforgettable summer destination. This spectacular part of northern Croatia is only 80km
wide and 95km north to south, meaning you can experience the untouched countryside
AND the Adriatic coastal paradise all in the same day.
I present to you, the 10 reasons why you should really go to Istria this summer:
1. The Oozing Charm
You can’t walk the shiny cobblestone streets of Istria without a giant smile on your face.
If you’re a sucker for all things cute overload, do not miss a visit to Grožnjan and Rovinj.
The latter enchants with intimate alleyways and courtyards guarded by friendly cats full
of swagger, and sun-bleached apartments with freshly lined laundry. Rovinj’s coastal
side is a prime go-to for the most stunning sunset views of the Adriatic. Meanwhile,
Grožnjan is proudly referred to as the City of Artists, thanks in huge part to the
abundance of independent galleries and shops as well as artists who summer
here—Marina Abramović had an apartment in Grožnjan for years—and open their
studios to showcase special pieces of work for sale and display. I couldn’t get over the
fairytale vibe that the medieval buildings in Grožnjan give off—it feels like you’ve gone
back in time and stepped into a storybook.
2. Dramatic Rich History
Istria’s civilization dates back to at least the Bronze Age and for most of its rocky
lifespan, Istria has been under the rule of everyone from the Romans to the Austro-
Hungarians. Up until 1947, the area was controlled by Italy, so it’s not rare that a walk
down one block, you’ll pass by a Venetian square and some ancient Roman columns,
and maybe an old Slavic church in between too. The mix of influences can be dizzying
but completely enthralling. Don’t miss these deep historic traces in the beautiful streets
and palazzos of Novigrad-Cittanova and Istria’s largest city, Pula, where the famous
amphitheatre is located.
3. The Clearest, Bluest Sea, You Ever Did See
It’s no wonder the coast of Istria’s adoring nickname is “Blue Istria” as it’s surrounded by
the gorgeously clean and clear Adriatic Sea. For sun and sea lovers, it’s easy to spend
your entire vacation sailing from island to island and exploring all the breathtaking
beaches. On the most southern tip of the peninsula, you’ll find a protected park called
Cape Kamenjak where there’s sandy beaches, high cliffs for deep sea-diving, and flat
giant rocks along the coast ideal for sunbathing, which are all near the cape’s Safari
bar—a perfect spot for a post-sunning drink.
4. Taste the Sea
When walking along the quaint streets of the many coastal towns in Istria, you’ll see and
smell all the yummy creatures of the sea. In a five minute span, I went from gazing at an
enormous group of sea urchin by the Rovinj harbor to passing old town restaurants
grilling octopus and shrimps, before arriving at the seaside restaurant, Puntulina where I
devoured sardines and anchovies freshly pickled in lemon juice and olive oil (so fresh,
they melt in your mouth!) while watching the bright orange sunset over the Adriatic.
5. Truffles! Truffles! Truffles!
The truffle reigns supreme in Croatia, especially in Istria where the coveted delicacy is
unearthed. Eat it in honey, pasta, sausage, cheese… you name it, put truffles on it!
Every year, Istria throws a huge Truffle Days festival where the special tuber is
celebrated and thousands of eggs (the number is equivalent to the year, so this year
there will be 2015 eggs) scrambled and cooked with 10kg of truffle goodness. This year
the festival will be held November 7-8 in Buzet.
6. A Hop, Skip, and a Jump Away from Italy
Just across the water is Italy, making Istria a super easy inclusion into a grander Euro
adventure. The Istrian towns of Umag, Novigrad, Buje, Grožnjan, and Poreč are less
than an hour drive from Trieste, and Rovinj is just a two-hour boat ride from Venice.
Since the Italians ruled Istria for decades, the Italian influence is undeniable—everyone
speaks Italian and all the street signs are written in both Croatian and Italian. You can
actually be sipping a cocktail, looking at Venice across the Adriatic while sitting at a
rooftop bar in Savudrija. So amazing.
7. Less Tourists
The difference between Venice and Istria, though? Istria is still a bit of a hidden gem, so
expect cheaper prices, much cleaner streets (the roads actually sparkle!), less noise,
and way less tourists. Even in mid-August, you can still get away from intense crowds in
the interior, “Green Istria,” where you can relish in the unspoiled countryside of hilltop
towns, lush untouched parks and valleys, and vibrant vineyards.
8. Wine That Flows Like Water
One word: Malvasia. When it comes to a nice summer white, the fresh and crisp Istrian
Malvasia is a no-brainer and my new favorite go-to. Everyone makes wine in Istria so
expect generous offerings wherever you go. I think after a week in Istria, I roughly drank
about 65 different types of Malvasia, Teran and Muskat wines, and I’m a lightweight!
9. Everything is Local
You can live like a local by taking part in activities with vineyards and farms, like
harvesting grapes, cultivating olive groves, truffle hunting, and foraging wild asparagus.
Almost all ingredients used at the restaurants and konobas (authentic rustic taverns) are
grown right in the backyard, so you can actually taste the Mediterranean sun that
nourishes the Istrian soil. I’m a sucker for bringing back local products—some favorites
were the local sage honey and dried lavender from Histria Aromatica, fig and cacao jam
from Zigante, and Ipša olive oil—to bring back the experience and enjoy back home.
10. Everyone is Family
Everyone is treated like family in Istria. At every restaurant and vineyard I visited, I
noticed that they were all run by family members—young sons and daughters who
worked the front of house, the tasting rooms and the fields, while the parents cooked in
the kitchen or led the unique property tours—and so, they welcome you in as one of their
own. That kind of hospitality is beyond heartwarming and stays with you for a lifetime.
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