Istria is the largest peninsula in Croatia, located on the very west part of Croatia. It looks like a triangle (see map on the left) and is a very popular destination for tourist and travellers due to it’s close vicinity to Italy, Slovenia and Austria, as well as it’s large coastline, full of small and larger bays with hundred of places and villages offering tourist services. Interior of Istria peninsula is also very attractive, with numerous small towns built on top of the hills around Istria.
Istria became part of Croatia (ex – Yugoslavia) after the Second World War as previously it belonged to Italy, so culturally, it is very much influenced by Italian culture. It was called ” Terra Magica” in Roman times. Istria is much more westernised than the rest of Croatia due to its rich and versatile history. A lot of various travel companies do holidays to Istria.
Destinations in Istria:
- Brijuni (Brioni) Islands – an attractive group of islands near Istria Peninsula, with the main islands Veli Brijun that is Croatia National Park and open to visitors. These islands used to be one of Tito’s favourite residence. A Brijuni archipelago is an attractive group of islands near Istria Peninsula, with the main islands Veli Brijun that is Croatia National Park and open to visitors. In more recent history almost every major statesman visited the islands as Brijuni were the residence of late President Tito.
- Groznjan is a 14th-century Venetian town, known nowadays as Town of Artists – an arts colony, where, since 1965, painters, sculptors and musicians come to live and work. Groznjan is one in the row of pretty Istrian hilltop medieval towns, architecturally similar to Motovun or Pazin. This small town in the central part of Istria, 8 km southeast of Buje or 26 kilometres north…
- Motovun – Small town in central/continental Istria located on the hill above the pastoral valley with views all around Istrian hills. It becomes very trendy as it hosts every summer Motovun Film festival. Motovun is one of the best preserved Istrian hill medieval towns. It is located at the south side of Mirna River Valley about twenty kilometres from Buje (another Istrian town) and…
- Novigrad or Cittanova in Italian, a small, picturesque town located at the north-west shore of Istrian Peninsula, just about 25 km away from Slovenian border and about 15 km from Porec, Umag or Buje – another place in Istria. Novigrad is positioned on a small limestone peninsula on which the old town centre is built, surrounded by well preserved mediaeval walls …
- Pazin – a nice little town in continental Istria. The old part of the town, called Kastel, lies on a hill about 130 meters above the abyss called Jama or Fojba in Italian. In the abyss below the castle, Pazincica river flows. Kastel – Medieval Castle is built on a cliff …
- Porec – Important Istrian tourist resort, built in Austro-Hungarian style architecture, featuring Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the Historic Centre of Porec. This ancient settlement of Istria is also a popular day trip destination from Venice Italy…
- Pula – main Istrian city and important Croatian port and industrial centre being something in between a busy working port and active Istrian Riviera town. It features huge and amazing Roman amphitheatre still used as summer stage for various opera and pop performances
- Rovinj – a walled town built on a small peninsula – very popular tourist destination – regular daily trips to Venice. This fishing port was once the principal town of the Istrian peninsula; it is one of the most attractive towns in the region and its historic centre was modelled on Venice. ..
- Umag – Istrian tourist place with numerous hotels. Umag is well known for its yearly Tennis tournament.
- Rabac – Another popular tourist destination with numerous hotels and camping grounds.
History & Culture
The borders and rulers of Istria have changed so many times throughout history. The biggest empires to claim this peninsula were the Romans, the Venetians and the Austro-Hungarians. Evidence of these strong rulers remains to this day: the sixth largest amphitheatre in the world and temple of Augustus in the town of Pula date from 27BC. Fine examples of Venetian architecture can be found in the main towns and villages throughout Istria whilst permission was granted from Vienna to construct the narrow-gauge railway Parenzana, built in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Today, it is a wonderful bicycle and hiking track.
Today, the average Istrian can claim to have been born in Yugoslavia, their parents born in Italy and grandparents in Austria. Istrians speak Croatian, Italian and an Istrian dialect – a mixture of the two. Geographically separated from the rest of Croatia by Mount Ucka, Istrians historically considered themselves as different.
Today, the tunnel through the heart of the mountain has made it easily accessible and many people from the capital Zagreb are maintaining second homes on the peninsula.
The Italian influence is felt strongly in the cuisine and the language. Fresh pasta is made daily and can be seen on all restaurant menus ranging from the Konobas to the gourmet restaurants. Road signs are in both Croatian and Italian mainly in northwestern Istria. Basically, the further away you drive from the coast, from Italy, the less the Italian influence.
Today the largest part of Istrian territory belongs to Croatia, a very small part lies in Slovenia and a very tiny part in Italy. Due to the centuries-old wide-ranging Italian influence, stretching from the west coast to central Istria, most people are to this day bi-lingual, so road signs and place names are shown in Italian and Croatian. The population of Istria is approximately 200,000 permanent residents.
