First in line for… Istria
This lesser-known corner of Croatia is rapidly rising through the ranks. Laura Hall explains why…
Where is Istria? It’s the heart-shaped peninsula at the top of Croatia
Describe it in 3 words. Amphitheatre, coves, truffles
What’s the hype? You’ll often hear it being described as the new Tuscany. It’s not surprising really – Medieval hill towns and patchwork-quilt countryside make up the lie of the land. Food is a really big deal here, too. The region has its own gastro scene, with the biggest treats coming in the shape of regional wine, olive oil and truffles. It’s not unusual for Italians to pop across the border for a spot of lunch. Yep, it’s that good.
Why do people go here? Lots of reasons. Let’s start with the shoreline. Istria mainly deals in pebbles and rocks when it comes to beaches, but don’t let that put you off. The crinkled nature of the coastline means it offers up cove after cove, most of them teaming raw beauty with end-of-the-world privacy. The water’s incredible, too – ultra clear and a shade of blue and green that needs a whole new word invented for it. You’re not restricted to the mainland, either. Offshore, there are loads of islands to daytrip your way around. Special mention goes to the 14-strong Brijuni chain whose national park status draws outdoorsy types like moths to a flame. Town-wise, the options stack up. Pastel-washed Rovinj looks as if it’s on loan from the Amalfi Coast. Porec draws visitors with its high restaurant count and Roman ruins. And Pula, Istria’s biggest city, is home to an enormous amphitheatre. The arena, as the locals know it, packs all the punch of Rome’s Colosseum, but without the queues. If decision-making isn’t your strong point, rest easy in the knowledge Istria is really easy to get around, so it’s a case of see them all, not either/or.
Anything else to shout about? Plenty, actually. It’s close to the Italian and Slovenian borders so you can head over to Venice or Lake Bled for a day. The prices in Istria come as a nice surprise, too. Croatia’s still a euro-free zone, so you get more kuna for your quid. A beer costs around £1.70 or less, and a decent meal for two with wine comes out at a pocket-friendly £20.
Best time to visit? It’s hottest in July and August, when temperatures hit 30˚C. Fortunately, the region gets a light summer breeze, so it never gets stifling. Plus, come in the summer and you can catch a classical concert in Pula’s amphitheatre. Spring and autumn stay pretty warm, with temperatures around 20˚C.
Where to stay? Two of our favourite places are set on little islands – the stylish Hotel Istra, near Rovinj, and the budget-friendly Island Hotel Fortuna, not far from Porec. A good choice on the mainland is Hotel Park Plaza Medulin, an adults-only retreat just outside Pula.
Is Istria on your to-visit list?