Beautiful Istria

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Beautiful Istria

September 29, 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly loosens its grip and climate change increasingly makes its presence felt, you may be looking for a beautiful, safe and sustainable place for a holiday. Istria ticks all your boxes!

This breathtakingly beautiful peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, lying mostly inside Croatia’s border, has good weather all year round, and Croatian, Slovenian and Italian cultures are responsibly preserved and celebrated. So it’s not surprising that Istria was recently crowned Community Category winner in Lonely Planet’s Readers’ Choice Awards 2021. Readers praised the wine, food, and the warm welcome. They loved the cosy stays on farms, the local produce and crafts, and the laid-back atmosphere of the area’s tiny hilltop villages.

“Istria offers authentic and unforgettable experiences… each of which gives back to the local communities,” said one reader.

We couldn’t agree more. Istria offers sustainable accommodation and experiences, and it’s easy to travel there by train or coach. Wherever you go, you’ll find places rich in history, culture, good cuisine and natural beauty.

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Enjoying Istria Sustainably

 

Stay sustainably

 

For a greener stay in Istria, look for accommodation with a sustainability or environmental standards certification. Istria’s own EcoDomus label, awarded by its Department for Tourism, guarantees that accommodation has met a wide range of social and environmental sustainability criteria.

 

Currently, 43 private accommodations in Istria have been awarded the EcoDomus label. There are also nine Eco Hotels that hold the Travelife certification, four coastal campsites with the EU Ecolabel and many holiday homes that have been finalists or winners in the European Holiday Homes Awards.

 

Travel sustainably

 

For cyclists, there’s an excellent network of road and MTB routes joining some of Istria’s most beautiful and interesting attractions. Some taverns have electric bikes for rent and there’s a network of charging stations, ‘Istria E-mobility’, for charging electric bikes.

 

The 78 km Parenzana Trail, which you can cycle or walk, follows the route of the former narrow-gauge railway between Poreč and Trieste. It travels close to the coast for large stretches, providing a great way to visit some of Blue Istria’s highlights, but also passes Green Istria gems such as Buje, Grožnjan and Motovun.

 

Most major towns now have charging stations for electric vehicles, as do some hotels, although some are for patrons’ use only. While eco-friendly buses are still rare in Croatia, the bus service is reliable, extensive, and greener than travelling by a conventionally powered car.

 

 

 

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Experience sustainably: Istrian Culture and Cuisine

 

Sustainability isn’t just about the environment and physical resources, it’s about society, economy and culture too. Preserving heritage and sharing it with visitors helps communities thrive and find employment. So, wander into tiny taverns and visit Istria’s eco-museums. Seek out local, traditional, and genuine goods, foods and experiences. Try samples and then support Istria’s businesses by buying your favourite products to take home—either to enjoy yourself or give as gifts.

 

You’ll discover amazing, locally produced extra virgin olive oils; for the sixth year in a row, Istria has been named the best quality olive region in the world by Flos Olei 2021 guide—the virgin olive oil ‘bible’. Istria also produces wonderful honey (including lavender honey from bees feasting on local lavender fields), vegetables, craft beers, flour, Istrian prosciutto and cheese. There will be local handicrafts and aromatic products made from Istrian lavender and honey too.

 

Istria is also famous for its wines, including its native, ruby red Teran wine and the fragrant, fruity, Malvazija, dating back to Ancient Greece. Istrian wines regularly win awards at prestigious competitions, including the largest global wine competition, Decanter. In 2019, Istrian wines won 6 gold medals there.

 

 

 

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Blue Istria: The Coast and the Sea

 

Istria has 445 km (277 miles) of beautiful coastline. It’s home to picturesque coastal towns and traditional fishing villages, where you can enjoy the ‘catch of the day’ and a glass of Istrian wine as the sun goes down. You’ll also discover quiet coves and interesting lighthouses.

 

Istria has six marinas and 50 beaches that have been awarded the Blue Flag this year, meaning they’ve met and maintained stringent environmental, educational, safety and accessibility criteria. That means you can enjoy clear, crystal-clear blue waters, and help to keep them that way by choosing eco-friendly watersports and transport. Three Istrian beaches are also proud holders of the Green Beach award for “sustainably managed recreational beaches… able to include leisure and economic activities and, at the same time, preserve natural and cultural heritage”.

