Looking to book somewhere a little different for your summer holiday this year?
Somewhere with a fantastic coastline, delicious food, beautiful cities, interesting history, and the added bonus of being relatively quiet compared to other summer destinations?
Then let me point in you in the direction of Istria.
This small peninsula on the coast of Croatia has the crystal clear Adriatic Sea on one side, green scenic mountains on the other, and stunning landscapes EVERYWHERE.
The region was actually part of Italy until 1947, and it’s left behind a fascinating blend of histories and cultures that’s like nowhere else I’ve been before. I fell madly in love within hours of arriving.
Read on to discover more about how to get there, where to stay, what to do, and what to eat in Istria!
HOW TO GET TO ISTRIA
Istria is a small peninsula on the north-west side of Croatia. It shares a border with Slovenia, and is only a two hour (or less) drive away from Italy.
Once there, it’s easy to get to the city using public transport: buses take 15 minutes to Pula city centre. In the summer months there’s also a shuttle bus that serves Rovinj and Poreč. Uber is also available in Pula.
TRAVEL TIP: book a flight and hotel package to Pula with Jet2 Holidays, and your coach transfer to the hotel is already included in the price – along with 20kg luggage per person!
QUICK FACTS ABOUT ISTRIA
Istria generally has good sunny weather from June to early September, with highs of around 25 to 30 degrees Celsius and lows of 15 degrees.
The currency in Istria is the Croatian kuna. £1 is approximately 8 kunas (at the time of posting.)
WHERE TO STAY IN ISTRIA
We stayed at the Park Plaza Histria Pula with Jet2Holidays, on a bed-and-breakfast basis. There are also half-board deals available, for those of you who just want to relax and aren’t fussed about eating out every night.
The airport is only a short drive away, and you can be in the city of Pula in just 15 minutes by bus.
The hotel itself is part of a larger complex, with the sea right on your doorstep and a variety of swimming pools to choose from (including an indoor one).
There’s a sea-front promenade that connects everything along the sea front, with some beautiful quiet beaches and coves further down the coast. (It’s a lovely walk, even if you don’t want to swim there!)
The rooms were nice and big, and very clean. The staff were friendly and helpful, there’s a gym and a spa, and the bar is well-stocked with local wines and beers (though don’t try asking for an iced coffee, because they haven’t quite got the hang of that idea yet). It all just feels very airy and spacious and lovely.
The breakfast was INCREDIBLE, with an omelette bar, pancake station, and all kinds of gluten-free and vegan options on offer, including five different dairy-free milks!
So yeah. Big thumbs up. I really want to take Gary to Istria now, and I would book the Park Plaza Histria Pula with Jet2Holidays for our next trip in a heartbeat!
WHAT TO DO IN ISTRIA
SWIMMING IN THE SEA
Well first of all, you’re probably going to want to go swimming in the crystal clear Adriatic sea! If you’re staying at the Park Plaza Histria Pula, then the coast is right on your doorstep. If you’re staying in Pula city, you’ll have to jump on a bus to hit the beach.
TRAVEL TIP: Most of the beaches in Istria are rocky, without any sand, so it’s a good idea to pack some proper waterproof sandals to swim in.
Visit the Roman amphitheatre in Pula. It’s the 4th largest in the world, and the most preserved structure of its kind. These days it’s mainly used for concerts and film festivals, but they also offer Roman gladiator recreations!
Other Roman ruins worth hunting down include the beautiful Augustus Temple, and the remains of the Forum.
TRAVEL TIP: scroll down to read more about Istrian food!
Hire a car, jump on a bus, or get the ferry to the colourful town of Rovinj.
Visit the church of St Euphemia, explore the old Venetian-style cobbled streets (so Instagrammable!), wander in and out of pretty shops, and order a coffee at one of the harbour bars.
If you’re looking for somewhere special to eat, make sure you plan ahead and book a sunset dinner at the spectacular Puntulina restaurant on the seafront.
ST ANDREWS ISLAND
From Rovinj, you can also jump on a half hour taxi boat to the beautifully secluded St Andrews Island (also known as the Red Island).
Once there, enjoy a delicious lunch at Ristorante Lanterna, followed by a walk up to the mausoleum. Then you can spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach with a cocktail at the Island Hotel Istra, before getting the boat back to the mainland!
