Istria

A few years ago, my little brother visited Istria and told me afterwards that it reminded him of Italy – only it was cheaper and slightly better (no offense Italy, you’re great, too x). It comes as no surprise that this part of Croatia is similar to Italy since they’re neighbors and all. But did you know that Istria has an amphitheatre, countless Roman buildings, that almost everyone speaks Italian, and that the food has Italian written all over it? Even the wines compare, and we all know that Italian wine is the rock star of the show!

MORE CROATIA TRAVEL TIPS: GET MAPS, ITINERARIES AND CROATIAN PHRASES

So, a few months ago I went to Istria myself and concluded that my brother was right. Istria is fabulous… it’s the perfect place to indulge in gourmet food & muscat wine and enjoy gorgeous pebble beaches and ancient history.

This heart-shaped peninsula in the north corner of Croatia offers some epic adventures and experiences like biking, gourmet food, beaches, wineries, olive oil tastings, stunning countryside, history and activities such as paragliding, rock climbing and diving.

Here’s an introduction to the beautiful places in Istria.

Map of Istria

Istria is easy to navigate so you can just stay in one city and do day trips to other towns. You can get around by bus although it isn’t super easy, so I recommend renting a car as it’s much easier and also quite cheap. It takes about 1 hour to drive from Novigrad in the north to Pula in the south.

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1. NOVIGRAD

Eat local and enjoy the history

A cute little town in north of Istria. To me, Novigrad stood out a little posh compared to other Istrian towns. The beach is really nice there, although you should be aware that all beaches in Istria are pebble beaches, not sandy. If you feel like splurging for a day, head down to the marina and have a cocktail and lunch at Navigare Restaurant.

– Visit –

St. Pelagio and St. Maxim’s Parish Church bell tower

The town walls

The beach

Novigrad marina

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2. MOTOVUN

Explore the countryside and join the Film Festival

Motovun is located on top of a steep hill and a staircase of 1052 steps. This medieval town is surrounded by a walkable wall, and from the top there’s a view over vineyards and forests. If you’re an early bird and like sunrises, get up at 5 or 6 am and enjoy a view like on the first photo below.

I really liked Motovun although it is very small (only around 500 inhabitants) and there’s not much to do except relaxing, enjoying food and taking day trips. But I guess that’s what ‘going to the countryside’ is all about, no?

* Note that the hill is quite steep and narrow so some cars have difficulties ascending.

– Visit –

The honey tastings in Livade (at the end of the hill)

Church of St. Stephen

Loggia Restaurant in Oprtalj

Walk on the city walls

Motovun film festival (It usually lasts 5-6 days in late July or early August)

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3. VRSAR

Indulge in romance and the town of Casanova

Vrsar is a cute little fishermen’s village located between Pula and Rovinj. The town has more than 2,000 years of historical heritage and is home to several biking and hiking trails. In the 18th century, the famous Italian adventurer and seducer Giacomo Casanova visited Vrsar twice – in 1743 and 1744 – and he wrote about those visits in his memoirs.

Once a year, the city celebrates Casanovafest, a festival of love and erotica. In 2015, it was held in June.

– Visit –

Old Romanesque gate

Casanovafest (in late June, but check the local website for future dates)

The romantic view points in the old town of Vrsar

Basilica of St. Mary of the Sea

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4. VODNJAN

Great olive oil tasting and ancient mummies

In the past, Vodnjan was an important urban center, making it an interesting destination for those interested in architecture and history. In the old part of town, there are many buildings from different periods: Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, and you can find mummies of saints in the churches.

Vodnjan is also the perfect place for olive oil tastings and for seeing traditional stone cottages (kažun), which used to be built by farmers to provide shelter from extreme weather situations.

– Visit –

Relics and mummified saints in the churches

Olive oil tasting (I recommend Brist)

Traditional stone cottages

The Eko muzej

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Croatian olive oil

5. LABIN

An art Mecca and old mining town

Labin is my favorite place in Istria and I simply love the artistic vibe. The town is located on the East side of Istria and overlooks Rabač and the sea. Since it’s known for its numerous ateliers and galleries, we visited one of the local painters, Vinko Šhaina. His gallery is a former church now bedecked with paintings of skulls.