 

You’ll also find tennis courts nearly everywhere you go, plus golf courses and opportunities for horse-riding. Numerous cycling and walking paths take you through forests, olives groves, vineyards and hilltop villages.

 

 

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Umag

 

Umag has charming, cobbled streets and squares. Its medieval fortress houses a fascinating archaeological museum and contemporary art gallery. A few kilometres away is Savudrija lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse on the Croatian coast.

 

Umag has a Blue Flag marina and a sailing club that also offers windsurfing, kitesurfing and stand-up paddleboarding. It also has seven Blue Flag beaches around the town, including Katoro in the town, Laguna Stella Maris to the north and Kanovo to the south.

 

Novigrad

 

Beautiful old walls encircle this charming fishing town with its historic buildings and Bell Tower. It’s a major fishing port, so it’s a great place to try the region’s fish and seafood.

 

The town’s Green Beach award holder, Karpinjan beach, has shallow waters and beautiful pine trees, and there are three Blue Flag beaches here: Camp Sirena beach nearby, Camp Mareda to the north and Aminess Maestral to the south. Aquapark Istralandia is just a few kilometres away and Novigrad is also home to the popular Marina Nautica.

 

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Poreč

 

Poreč is most well-known for its beautiful 6th century Euphrasian Basilica complex with gem-studded Byzantine mosaics, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. But it also boasts beautiful Venetian Gothic palaces and the 13th century Parish House. There’s an Aquarium & Terrarium here too, and the Aquacolors Poreč Water Park close by. Poreč hosts numerous cycling events, so unsurprisingly, it’s well served by bike trails.

 

Poreč’s ‘Gradsko Kupalište’ or City beach, over 1 km long, holds the Green Beach award, and the town is surrounded by too many Blue Flag beaches to mention! It also has a Blue Flag marina, Marina Parentium.

 

 

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Vrsar

 

Vrsar on the west coast of Istria is famous for its visits from Giacomo Casanova, the adventurer and writer known for his busy love life! The hillside town looks over idyllic islets just off the coast. You can see the remains of the prehistoric settlement on the hilltop and visit the fort that now houses the works of Croatian painter Edo Murić.

 

The cave of St. Romuald, the Benedictine monk who brought St. Benedict’s teachings to Istria, is close by, and the castle at Funtana, with its renaissance and baroque features, is just a few kilometres away. There are also four Blue Flag beaches to enjoy, including the beautiful cove of Valknela.

 

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Rovinj

 

Rovinj is one of Istria’s most popular spots and a major fishing port. So after a day exploring its steep cobbled streets or the lovely islands of its archipelago, why not enjoy a dinner of anchovies, sardines, mullet, scampi, shrimp, spider crab, octopus, squid or sea urchins, fresh from the sea?

 

You should also visit the interactive and fascinating Batana EcoMuseum. It’s a not-for-profit Museum, preserving the craftsmanship techniques of the batana, a type of traditional Rovinj fishing boat, and its associated dialect, songs, traditions and gastronomy. It won joint 1st prize for Intangible Heritage at the European Travel Commission’s Sustainable Cultural Tourism Awards in 2019, and was the first Croatia site to be placed on the UNESCO Register of Good Safeguarding Practices for the Intangible Cultural Heritage Of The World.

 

Rovinj has five Blue Flag beaches, including Amarin just to the north, with a mixture of pebbles, stone and paving and plenty of facilities.

 

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Pula

 

Pula is famous as the home of one of the best-preserved and impressive Roman amphitheatres in the world, the whole town feels like it has taken a step back in time. It’s connected to the story of the Argonauts and the search for the Golden Fleece, and there are buildings from all periods of its history: Romans, Venetians and Austro-Hungarians.

 

However, Pula is equally famous for its House of Istrian Olive Oil, where you can try oils from producers all over Istria. It includes an olive oil museum and shop, where you can buy your favourite oil from your tasting session and other Istrian delicacies such as wine, rakija (fruit brandy) and truffles.

