If you're still trying to decide where to go away this summer, check out my latest guide for Trivago. The Hunt: Where to Wine and Dine in Istria, Croatia.
If you’re looking to plan your next unique gastronomic adventure, look no further than Istria, Croatia. It’s the best combination of rich history with its romantic quaint streets and stunning landscape, offering the best of Green Istria (AKA the interior’s gorgeous wild vegetables that grow in the lush green meadows, forests and rolling hills) and Blue Istria (AKA the sparkly coastline’s extremely fresh Adriatic fish, clams, octopus and many more seafood delights). To help you wine and dine through the tastiest part of Croatia at all hours of the day, try hunting down my favorite Istrian eats and drinks.
I like to start my day with a hearty breakfast at my hotel and luckily my beautiful home in Rovinj, Hotel Lone, serves an abundance of lovely Croatian breakfast selections such as the picturesque Volcano Egg. So light, yet creamy. To break-up your breakfast routine, the soft scramble truffle eggs with truffle cheese and truffle salami to start at Karlić Tartufi in Paladini, Buzet is beyond delicious and totally addictive. Once you go truffle everything, you never go back.
Park Histria Aromatica in Golaš is an essential stop if you love everything natural. Self-described as “a medieval aromatharium, a place where herbal preparations for health and beauty are designed and sold.” There’s 25 acres of lavender, sage and marigold fields with walkways that take you through plantations, gardens and over 300 species of domestic aromatic spice and medicinal herbs, olive groves and vineyards. After hitting the fascinating lab inside the Aromatica building, indulge in some wine and grappa at the restaurant, which serves simple Mediterranean dishes made from season ingredients, and finish with a visit to the shop for organic tea and honey to take home as gifts.
Ipša in Ipši has been ranked second to Tuscany for the high-quality production of its extra-virgin olive oil in the last five years by Flos Olei, a prestigious Italian guide to the olive oils of the world, so if you’re going to be schooled on the famous Istrian olive oil, Ipša is the place to visit for an in-depth tasting and lesson.
You can’t visit Istria and not stop by the renowned Zigante Tartufi restaurant + shop in Buzet. In 1999, Giancarlo Zigante, along with his dog Diana, proudly found the largest white truffle in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Having nibbled and sipped though many tasty pit stops, the slow food restaurant, Toklarija in Buzet, is the perfect relaxed lunch spot. Toklaija is operated by a father-son duo and you will fall in love with the cozy cottage location that was once an olive mill. The food is refined rustic, with dishes like fresh cow cheese with sausage and pickled dandelion buds, and suckling pig with ricotta and prosciutto ravioli.
My favorite dish on the entire trip was at the seafood haunt Konoba Cok in Novigrad. The dish? An incredibly simple sea bass carpaccio drowning in local olive oil and salt and pepper. It just shows that when you have exceptionally fresh, high-quality ingredients, you don’t need a lot of fuss. Another highlight was Konoba Cok’s grilled octopus on asparagus salad with soft shredded egg.
Every dish I tried in Istria incorporated ingredients straight from the farm but if you want really immediate farm to mouth, you must try asparagus foraging with San Tommaso in Golaš. One moment, you’re picking wild asparagus and the next moment, said asparagus are being cooking into a creamy risotto, which of course, can be enjoyed with a variety of local San Tommaso wine.
With Istria’s famous mineral-rich white and red soil and Mediterranean temps, the wine in this region is undeniable and wine-tastings are so much fun here. Try the entertaining
Degrassi vineyards in Savudrija and the historic and grand Kozlovic winery in Momjan. Of the almost 65 different wines that I tasted in Istria, my favorite was the Uroboros malvasia (a light white that tastes like a warm campfire) from the modern estate of Trapan Wine Station in Šišan.
Not a lie, I full-on had two-scoops of gelato stuffed into a croissant and a Hugo cocktail (sparkling white wine, mint and lime) at Vitriol Caffe & Bar in Novigrad as a quick snack break before lunch. Needless to say “hangry” was not an emotion felt on this trip. With the huge Italian influence in Istria, a pizza break is also pretty essential. One of the oldest and best-known spots is Pizzeria Jupiter in the centre of Pula. Da Sergio and Pizzeria Roma in Rovinj, and Pizzeria Nono in Poreč are also fantastic for a slice.
You can’t be in Istria, surrounded by the breathtaking Adriatic Sea and not have a sunset dinner by the water. To do it best, book a table by the seaside rocks at La Puntulina in Rovinj—the sunset views in Rovinj are downright praise-worthy.
For classy sophisticated times, head to Milan in Pula where they serve up elegant seafood like sea bass fillet al vapore and sepia risotto with sliced calamari. If you really want to treat yourself, head to Savudrija where head chef of Kanova, Zoran Čobanov will wow you with innovative dishes like Istrian new fritaja with black truffle and toasted Adriatic fish filet on sepia ink sponge and vongole clams. The rooftop views where you can look across to Italy and Slovenia are pretty unbeatable.
For a meaty indulgence/break from all the amazing seafood, I loved the home-cooked goodness of Stari podrum in Momjan. Stari podrum has the sweetest mother-daughter duo running the restaurant and you can really taste the love poured into each dish. There’s a salad that’s topped with thinly sliced grilled beef (grass-fed, no doubt), that’s cooked so perfectly that it actually felt like it melted in my mouth. So. Good.
Start planning your Istrian culinary journey with one of these sweet spots to rest your head. Happy wining and dining, živjeli!
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