Croatia is famous worldwide for the beauty of its nature with the Adriatic coast as a favorite destination for many tourists who want to spend their summer holidays sunbathing on beautiful beaches and swimming in the crystal clear sea. Just a six-hour drive from Vienna and you find yourself in Istria - a true Adriatic gem that offers all this and much more.
Istria is the largest Adriatic peninsula located in its north-west. Its territory is shared by Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy, with the Croatian part of nearly 90% of the peninsula. It is one of the most developed Croatian regions with blooming tourism thanks to the beautiful nature, picturesque towns and villages, preserved historical sites, and authentic Mediterranean gastronomy.
While most people visit the Croatian coast in high summer, you definitely won’t go wrong even if you decide to visit Istria in a “low” season. There is so much to see and do besides going to the beach. That’s why it would be better to travel by car or rent a car upon the arrival and spend your vacation hopping from one place to another in search of a true Istrian experience. Don’t bother about spending too much time behind the wheel —everything is just a 30-60-minute drive away.
You can start your road trip from the south and the city of Pula, which is the economic center of Istria and the largest city on the peninsula. The city’s attractions include historic sites and monuments, the Arena being the most popular one. The Arena is a Roman amphitheater built in the 1st century AD, in the same period as the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. As its name suggests, it was originally used for gladiator fights during the Roman times. It is still used today for many popular events such as concerts, ballet, theater plays, open-air cinema, and sports events. You can also take a walk in the underground passages underneath the amphitheater and see an exhibition dedicated to the traditional olive oil production in Istria. What makes the amphitheater in Pula different from others are the four rectangular towers that were incorporated into the outer wall mantle. Although the Arena is located outside the old city walls, the historic center is just a ten-minute walk away. There are a couple of parks around the Arena where you can rest in the shade after exploring the amphitheater. Continue down to the city center, stop for a meal in one of the restaurants with delicious local cuisine in the Kandlerova Street, or walk further to the Forum Square and enjoy a cup of coffee with a view on the Augustus Temple. The path will lead you further around the hill in the center of the city. On your way to the castle on top of the hill, you will see the remnants of the city walls and well-preserved gates to the city—The Golden Gate (Triumphal Arch of the Sergi), the Gate of Hercules and Twin Gate. Go for a pleasant walk to the top of the hill to visit the star-shaped castle, the Historical Museum of Istria, and the Roman Theater, and have the best view of Pula and the surroundings. For a glimpse of more recent history visit Zerostrasse—a network of underground tunnels constructed during World War I. Beside a chance to explore and cool off during the summer, many people visit the tunnels for the exhibitions and parties that are held there during the year.
If you are staying in Pula for more than a day, use this opportunity to visit the Brijuni National Park, an island archipelago in the south-west of the peninsula. To visit the national park, you have to drive to the town of Fazana (15 minutes away from Pula) and board a boat in the center of the town. After a 15-minute boat ride, you will reach the Veli Brijun island and continue your visit on a tourist train with a local guide. You can also rent a bicycle and explore the island on your own. Besides enjoying a ride surrounded by beautiful nature, you can spend the day visiting the main attractions—the Safari Park, one of the oldest olive trees in the Mediterranean, see dinosaur footprints or the museum with interesting exhibitions dedicated to the island’s history.
If you travel further up north from Fazana, you will reach one of the most beautiful towns on the Croatian coast—Rovinj. Although the town is very small, you will enjoy wandering through the narrow colorful streets and enjoying its irresistible charm. You will see small compact houses, cute shops and old churches. For a better view you can get to the top of St. Euphemia’s Church or walk south to the Rovinj Marina to take beautiful photos of the Old Town. If you want to go for a swim and enjoy some natural beauty walk further south to the forest park Punta Corrente (Golden Cape).
Porec is another beautiful town on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula. The Old Town is a maze of lovely narrow streets typical of Mediterranean architecture, but you will also have a chance to see some architecture with Gothic and baroque elements. One of the main attractions in the town is the Euphrasian Basilica of the 6th century, decorated with beautiful Byzantine mosaics, that has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. During your visit, besides marveling at the beautiful mosaics, reach the top of the church’s belfry for a great view of Porec. If you are into speleology, the Baredine cave, which is just a 15-minute drive away, is rich in wonderful creations of the underground world.
From Porec, you can go for a 30-minute drive east to explore the central part of the peninsula and visit the towns of Motovun and Groznjan. The small fortified town of Motovun is situated on top of a 277-meter hill that overlooks the Mirna river. You cannot enter the city center by car, so you will have to leave it at the old cemetery or somewhere along the sides of the road. But this is not a reason to worry because the center is only a 7-minute walk away. In addition to the historic city center, the Medieval town of Motovun will impress you with its beautiful surroundings, the hill’s slopes covered with vineyards and a view of the Mirna river valley. The Motovun Forest is a popular site for harvesting truffles — highly valued underground fungus which are considered a delicacy of Istrian gastronomy. You can try them at one of the restaurants in the town. In Motovun, you can also have a taste of culture during the Motovun Film Festival which is held every summer.
While in Motovun you can visit Groznjan as well, which is just a short drive away. Over the years Groznjan has become home to many Croatian artists who have decided to live in this picturesque quiet town. You can feel the artistic atmosphere while exploring the labyrinth of charming narrow streets with cute boutiques and artistic shop displays. Return home with a unique souvenir that will be a lasting memory of your vacation on the Adriatic coast!
If you are interested in exploring the eastern coast of the Istrian peninsula, there are a lot of places to visit. These mostly include small villages with beautiful beaches. Labin is the largest town and the administrative center of the eastern region. Although Labin is not situated on the coast, it’s still worth visiting, and the coast is just a couple of kilometers away. Explore its charming Mediterranean streets, visit the city museum and the Fortica viewpoint. Another interesting site is the Dubrova sculpture open-air park with more than 90 sculptures by well-known Croatian and foreign sculptors. From the Fortica viewpoint, you will see Rabac, Labin’s resort, where you can swim or go for a walk along the lovely promenade by the crystal clear sea. Nature lovers will also enjoy several trails and paths from Labin and discover the amazing beauty of the area’s nature.
As you can see, Istria has something to offer for everyone. Whether you are traveling with family, looking for quality rest surrounded by beautiful intact nature, or you are an adventurous traveler, wanting to explore and enjoy a variety of historical and cultural sites and events, as well as outdoor activities, choose Istria as your next destination. Rich in natural, cultural, historical, and sports attractions, Istria is ready to meet all your needs and ensure that you have an unforgettable vacation.