FAZANA AND BRIJUNI ISLAND
This island is a treasure trove of nature and history, and was one of my favourite activities on the trip. We found that best way to explore as a small group was by renting one of the little golf carts, as it gives you the freedom to go pretty much everywhere.
If that’s not your style, there are also e-bikes for hire, as well as a little tour train that visits the major points of interest. (The only thing we didn’t have time to see, which I was GUTTED about, were the 200 dinosaur footprints embedded in the rocks on the far side of the island!)
Later, head to Konoba “Alla Beccaccia” for the most incredible local Istrian food, served on a beautiful terrace set between olive trees. It specialises in meat and game, with an emphasis on traditional Istrian cooking techniques. It’s kinda tricky to get to, but honestly it’s 100% worth getting a taxi there. This was my favourite meal of the entire trip.
TRAVEL TIP: konoba means tavern, or old restaurant in Croatian.
Poreç was my least favourite of the towns we visited. I felt it was a weird combination of uncomfortably pushy but unwelcoming, and it just wasn’t my vibe. However, if you’re into history, then it’s well worth stopping by to explore the Basilica Eufrasiana.
This UNESCO heritage site is one of the world’s oldest Roman Catholic churches and has some amazing features. Make sure you climb the bell tower too, and check out the views!
TRAVEL TIP: a lot of the shops and bars in Poreç won’t accept debit/credit cards at all, so make sure you have cash with you.
TRUFFLE HUNTING AT KARLIĆ TARTUFI
Karlić Tartufi is a super friendly, family-run truffle “farm”. It’s based in a village where the population is just 48, and the dogs outnumber the humans 2 to 1.
Book a truffle hunting experience with them, and you’ll first learn all about truffles: why they use dogs instead of pigs, how the dogs are trained, where the best truffle-places are, and why they’re so expensive to buy. Then you get to taste several different types of truffle, served a couple of different ways.
And finally, the truffle hunter will take you out with a couple of their specially trained truffle dogs (and puppies!), so you can see how it all works!
TRAVEL TIP: If you don’t want to hire a car, there are coach tours you can book, that do day trips across several countryside towns and include a stop at Karlić Tartufi.
Motovun is a pretty little medieval town perched on top of a hill.
It’s tiny, but definitely worth a visit if you’re doing a countryside tour or planning a truffle-hunting visit (either in a hire car or by coach).
The main highlights for me were the city gates and our walk around the city walls. It costs £3-£4 to do the walk, but it’s so worth it for the views!
WHAT TO EAT IN ISTRIA
Istrian cuisine is the most delicious blend of Italian, Venetian, Croatian and Austro-Hungarian influences. It has some surprising-yet-excellent flavour combinations, and a real emphasis on using very local and seasonal ingredients.
If you’re a foodie (like me) and haven’t been to Croatia yet, then you really really REALLY need to get your butt to Istria immediately.
Some of the local delicacies to keep an eye out for include:
–Truffles – shaved truffles, grated truffles, truffle oil, truffle butter, truffle mayo, truffle salami, truffle cheese, truffle brandy, truffle wine, truffle sauce, truffle pasta, truffle scrambled egg… Istrians love their truffles!
–Olive oil – we did an olive oil tasting at the award-winning Chiavalon Olive Oil Estate, and it was such a fun experience that I’d definitely recommend it to any other foodies visiting the area!
–Wild asparagus – Beloved by the locals, when it’s in season, you will find it EVERYWHERE.
–Fresh seafood – you’re by the sea. Need I say more?
–Fresh pasta – Istrian pasta is NEXT LEVEL STUFF. Fuži and pljukanci are two of the shapes local to the region. The first is a twisted, quill-shaped pasta, and the latter are chunky, hand-rolled, short noodles. Sauces can vary from thick meaty ragouts, to creamy truffle sauces, or just a dash of local olive oil with wild asparagus or seafood.
–Meat cooked under a peka – a peka is a bell-shaped lid that covers food while it slow-cooks in the embers of a fire. It’s a super traditional way of cooking meat and seafood in Croatia. Popular meats to cook this way in Istria are beef, wild boar, and ox.
–Malvazija wine – I’m not much of a white wine drinker, but I had this crisp Istrian grape every night of our trip. It was absolutely delicious!
PIN IT FOR LATER
***This post is sponsored by Jet2***
All flights, accommodation, food and activities were provided by Jet2 and the Istrian tourist board.