While other areas of Croatia receive the bulk of the spotlight, Istria in the northwest corner of the country also deserves travelers’ attention too.
Istria is an Adriatic peninsula where the pace is slower and the vibe is authentic. Take a look on a map and you will see how geographically close it is to Italy. It was even part of the country until 1947. This location and ancestry influences not only its language, culture, and cuisine, but also its Venetian architecture.
White awnings pop against ballet-pink walls of Rovinj’s quaint cafés. The gentle sounds of a musician strumming melts into the air. In Istria, friends stop to chat in the streets and meet over leisurely cups of coffee poured into miniature white mugs, packing an enormous caffeine punch. Hot pink oleander blooms tumble over balconies and deep green palms soar, all set against the backdrop of the azure Adriatic Sea.
Stress is a distant memory in Istria when you inhale the mouthwatering scent of basil, oregano, and garlic likely stewing in a pot of fresh tomatoes ladled onto freshly cut fuzi pasta. Clams, mussels, and risotto devilishly darkened with cuttlefish or squid ink are also coastal staples. White truffles are plucked from the hilly land around Motovun-the delicacy delicately shaved onto pasta gently tossed in a little heavy cream. Gelato is a yummy treat in the sunny heat. And of course there’s the wine. The Malvazija Istarska (a white wine), one of the region’s oldest varieties, has been common in Istria for centuries. The fruity flavor reminiscent of green apples and almonds is blissfully refreshing. There’s also Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinots to be had. It’s all simple, yet heavenly food.
Gladiators combating in the ring would have been praying for some kind of divine intervention when they stepped on stage in Pula’s enclosed Roman limestone amphitheatre in front of a roaring crowd (20,000 strong to be exact). Walk in their footsteps and see what the view would have looked like in the first century.
At Porec’s Byzantine sixth century Euphrasian Basilica, an inspiring mosaic of Jesus perched on a globe, surrounded by his disciples shines in the nave. Outside no matter where you wander in Istria, you always seem to end up with sparkling views. Cobblestone lanes gently slope up a hill leading to Rovinj’s Baroque Church of St. Euphemia. From up top, the Adriatic unfolds in endless delight.
Instead of being the recipient of a faded postcard in the mail, you will be looking at picture perfect beaches that aren’t nearly as busy as the ones further south. It’s not tough to find a secluded, rocky cove beckoning you to jump into the sparkling sea from a private boat. There doesn’t seem to be a bad view anywhere.
This is Istria. A marvelous blend of past and delectable present.