Why Istria in Croatia is a new Italy
Can you imagine that there are people born in Austria, married in Italy, lived in Yugoslavia and died in Croatia – all that, staying always within one place. Well, let me present to you Istria, a charming peninsula today located in the western part of Croatia.
I’m Croatian so it’s hard for me to be objective when it comes to Croatia. For me, the Adriatic sea with its crystal clear water will always be the prettiest sea I’ve ever swum in (including Indian ocean).
But you have to trust me when I tell you: Croatia is Europe’s best-kept secret. In the structure of overnight stays Germans, Austrians and Slovenians make up to 41% of total visitors. Only German tourists accounted for 19,94 mil of stays in 2019.
Istria proves no different. It is by far the most popular destination in Croatia. With 28,7 million overnight stays in 2019, Istria was the most visited region in Croatia.
Why is Istria Croatian most visited Croatian destination?
Don’t get me wrong: the rest of Croatia is equally impressive as Istria. But there are few reasons why Istria is the most popular county in Croatia:
- Istria is very easy to reach and has high-quality roads. Slovenia is right next to Istria and Trieste in Italy is less than 2 hours away. There is also a ferry that connects Porec in Istria with Venice in Italy. It’s an excellent place to reach with the car from many European countries. For others, there is an airport in Pula and many bus connections. If you need to score a cheap flight deal, check my tips and tricks post.
- It’s small but packed with beauty. Everything in Istria is under one hour away and you can spend a morning at the beach and afternoon in some hilltop village.
- Hilltop villages: another Istrian gem. Each of them surrounded by vineyards, farms and olive groves. I will let the photo below speak for itself.
Hilltop village, Istria
- Amazing beaches: again just look at the photo below. The coastline of Istria is 540km long including off-shore islands.
Beach Rt Kamenjak
- And the food – local cuisine is the easiest one of the best in Europe. Fresh products from local farms: prosciutto, truffles, seafood and delicious wine. The food scene in Istria is an experience itself.
- Most of the Istrians speak both Croatian and Italian. But don’t be surprised if your host will speak also your language: most of the people in Istria speak English and German as well.
Things to do in Istria
Don’t be fooled by the size of Istria. A small heart-shaped peninsula offers more than you can imagine. Below is just a small part of things you can do during your Istrian holiday.
Visit Pearl of Istria – Rovinj
With its narrow cobbled streets, pastel houses and photogenic harbor, Rovinj reminds a lot of Italian coastal cities. Originally an island, the town of Rovinj today is the second most popular destination in Croatia.
What can you do there:
- Visit a church of St. Euphemia. If the church itself will not impress you, I’m sure the view from the hill where it’s located will blow your mind. TIP: go there for sunset – thank me later 🙂
- Have a drink with a great sea view at Mediterraneo Bar.
- Stroll through charming streets of Old Town.
- Spend a day on some of Rovinj beaches – Amarin beach is my favorite.
Rovinj streets, Istria
Explore best-preserved ancient monument in Croatia – Pula Arena
Located 789km from its more famous brother Colosseum in Rome, Pula Arena is the only remaining amphitheater with four side towers. It’s located right next to the sea which makes it even more impressive. What used to be a location for gladiator fights, today is a festival and concert scene. You can explore inside of the amphitheater for a little bit under 10 euros or 5 if you’re a student.
Pula Arena, Croatia
Get to the southernmost point of Istria
Cape Kamenjak is not only the southernmost point in Istria but also a protected area with many bays and hidden beaches. Kayaking and snorkeling along the Rt Kamenjak coastline but also in sea caves are the favorite activities of visitors. Still, for less adventurous there are cliff jumping and just relaxing at the numerous beaches.
TIP: Galebove stijene is the most popular cave for kayak tours.
Beach Rt Kamenjak
Take a boat ride to the Istrian National Park Brijuni
National Park Brijuni consists of 2 islands: Veliki and Mali Brijun and 12 small islets. The best way to see islands is to take a tour that departs from nearby village Fazana. The price is around 200 kunas (25-30 euros) for the whole tour.
Brijuni was the favorite island of Yugoslavian president Josip Broz Tito. You can even visit a museum dedicated especially to him.
I didn’t visit the national park but you can find all the information about the tours and activities right here.
Visit the smallest town in the world`
Located in the center of Istria, Hum is officially the smallest town in the world. It has only 20 inhabitants and it’s located 1 hour from Umag.
TIP: in the vicinity of Hum you can find a small village Kotli famous for limestone waterfalls. The Mirna River is forming these waterfalls and hollowing cauldron-like forms in stone. If you visit it on a cloudy day, you could be a bit disappointed. Although nice. during sunny days this place shows its full potential.
Explore hilltop villages Groznjan and Motovun
Charming little old towns nestled in hills are another reason why Istria is the best traveler choice. There are dozen of them but the two most famous ones are Motovun and Groznjan. Motovun is home to the film festival while Groznjan is widely known as artist town. Both of them – truly and equally remarkable. And do I have to say Instagram friendly?
View on Motovun
Enjoy in Istrian cuisine
Istria is known for good food and for a good reason. Traditional Istrian pasta Fuzi with truffles is probably one of the most famous Istrian dishes. Still, Istrian cuisine is famous for its diversity: the Mediterranean and as well as continental dishes. Not to mention wines and olive oil.
TIP: Buy a bottle of Istarska Malvazija as a souvenir.
Drink with a view, Motovun
Explore Istria with bike
Istria is an extremely bike-friendly place. During spring, biking is one of the best ways to explore the inside of the peninsula. Moreover, you will be happy to see that many rentals are offering bike rental as one of the services, often even included in the price.
Hilltop village Motovun, Istria
We managed to see all of these places in just 3 days. Since it was summer, we didn’t ride the bike that much beside in Rovinj. But if you’re coming in spring and autumn, exploring with a bike would be a great option.
There are many more places you can see in Istria such as Umag, Porec, Novigrad … You will not make a mistake wherever you go.
Istria tips and tricks
For many western Europe people, Istria is a budget-friendly destination, However, average Croatians wouldn’t agree with that. I will leave on you to judge.
We found a great stay in Rovinj, 15-20 minutes’ walk to the city center. We paid 116 euros for 2 nights with breakfast. Rovinj is, without any doubt, the most popular place in Istria so the price is pretty ok.
On average, for a decent meal and drink, you need around 130HRK (approx. 20 euro). Of course, this depends on the place but I doubt you will find anything much lower.
I would strongly suggest visiting Istria with the car since it’s the easiest and cheapest way to get to know the peninsula. There are buses connection between cities but having a car would make your life so much easier. In case you don’t drive, you can check all bus connections here.
Paying for parking around Istria is very easy with application PayDo– applicable for every city on the list above.
Sunset in Rovinj – view from St. Euphemia Church
And that’s a warp: your very personal first-timers Istria guide. I hope you will like Istria as much as all visitors that decide to visit this peninsula every year.
If you liked the post, let me know below in the comments.
Until next time,
Your Traveler To Be