The gorgeous Croatian region of Istria lies on the border with Italy, just south of Trieste. And that Italian influence can be felt in many of Istria’s towns and cities – whether it’s in the form of an ancient Roman amphitheatre or a generous plate of pasta topped with truffles.
A popular seaside getaway, Istria’s coastline is packed with pretty coves and white pebbly beaches backed by rugged forests and mountains. The area may be, rightly, popular but it has retained an untouched and natural feel in many places – especially in the traditional hilltop towns and villages. There’s plenty of lively culture, gastronomy and nightlife to be had in the coastal cities though. And the best part? It’s way more affordable than Italy!
Istria’s most popular destination is the medieval town of Rovinj. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d landed in Italy with all the Venetian-style pastel walls and cobbled streets but there’s plenty of Croatian cultures to enjoy beneath the surface. This port town’s bustling waterfront is its heart – with lively cafés and restaurants keeping the boat's company. There’s a lot of natural beauty from the Rovinj archipelago of off-shore islands to the pine forests and shingly coves that line the coastline.
Picturesque Pula is must-visit for anyone interested in history. The town’s star attraction is its impressive ancient Roman amphitheatre, dubbed “Croatia’s answer to the Colosseum”. During the summer months, the site is still used to host musical events. In contrast to the ancient sights, Pula also has a buzzing modern side with shops, bars and restaurants galore. For great beaches head along to Pula Bay with its pretty, pebbly coves and beachfront cafés.
The popular seaside city of Porec is perched upon a rocky peninsula and packed with historic gems. The UNESCO-listed Byzantine Basilica with its gem-encrusted mosaics is a highlight but the entire Old Town is crammed with memorable architecture. The city is also famed for its nightlife with a lively selection of bars and clubs to let your hair down in. Porec’s coastline curves all the way around to neighbouring Zelena and the whole stretch is a treasure chest of sunny coves and beaches.
Exploring the Istria…
Visit the hilltop towns
Away from the main coastal cities, Istria’s ancient hilltop towns are well worth a visit. Head into the hills behind Rovinj and you’ll come across three real charmers – Buzet, Motovun and Hum (officially the smallest town in the world). Not only can you expect breath-taking views from their lofty positions, but you’ll also find medieval architecture, a hub of local art talent and a lot of truffle shops.
With over a thousand islands, Croatia is made for island-hopping and Istria is a fantastic place for it. From Rovinj, pop across to Red Island for pebbly bays and stunning views. From Pula, it has to be the 14 Brijuni Islands where you’ll find everything from idyllic beaches to a safari park. And from Porec, cross the seas to St Nikola Island to explore the nature reserve. If you fancy enjoying one of Istria’s few sandy beaches, journey to one of the largest islands, Krk, to laze on Baska Beach’s soft sands.
Plitvice National Park
From Porec, you can easily make a day trip to Plitvice National Park – and you should. With whopping 16 blue-green lakes to cool off in, it’s a refreshing summer hangout. Relax amongst the waterfalls and the spectacular mountain scenery – or get active and hike, bike and canoe your way through it.
Take the family to Istralandia
Treat the kids to a day at the enormous Istralandia water park. With over 20 different slides to choose from, there’s something for all ages (and bravery levels). You’ll also find the largest wave pool in Europe and plenty of fun play pools.
Istria’s coast is lined with beautiful beaches. Most small bays or coves made up of smooth white pebbles or shingle (great if you hate getting sand everywhere). Some are rocky, where you have to leap into the sea rather than easing your way in as you would on a gently sloping beach, and most have great beach cafés nearby.
What makes Istria’s beaches really stand out is their stunning scenery – from the mountains and the islands to the area’s spectacular sunsets. The rocky coastline means the waters are crystal-clear and perfect for snorkelling and diving.
The food of Istria is a delicious blend of Italian and Croatian influences. The area has some fantastic Mediterranean produce, such as fresh seafood, sunshine veg, olive oils and truffles. Favourite dishes include black cuttlefish risotto, oysters, wild asparagus and cured local meats, and lots of amazing pasta. To satisfy your sweet craving, try the fritule (Istrian doughnuts) and the out-of-this-world gelato. Enjoy it all with the excellent local wines.
Istria’s food scene covers everything from rustic tavernas to cutting-edge fine dining so you should find something to please everyone. Head to the coast for the best seafood restaurants, the hills for authentic Croatian food (and lots of truffles) and the cities for modern Mediterranean cuisine. Whether you want to enjoy a pizzeria with the family or a special night of gourmet dining, you won’t go hungry in Istria.
Holidays to Istria are full of Croatian charm. The area may be a popular summer getaway but it also has an unspoilt feel with historic buildings and rugged beaches at every turn. Take it easy by the clear Adriatic Sea, hike in the hills or party in the lively coastal cities – the choice is yours.
Booking your Istria holiday with easyJet holidays is the best way to make your travel a breeze. Looking for the best deals? Try booking both your hotel and your flight with easyJet holidays.
Istria not your ideal destination? We’ve got lots more fantastic Croatia holidays for you.