Getting to Istria:
Istria’s central European position makes it easily accessible. The most practical airport to arrive at is Pula, situated on the southern tip. Other airports close by are Trieste, Venice and Zagreb. Or travel the green way: arrive by train at Venice and then take a ferry.
The Istrian peninsula, located between the Venice lagoon and the Kvarner Bay in the northern Adriatic is very easy to get to and explore. The peninsula is less than 90km wide and 100km from north to south so exploring Istria requires a car. If you are not getting there with your own car then pick up a rent-a-car at the airport.
The three closest airports are between 1/2 hour and 2 hours drive from any point on the peninsula. It takes about an hour to drive and a half from top to bottom of the peninsula. The inland lanes are not busy which makes driving and exploring very easy. As you look at the map of the region you will notice a Y shaped artery, known as the” Istrian Y”, this is the main fast road stretching from north to south.
Ferries to Istria:
- Ferries from Italy to Istria as well as from Slovenia include ferry lines from Venice and Trieste ferry ports
More info and Travel Articles about Istria:
- The Best Campsites in Istria – an introduction to best campsites in Istria
- Sandy beaches in Istria – an introduction to best campsites in Istria
- Istria Travel Blog – Latest entries of travel news and events related to Istria
- Istria Travel Forum: Ask questions and find answers about travelling to Istria at Travel Forum
- Istria, Kvarner and Central Croatia Road and Ferry Map
- Sailing in Istria – an introduction about sailing in Istria
Food & Wine
Istrian cuisine is based on great tasting, fresh, locally produced ingredients, seasonal vegetables, seafood and olive oil. The desire to keep it that way means the Istrian identity and traditions are being preserved. More and more word is emerging that Istria is a gourmet destination, whether buying from a roadside seller or tasting on the dining table.
Istrian olive oil was already famous in Roman times and the Teran red wines were well known. How wonderful both are still being produced, and together with the famous white truffles to be found in the interior, they form a trio of Istria’s major attractions.
Olive oil began to be produced in Istria while the Romans were around and has never stopped. Olive groves cling to the hillsides all over the peninsula. Traditionally, olive harvesting is always a family affair. Some of the oils are simply magnificent and we highly recommend you to try it. Best way to taste is done in a similar way to wine tasting – pour a little into a stemmed glass, swirl around whilst covering the glass top with your other hand, inhale the aroma then sip a quantity taking air into the mouth at the same time.
Istrian wine is, according to Vinistra (Association of Winemakers of Istria), all about the soil. The varying soil colour, from a deep red in coastal areas to white in the interior, enriches the winemaking process and creates the fine white Malvazija and deep red Teran wines that Istria is famous for. There are plenty of wineries all over the peninsula so do include at least an afternoon of wine tasting during your visit.
The Istrian County Tourist Board have made it easier to distinguish the best wines from the more ordinary and have produced a list of ”selected” wine producers. Look out for the names on restaurant wine lists when you would like to try a special bottle of something. The IQ (Istrian Quality) sign on the label signifies high-quality Malvasia wine.
Restaurants and Konoba will always have the local “ordinary” wines too which can be ordered in very small jugs, 2dcl (decilitre), 3dcl, half a litre or litre jugs, often exceptionally good.
Walking & Cycling along Parenzana
As you go around Istria you will come across several large noticeboards headed Parenzana. Today wonderful hiking and cycling route, it used to be a 123 km narrow gauge railway connecting Trieste and Porec stopping at more than 30 stations, bringing life to Istrian towns and villages including Kopar, Piran, Buje, Groznjan, Zavrsje, Livade, Motovun and Vizinada.
The objective of this transport line was to develop the Istrian interior and indeed did from 1902 until 1935 when the Italian government decided their interests in East Africa needed more attention and development than Istria. The line was dismantled and loaded onto a ship destined for Africa where the aim was to reconstruct the line in Abyssinia. However, the story goes, the ship never reached its destination and sank to the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
Places to visit from Istria:
Plitvice Lakes National Park: A group of sixteen lakes and numerous waterfalls set in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Old wooden walkways built literally over the waters allow you to be as close as is possible to the lakes. If you are planning to visit for the day, start at the Lower Lakes as these are the most spectacular. An approximately 1.5hrs drive from central Istria: take a tunnel through the Ucka Mountain, then the motorway towards Zagreb and turn off at the fork to Split and take the Otocac exit. More info about how to get there.
Venice: The Venetian Empire had long and far-reaching influence on the peoples of Istria. If you have never been to Venice, here is a chance to get there easily from the Istrian peninsula. Directly across the Adriatic, the city is two and a half hours away by fast ferry boat. Leave from Porec, Rovinj, Piran, Rabac or Pula in the morning and return in the early evening.