Nestled in the northwest corner of Croatia, the beautiful peninsula of Istria is a delight for gourmands and vacationers everywhere. Istria is a rich blend of Italian and Slavic heritages, mountainous inlands, and stunning rocky beaches.
People all over the world flock to the region to sample gnocchi, prosciutto, scampi, sweet wines, and the world-famous truffles.
As a huge lover of food, wine, and Croatia, here are my top destinations in Istria you have to see!
The large town of Novigrad remains mostly untouched by the tourist crowds. Come here for the salmon-colored roofs, the sleepy charm of a fishing village, and the historic architecture.
Of note are the impressive monument collection at the Lapidarium Museum, the Parish Church bell tower, and St. Pelagio and St. Maxim’s Parish Church.
Novigrad has limited accommodation, so book a room before you go. Hotel Cittar is a charming lodge with 14 cozy rooms, tennis courts, and well-preserved medieval walls.
You can dine in at the hotel but for the best sunset scenery, head down to the Marina Restaurant. Marina is named for its picturesque location overlooking the harbor and for the chef—Marina. The restaurant offers no regular menu and instead whips up fresh seasonal courses and catches of the day.
For a fun and elegant stay in the countryside, stay at the Villa Meneghetti. This is the place for amazing sweet wines, a renowned restaurant, refined wooden décor, and rustic scenery.
The restaurant boasts ingredients straight from the farm—don’t pass up the chance to try the tuna tartar or the homemade goat cheese ravioli with orange sauce!
On the property you’ll also find indoor and outdoor pools, biking, and Nordic walking equipment to explore the Istrian countryside.
Fazana is a mellow town on the coast. From here, you can take a ferry to explore the illustrious Brijuni National Park.
The Brijuni Isles are famous for their natural beauty and historic sights. You can explore the thirteenth-century St. Mary’s Church, ancient roman villas, and the ruins of a Bronze Age settlement and Byzantine palace. More than 200 dinosaur footprints have been discovered here!
The islands are also home to several endangered and rare species: animals including Istrian oxen, Istrian sheep, and chital and fallow deer, and plants such as mouflons and wild cucumber. Several of these animals and plants were imported centuries ago.
You’ll also find more common animals like turtles, dolphins, and sea urchins.
In the Safari Park, home to exotic animals given from all over the world, you’ll find several elephants, zebras, and waterbuck.
After a boat excursion to the island, return to Fazana for dinner at Alla Beccaccia. The fresh calamari and octopus salad is to die for.
Rovinj, known as the most romantic city in the Mediterranean, is one of the more popular! The small coastal city boasts an array of interesting cultural and archaeological sites and of course a memorable regional cuisine!
Drop by the Valentino Champagne & Cocktail Bar for excellent drinks and a classy atmosphere.
Head to Calisono for a tasty selection of pizza, pasta, and risotto. It’s a perfect place to sip sweet wine, watch the crowds meander by, and enjoy the sunset from beneath your umbrella.
Who wouldn’t want to spend the night in a lighthouse? Now you can—the Porer Lighthouse, just off the coast of Pula, rents rooms for less than $150 a night! Imagine getting away from the town and roads and enjoying the comfort and privacy of your own apartment.
It’s great for a group getaway—the lighthouse can sleep up to eight people. Just hop on a boat from Cape Kamenjak and you’re there.
Pula is the most popular destination in Istria, especially in the summer months. Don’t miss Sergijevaca Street, the iconic ambulatory road, where you’ll find all the small boutiques, bars, and souvenir shops.
There are also tons of ruins to check out, from the Arena, a large amphitheater or colosseum, and the ancient Forum to the medieval citadels, churches, and monasteries.
Pula is home to many excellent restaurants including Milan, a modern, intimate eatery that boasts walls of stained glass and an array of delicious cakes.
Motovun is a tiny village with only about 500 residents. The main draw here, besides the cozy hilltop atmosphere, is the Hotel Kastel. This charming seventeenth-century palace is just a few-minutes’ walk from the City Gate and provides stunning views of the countryside.
The hotel is in an idyllic spot for a romantic evening and offers an elegant restaurant, stone terraces, spa, indoor pool, and four-poster beds.
Not too far is San Rocco of Brtonigla, a hotel where you should certainly dine in one evening to experience the cuisine. This boutique establishment has won countless awards in tourism and cuisine, both within Croatia and on the international stage.
Don’t miss the seasonal specialties: local fish, mushrooms, game, olive oils, and creamy truffles.
You can’t visit Istria without going truffle hunting! The peninsula is home to a variety of delicate truffles, including white truffles. These truffles grow deep in the soil under oak, poplar, lime, and wild hazelnut trees and are the most expensive and of the highest quality in the world.
Learn the secrets of finding truffles and wander deep into the quiet forests of the peninsula with a qualified guide from Natura Tartufi. It’s as fun as it is informative!
In Buzet you can also check out the Aura Distillery, which has an impressive collection of Istrian traditional spirits, liqueurs, and jams made from wild plants and fruit.