Thanks to its rolling emerald hills and shimmering azure waters, the Istrian Riviera is often described as the Croatian Tuscany. In truth, that’s a little unfair – Istria undoubtedly deserves to be recognised in its own right – but, as a starting point, the comparison helps frame the region’s surging popularity. Like Tuscany, Istria is a paradise for those who love to explore the great outdoors. Take the hidden paradise of Brijuni National Park. As one of the true jewels of Istria, this spectacular location comprises of two large and twelve smaller islands, filled with unspoilt nature. The peninsula’s supersized coastline’s a bit special, too, rolling out for over 250 kilometres. It’s dotted with craggy coves and pebbly beaches, and backed by pretty green pines, which makes soul-feeding scenery practically inescapable.
The Limski Kanal looks like it’s been plucked straight out of Norway. This fjord-like waterway slices through the Istrian countryside between Porec and Rovinj. One of the best ways to see the canal is on a boat trip. Alternatively, find a table at one of the waterside restaurants and soak up the views over a bowl of fresh oysters and a glass of crisp white wine.
Istria is sandwiched by Italy to the north, and long stretches of ocean everywhere else, which means pasta and seafood dishes dominate restaurant menus – two big ticks in our box. Truffles feature heavily, too, owing to the region’s fertile soils and perfect climate. Why not combine your love of food and scenic trails and embark on a truffle hunt. Or, treat your other half to an extra-special meal. Rovinj, in particular, is home to a number of top dining spots. For gourmet grub, you’ll do well to beat Monte. It’s not cheap but, if Blumenthal-style food-science wizardry’s your thing, you won’t regret it. Barba Danilo, meanwhile, is a real hidden gem, offering top-notch nosh at a reasonable price. It’s located just outside the centre of Rovinj, set among the grounds of a holiday camp. Don’t let that deceive you, though, you’ll find daring dishes like saffron risotto and gorgonzola ice cream served up with a keen eye for presentation.
Burgundy, Cape Town, Mendoza – watch out, there’s a new kid in town. It’s no secret that Croatian wine is on the rise, and Istria, home to over 100 wineries, is leading the ascent. If you’re keen to sniff out the best of the region’s vineyards, check out Eat Istria’s guide to the best wine-tasting tours. When it comes to bars, Rovinj’s Piassa Granda is arguably the area’s most dedicated purveyor of plonk, stocking an impressive collection of over 250 bottles. Sample regional tipples, such as the crisp Malvazija and the distinctively fruity Teran, or allow one of the friendly sommeliers to help find a match for your palate.
Istria was conquered by the Romans in 178 BC, and remained under their rule for nearly 600 years. It’s no surprise, then, that the region’s home to a generous scattering of historic sites. If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a fearless gladiator, check out Pula Arena, one of the largest Roman amphitheatres in the world. Okay, so there’ll be no gory movie scenes re-enacted here (thankfully), but you will get the chance to take in a prime example of ancient architecture in all its glory. And, with all of its outer walls intact, it’s arguably better preserved than the Colosseum. If that’s not enough, Porec has been given the UNESCO treatment. It’s home to the protected 6th-century Euphrasius Basilica, which features a series of ancient mosaics made from gold and mother of pearl.
When it comes to music festivals, Istria’s on-the-pulse events draw a global crowd. Take Dimensions Festival, for instance. Revered around the world for its experimental electronic music programming, encompassing house, techno, and everything in between, this is Pula’s party piece – and she’s a real show pony. Tickets will put you in front of heavy hitters, like Midland, Benji B and 90s trip-hop outfit, Massive Attack. Then there’s Dimensions’ older sibling, Outlook Festival, where reggae and dub beats blare out alongside hip-hop and drum and bass. The best thing about both? They’re set in that amphitheatre. Tell mum it’s a history trip and the photos will look after themselves… And, if you’re a bit glam for camping, our Thomson Scene Hotel Park Plaza Arena Pula offers the perfect base, with stylish rooms and a central location.
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Author: Chris Rolinson
Published: August 18, 2016
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