In the past, Labin was the largest mining center of Croatia, and at the city museum you can visit a recreation of a coal mine site. You get a helmet before you enter the tunnels.

– Visit –

Church of Blessed Virgin Mary’s Birth

City Museum (+ mine). The other museum in town is called Labin National Museum.

The view-point from fortress Fortica

Battiala-Lazzarini Palace

Eat at Velo Kafé

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The Istria team with local artist Vinko Šhaina

6. RABAČ

Hit the beach

Only 3 km from Labin, you’ll find Rabač – a true Istrian paradise with LOVELY pebbly beaches and crystal clear waters. It’s a must-visit if you’re in Labin and the perfect place for snorkeling, swimming and diving. You can see all kinds of fish and enormous jelly fish.

– Visit –

The beach

Take the tourist train

Go snorkeling or diving

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7. POREĆ

A UNESCO site and party hub

The ancient Roman town of Poreč has become one of the most popular places in Istria. In the summer, it’s the party hub of the peninsula and therefore not the place for a quiet getaway. Poreč has a lot to offer in terms of history, and together with the Byzantine mosaics at Euphrasian Basilica and the tower of Poreč, sites like Pentagonal and the Round tower are not to be missed.

– Visit –

The Euphrasian Basilica (UNESCO world heritage site)

Temple of Neptune

Marafor, an ancient roman square

Decumanus and Cardo Maximus streets

Cave Baredine

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8. FAŽANA

Family friendly. Ps. Try the sardines! 

Fažana is a picturesque little town close to Pula. It has a beautiful waterfront with many restaurants and cafés. It’s a bit crowded in the summer, but it has that charming fisherman town look and vibe so it’s definitely worth a visit!

I’ve mentioned earlier that I’ve got a new-found love for sardines, and I have Fažana to thank for that (thank you, Fažana). The town is known for its sardines, so make sure to try some while you’re there!

– Visit –

Parish Church of SS

The harbour and beach

Brijuni Islands

Romanesque Chapel

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9. PULA

Enjoy the history

Ah, Pula. This town was founded 3,000 years ago (can you believe that!) and is known for its Arena; one of the best-preserved amphitheaters in the world. Pula seems to accommodate everyone’s needs: beautiful beaches, colorful reefs and diving spots, culture, great food and history.

A stroll through the city takes you past ancient Roman architecture like the Temple of Augustus, the Triumphal Arch of the Sergi, Hercules’ Gate and Twin Gates, Arena and Small Roman Theatre. Pula is the largest city in Istria.

– Visit –

The arena

Temple of Augustus

Triumphal Arch of Sergius 

Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin

Diving at Pješčana Uvala, and the islets Fraškerić and Veruda.

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10. PORER & KAMENJAK NATIONAL PARK

Get back to nature

At the most southern tip of Istria, you’ll find Kamenjak National Park, which is perfect for seclusion and enjoying idyllic beaches and untouched nature. In the park, you can visit the Dinosaur Path (600m long) and discover dinosaur footprints.

About 20 minutes sail from the mainland, you’ll find the Lighthouse Porer; an islet so small that it only takes a minute to walk around it. It’s possible to spend the night there although the accommodation is very basic.

Entrance to the national park will be charged for vehicles, while the entrance for cyclists and pedestrians is free.

– Visit –

Go camping

The lighthourse Porer

The pebbly beaches

Bike tours and the dinosaur path

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11. LIM FJORD

One of the other great places in Istria is Lim Fjord, which is located between Rovinj and Vrsar. The fjord is a great place for biking, climbing and hiking, plus it has a beautiful mountainous view.

– How to get there –

By car

By cruise, but I’ve heard it isn’t all that good (lots of drunken people onboard)

Bike trip from Vrsar

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Many thanks to Visit Istria for hosting me on this press trip in Croatia. As always, all opinions and thoughts are my own, regardless of who is footing the bill.

Have you been to Istria? What’s your favorite place?

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Top 11 places to visit in Istria, Croatia
Top 11 places to visit in Istria, Croatia
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Miriam

Travel blogger at Adventurous Miriam
I’m Miriam Risager, and this site has been my scrap-book, playground and home since 2013. I launched this blog as a way to share my journey, as well as share the hows, whys and wheres for other travelers.