Istria is located along the northwest coast of Croatia and includes the biggest part of the Istrian Peninsula. Istria has the “best” of what you will find in the Mediterranean- wine, olive oil, prosciutto, truffles…everything food related! In Istria the people are bilingual speaking both Croatian and Italian, of course many speak English as well. The whole region has a huge influence from Italy because they came under Venetian influence in the 9th century and became a Venetian state.
I start with the beautiful and enchanting city of Rovinj. I have to say that this is not just my favorite city in Croatia, but in the world! It is by far the most picturesque, quaint city with personality, color, wonderful cuisine and an archipelago that surrounds it. Like most villages along the Adriatic, Rovinj is a fishing village and was an island before the land was connected in 1763. When it comes to tourist landmarks, a visit to St. Euphemia’s Basilica is a must. This is the cathedral perched at the top of the hill. Inside this cathedral is the sarcophagus of Saint Euphemia. The church also contains Gothic statues from the 15th century. If you want to see the city by the water, you can take a boat ride around the archipelago surrounding Rovinj. With 19 islands in total, only two of them are populated- Red Island and St. Catherine Island. And when it comes to dining in Rovinj- you must eat at Monte! This is the place where everything is good!
Umag was full of surprises for me! When many think of this city in the northern part of Istria, they think of tennis as this is the location for the ATP Tennis Tournament each summer. It is also a bike rider’s paradise with trails that will show you the true Istria, which is often mistaken for an undiscovered Tuscany. I stayed at the hotel Melia Coral which is a short drive away from the town of Umag, but they arranged for me a horseback ride on the beach. We rode by the roman ruins where stately residences used to sit on their beachfront property. Umag is also a great place to catch a 2-hour ferry to Venice during the season.
I’d like to call this “Truffle Country” and that is because this is the region near the Motovun forest that is famous for the wild fungus that grows in the ground. Famous for both black and white truffles, it is the white truffles that are more valuable. I have gone truffle hunting here a few times and the legendary truffle hunter, Giancarlo Zigante is the man that found the world’s largest white truffle which was featured in the Guinness Book of Records. The truffle was shared over a dinner with his closest friends and media from around the world. Mr. Zigante is now the owner of one of the finest restaurants in Croatia located in Livade, called Zigante. If you make your way to this city, I suggest you come in October when there are Tartufi Days or the annual truffle fairs each weekend! Here you can see the truffle auction, cooking demonstrations, go truffle hunting and pair this mysterious delicacies with all of the rest of Istria’s finests!
I’d say the most recognizable landmark in Pula is the Arena that greets you as you enter the city. The Arena was constructed during the same time as the Coliseum in Rome. Like the Coliseum, this is where the Gladiator battles took place. Arena is a Latin based word that means sand, and the center of the arenas were filled with sand to cover up the blood that was shed. Other than the Arena, Pula is the industrial port in Istria and where you will find most of the regions inhabitants. It is a lively city, but still holds the charm and a deep Roman history.
Located on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula, Porec is a fishing village that is still one of the most popular in the region. The symbol of the town is a fish and this is because of a fish mural that was founded in one of the most iconic landmarks in the entire country. The Euphrasian Basilica has stood the test of time through numerous wars, earthquakes and the rise and fall of empires. What you see today is the third church that has been built on this site. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, this Basilica does not look like any other church in the country. The gold murals and beamed ceilings are without wrinkles and if you traveled to Porec just to see this site and for a quick day trip, you will not be disappointed.