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Medulin

 

This small but lovely town sits in a peaceful bay with an archipelago of islets. Here you can enjoy golf, horse-riding or, for the more adventurous, there’s Medulin Adrenaline Park offering numerous activities in the forest, such as tree-top trails and archery. It’s also home to a lovely stone windmill and the Best Croatian Tree 2020, a beautiful 115-year-old Ladonja (Mediterranean hackberry)!

 

Rabac

 

Rabac on the eastern coast has beautiful white pebble beaches, including the Green Beach award holder Girandella beach. It’s a popular place for watersports, tennis, volleyball and picigin, a traditional Croatian ball game. The picturesque medieval town of Labin is perched above Rabac on a 320-metre high hill.

 

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Green Istria: Landscape, Culture and Cuisine

 

Inland, discover beautiful Green Istria, with its vineyard-covered hills, olive groves, truffle-rich forests, medieval towns and picture-postcard villages.

 

Grožnjan

 

Once crumbling and forgotten, this small town is now a hub for music, art and drama, and very lively during the summer. Its performances, attractive Venetian buildings and interesting shops tucked away in narrow cobbled streets make it a wonderful place to spend a day (or two!).

 

Motovun

 

The walled medieval town of Motovun is wonderfully picturesque, perched high on a hill. But this fairy-tale town, with its historic buildings and art galleries, is also an agrotourism hotspot, and in 2019, won the Wine Tourism category in the European Travel Commission’s Sustainable Cultural Tourism Awards. Sample the famous local Teran wine and go on a guided truffle-hunting tour. Whether you find any or not, you can still enjoy this freshly foraged delicacy over homemade pasta, or your fish or steak. The perfect way to end a day spent hiking or cycling through the forest or paragliding from the hilltop!

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Buje-Buie

 

Buje-Buie is the centre of Istria’s most famous wine and olive-growing district and a great place to start a vineyard or olive trail. Charming taverns are hidden away between beautiful historic buildings, and the magnificent Momjan Castle is nearby.

 

Vodnjan

 

This small town is famous for its mummified saints, crumbling neo-Gothic palaces and olive oil trails. There are also two eco-museums. At Istrian de Dignan, you can experience the tastes, smells and traditions of Istria, while at Park Kažuna, nearby, you can see learn about the traditional drywall methods used to build unique round stone shepherds’ huts, or kažuni.

 

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Kamenjak Nature Park

 

Not far from Medulin lies the untouched Kamenjak Cape, now an extensive Nature Park. It has beautiful bays, clear water, wild orchids and fragrant shrubs and dozens of dinosaur footprints. It’s a beautiful place to swim, snorkel, picnic or hike, and windsurf off the coast.

 

Učka Nature Park

 

Učka Nature Park includes Istria’s highest peak, Vojak (1401 metres), and rewards climbers with views of the Italian Alps. Take the Vela Draga trail through a precipitous canyon with limestone columns, or stay on the ground and hike through beautiful meadows and forests, spotting rare griffon vultures, golden eagles and the Belliflower plant.

IMAGE: Istria Tourist Board

Brijuni Islands National Park: Where Blue and Green Istria Meet

 

Inside this National Park, nicknamed ‘Heaven on Earth’, you can sample a little of everything that’s best about Istria. The Brijuni archipelago consists of two larger pine-covered islands and 12 islets, 3 km off the coast of Pula, and you can reach the larger islands via a short boat ride from Fažana. You’ll find meadows and forests, quiet coves and clear blue seas. They’re a haven for wildlife and flora, including plants such as wild cucumber and marine poppy. One of the world’s oldest olive trees is here, still producing olives at around 1600 years old.

 

There are native animals, and exotic species such as llamas and zebras, but once, dinosaurs roamed this area. Seek out their footprints, 160 million years old.

 

During both the Roman and Austro-Hungarian period, these islands were a popular holiday spot, and the Park’s museums and archaeological sites will help you appreciate the area’s history.

 

Blue or Green?

 

Whether you explore the coastal towns and coves of Blue Istria or Green Istria’s villages, hills and forests, you’re bound to fall in love with this heart-shaped peninsula. We guarantee you a holiday packed with wonderful experiences—and one that will make you want to return!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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