The first time I traveled to Istria, Croatia, it was on a bit of a whim. I was desperate to finally visit the Balkans in general and Croatia in particular; when researching, I found out it was cheapest to fly into Pula. Well. If it was that much cheaper, why not?
I did book that flight to Pula, deciding to spend a few days exploring the surroundings. And I fell for Istria — hard. The Italian flavor, the hill towns that rose out of the green landscape, the way that roses seemed to out of the pavement. This place was so special. I can’t believe I almost didn’t visit it!
Istria hadn’t been in my original Croatia plan — but it ended up being one of the highlights of my trip. So much that I returned to see more. I’ve been recommending it nonstop to my friends for years. On my last trip to Istria, I even met up with a reader!
The Dalmatian Coast may get most of the attention in Croatia — but you might be even more enchanted by the northwest heart-shaped peninsula.
Here’s why you should travel to Istria
Italian Flavor in Croatia
As soon as you arrive in Istria, you’ll be struck by how much Istria feels like Italy. the olive groves, seaside villages painted the colors of Liguria, hill towns that look straight out of Tuscany. And you’ll notice that places here have Italian names as well as Croatian names — Rovinj is Rovigno, Bale is Valle, Grožnjan is Grisignana.
As a result, Istria is a mélange of different cultures and has a very different feel from the Dalmatian Coast. Food is the center of life; locals paint their homes bright colors. And the Italian remains steady — from the many kinds of olive oil to the wild, animated conversations of locals
Picture-Perfect Small Towns
If you love charming small towns, Istria is the best place in Italy to explore them! Each town has its own character, and each town’s residents will claim it’s the best town in Istria!
A perfect day in Istria would be setting out early and visiting four or five towns over the course of a day, stopping in one for a leisurely lunch.
So which small towns are best to explore? I recommend you explore Motovun and Grožnjan at the absolute minimum. (They’re also a 20-minute drive apart, so you can visit both in a single day.)
Ah, truffles. One of the most expensive and luxurious foods on the planet. One of the most enchantingly recognizable tastes in the world.
One of my favorite Istria experiences is ordering traditional fuži pasta with truffles and a glass of white Malvasia at one of the restaurants on the edge of the hilltop of Motovun, overlooking the landscape. These truffles are shaved thin enough to be translucent but thick enough to make a satisfying chew.
Pula isn’t my first choice of where to stay in Istria — it’s a decent city, but I think other towns have more to offer. But Pula is a nice place to spend an afternoon or evening. Check out the Arena; stroll through the old town; get some pizza at Jupiter Pizzeria.