Istria, Croatia – A Travelogue & Photo Journal
Istria is the northern peninsula of Croatia, shaped like an inverted triangular arrow pointing to the rest of the country, like it’s saying ‘don’t look at us, check out the big boys like Split and Dubrovnik’. It’s trying desperately to remain a secret and unspoilt by the level of tourism that has certainly hit the main part of Croatia in these past few years. However, it’s fair to say that when we visited last Summer it well and truly blew us away! I’m not sure Istria is going to remain a secret for much longer.
This northern triangle of olive groves and vineyards has approximately 180km of beautiful coastline on the Adriatic Sea, and a further 90km of border in the north which it shares with both Italy and Slovenia. The Italian influence is felt throughout the whole region as it used to be owned by the Venetians.
I have written other articles about Istria, tips of where to stay and some of the more impressive towns, but if you’re visiting the Istrian peninsula for a few days you will definitely have time to see a good portion of it so I thought it would be useful to create a bit of a photo journal post so you can get a good feel for what to expect here in Istria and help you decide which towns and areas you would most like to see on your trip…
Istria’s Hilltop Towns
I had lots and lots of hilltop towns marked on my map before we arrived in Istria, all of them seemingly with its own personality and reknowned characteristic but the ones we made it to were Motovun, Groznjan and Pazin. Pazin wasn’t much to look at in terms of a town but had a very interesting castle. Motovun and Groznjan however were exceptionally beautiful in that Medieval kind of way.
You might be in Croatia but in Motovun nearly half of the residents speak Italian as their mother tongue. This fortified medieval hilltop town is a fine example of Venetian colonial architecture and as you walk through the city gates and settle down for a glass of local wine and stonebaked pizza you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Tuscany.
Unlike Motovun, which feels on top of the world with its views for miles, Groznjan is more enclosed. You walk the cobbled streets not knowing what lies around the next corner, although after you’ve been there 5 minutes you’ve probably worked out it’ll be another gift shop selling olive oil soap and tie dyed pantalons. That’s not a criticism – it’s good to remind oneself that rainbow isn’t always beautiful – it’s just a nod to the organic commune feel to this town which boasts of its musical connections and yearly festivals. Sometimes the tightly packed houses open up to a bench with a vista, but all in all, this no-car and no hotel town makes you feel warm and cosy. I couldn’t help but wonder though, if when the soap-buying tourists have left for the evening, do the Groznjan locals get their tambourines out and celebrate? You know, it just had that weird Jean-Pierre Jeunet film set feel to it.
Istria’s East Coast
Granted, we didn’t spend a lot of time on this stretch of coastline, mostly because the map showed fewer towns – probably down to the geography of the land. However, one place I had on my bucket list to visit whilst we were in Istria was Opatija. Opatija was the holiday destination for the rich and famous of Eastern Europe around a hundred years ago and it was the posh Austro-Hungarian architecture that lured us in. It made for a lovely day trip, along with the little fishing village of Volosko 5 minutes up the coast. Here are a few photo’s but if you want to read more about this little town, very different to the rest of Istria, then check out this article…
Istria’s West Coast
The few holiday-makers who do seem to have discovered Istria can mostly be found on the west coast, enjoying one of the many gorgeous seaside villages or day-tripping to Pula or Rovinj.
As you will see from the photo’s, Rovinj is very much like the more popular Croatian sea-port of Dubrovnik. Istrian’s will tell you it is more beautiful than Dubrovnik’s Game of Thrones film-set – it’s certainly arguable but what is clear is that it’s not as overrun by tourism as Dubrovnik is and a glass of wine can still be found for €3, and that’s with a view!
Further up the coast, and with a smattering of hotels and resorts, the little harbour town of Porec is a busy shop front for boat trips and cycle hire. But, as much as this is the closest you will get to sunburnt holiday-makers and happy bar hoppers (if you want nightlife in Istria, Porec is your place) we’re still talking super-quiet for a holiday town. Like the narrow, winding Italian streets of Trastevere in Rome, bars and restaurants spill out onto the cobblestones and the chatter is happifying. It’s clean and well painted, there’s great pizza everywhere, and it’s not short on culture either : the Euphrasian Basilica is UNESCO heritage!
Pula & Fazana
We only really spent a few hours in Pula and this experience consisted of mostly trodding in dog dirt and struggling to find anything pretty enough to photograph. We may not have done it justice but the reason we’d made the trip to the southern tip of Istria was to see Croatia’s version of The Colosseum – the world’s most in-tact amphitheatre still standing. It’s safe to say – no amount of dog poop could distract from this beauty, we were so enchanted.
However, the ultimate best find of our whole holiday came as a complete fluke when we decided Pula wasn’t nice enough to eat in and went in search for something by the sea. Just a 5 minute drive north and we happened to stumble across a little fishing port called Fazana.
Fazana is a total gem and most people go there to catch a boat to one of Croatia’s beautiful island National Parks – Brijuni. But it isn’t just a handy harbour town, it’s absolutely stunning! And, having Brijuni just across the Adriatic it makes for one of the best places to watch the sunset in Istria. We loved it so much we have booked a return holiday this summer and are taking the kids and grandparents – we can’t wait!
If you are booking a holiday to Istria and still in the planning stages we cannot recommend Hotel Resort Cize enough. The staff were amazing and so attentive and being right in the centre of Istria it is the perfect location for exploring the region. The hotel is modern and so clean, inexpensive and the pool is set with stunning views and the right distance to the bar!
Find the best deals at Resort Cize and surrounding hotels here…
We hope you fall in love with Istria as much as we did!
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