A few weeks ago, I travelled with Olympus – and perfect travel companions @jessonthames and @lifeofyablon – to visit the Croation region of Istria, the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea just across the water from Italy and bordering with Slovenia…
We flew to Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, and took a two-hour car journey to Motovun in Istria, but there are various ways you can travel to the area – including training or planing to Venice and then ferrying across the water to the port of Rovinj or driving from Trieste or Zagreb…
*Trip hosted by the Istrian Tourist Board @visitistria #visitistria
With an incredibly rich historical past – potted history: once part of the Ancient Roman and Byzantine empires, ruled by the Venetians, the Habsburgs, Austrian Empire and Italians, ceded to Yugoslavia after WWII and becoming part of Croatia after the Yugoslav breakup – Istria is quite unlike anywhere I’ve visited before and very much with its own identity, a fascinating mix of Mediterranean and Slavic cultures.
And Istria is an absolutely fantastic holiday destination where you can combine city, culture and beach with incredible food. Here are my recommendations of things to do in Istria…
Explore the Old Town in Rovinj
The charmingly higglety-pigglety car-free medieval streets of Rovinj are a complete joy to get lost in, every turn showing up another beautifully picturesque scene replete with a pleasing palette of coloured shutters, tucked away restaurants and cat-lined walls and corners.
Start at the hilltop church of St Euphemia and make your way twisting and turning at will down to the port, stopping for coffee along the way. We stayed at newly opened bijoux boutique hotel The Melegran with its own narrow street way entrance and perfectly charming shutters. A wonderful viewpoint of the city can be had up at the Grand Park Hotel lobby which you can get to by walking round the bay – you can also have a great meal in one of its many restaurants.
The superlight & very easy-to-manouevre Antler Clifton suitcase… perfect on cobbled streets! (gift)
Eat at La Puntalina Restaurant
This is one to book ahead! And it’s clear to see why – La Puntalina’s exquisite seafood and pasta dishes, seafront panoramic views and easy access to the water for a dip before dining is an experience not to be missed! The tables for two and rock-placed drinks trays could not make for a more romantic setting and it was such a joy to see families splashing in the water and then sitting down to eat. This is definitely the perfect spot one for special occasion meals – trust me, I am already craving a return visit!
Foodies might also want to pay a visit to the Wine & Heritage Hotel Roxanich in the hilltop town of Motovun (two hour’s drive from Rovinj) with its very own vineyards and nearby truffle house Karlic Tartufi, where you can sample the best of truffle cuisine and even join a truffle hunt in the nearby forest!
See The Colosseum at Pula
With its very own Ancient Roman amphitheatre – built by Augustus in the 1st century around the time of Rome’s Colosseum – the city of Pula is home to the only remaining Roman arena, the sixth largest arena int the world, to have all its four towers intact. It is absolutely tremendous to see and you can also visit the sizeable underground level to learn more about how the amphitheatre was used in Roman times. Nowadays the arena is used for concerts and theatre…
Also at Pula is the quite brilliant House of Istrian Olive Oil museum which we absolutely loved – not only learning about the how olive oil was made and how it now is made in the Istrian region, but also learning through a tasting how to identify different grades of olive oil – a fantastic skill to have! And just around the corner is one of Pula’s most popular bars, The Shipyard Pub.
Soak Up The Sun at Hawaii Beach
Along the Pula coastline is the most glorious aquamarine water and white pebble beaches. Although our visit was mid-October it was still warm enough for people to be sunbathing and swimming. A wonderful walk exploring the little rocky coves and soaking up the sea air was the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
There were a few coves where you can sunbathe and swim and the one pictured is named Hawaii Beach! The area is also home to an old seaside resort, currently under renovation but you’ll still find somewhere to eat at the end of your walk!
Visit The Byzantine Basilica at Porec
Porec is a wonderful mix of Rovinj and Pula – with its pretty streets and historical ruins – and is somewhere in between sizewise. The main focus is the perfectly preserved 6th century Byzantine Euphrasian Basilica – with exquisite mosaics and bell tower (cue the requisite many steps up a wooden staircase to the top…) for the fabulous city views! This World Heritage Site is a huge pull for history lovers.
It makes for the perfect morning or afternoon strolling around the city – there are some lovely restaurants along the sea front where we had lunch – stopping at the Roman temple ruins and then onto the Basilica. I also love how Porec’s seafront, like Rovinj’s, is dotted with seawall ladders along the roadside – just in case you fancy a quick dip!
A big thank you to my wonderful travel companions @jessonthames & @lifeofyablon and our guide Nenad Stojkovski from the Istrian Tourist Board, Hotel Roxanich and The Melegran for making this such a great trip! And to Olympus, as always, who make photography such an ease and a pleasure!