When planning a holiday to Croatia, its westernmost county of Istria is often passed over for southern coastal destinations like Split and Dubrovnik. Vacationers tend to visit these spots because they’re more well known in the travel community.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to offer along the Dalmatian coast, but I’m here to tell you that Istria has just as much going on… and maybe even more! There is definitely something for everybody and plenty of things to do in Istria.
Istria is covered in hiking trails, ranging from the easy and casual to the intense and vertical. In the northeastern part of the county, you’ll find rich forested mountain trails while in the south there are more desert-like trails.
Istria Trails has an interactive map laying out trails all over the county, linking to more detailed info like difficulty and length. They’ll even hook you up with accommodation nearby.
For a more casual walking experience, pop over to the Istria Tourist Board to get guides on wandering the old towns, nature walks, and olive oil walks in addition to hiking trails.
If you have kids, check out this blog about hiking with kids in Istria.
This county is a gastronomic playground. You can easily get a 5-star meal for much less than one would pay in Western countries.
While the beaten paths of Split and Dubrovnik are stuffed with mediocre konobas spitting out the same pizza and pasta day in and day out for tourists, Istria has more variety and higher standards.
Istrian cuisine definitely has its staple dishes that you will frequently find across the region. However, it’s more common for family-run konobas to have a menu that changes based on the season.
They may always serve the traditional scrambled eggs with truffles, but it may come with a wild asparagus soup in spring and wild mushrooms in the fall.
Istria is a huge wine-producing region. The landscape is quilted with vineyards large and small growing a variety of grapes, several of which are only grown in this part of Croatia.
For red wine drinkers, your best bet is the ruby-red Teran. For white, sip on some Malvazija or Muscat.
If history is your thing, there is plenty to see in Istria. In Pula, on the southern tip of the county, you can check out Roman structures like Temple of Augustus and Pula Arena. Pula Arena is one of the most preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world.
Moving up to the 6th century, head to Porec to check out the Euphrasian Basilica, which is on UNESCO’s protected list.
In the north, you can explore the medieval castle of Momjan with a lot of freedom. There is a trail that winds down to the neighboring creek and back up into the castle.
For more on Istrian history, check out this link.
As Istria is a peninsula, one doesn’t have to go far to hit glistening blue water. Just drive east, south or west until you hit the sea and jump in.
Whether you’ve got a family or are a naturist or partier or are looking for something romantic, sandy and secluded, there are a couple great resources to find your perfect match.
For Northwest Istria, check out Colours of Istria. I’m rather fond of their chart of 15 beaches worth visiting, each tagged by atmosphere. For something more comprehensive, Istria Sun lists 44 beaches broken down into categories.
Do you have kids? lf so, look into Cape Kamenjak, where you can find crystal clear sandy beaches, a dino park, safari bar (full of large wooden toys) and nature trails.
Looking to get away from it all? Istria is packed with spas, big and small. Some are in hotels, some are stand alone. From yoga to massages to pools, there are options for every budget.
The town of Rovinj on the western coast is known for its high concentration of spas. The tourist board of Rovinj offers a complete list on their web site.
The small sea-side town of Opatija in North-Western Croatia has historically been known as a spa town and the title still rings true today. Do a little research and find what suits you: maybe indulge in a caviar facial, or a ritualistic green-tea bath (with anti-oxidant properties)…
No matter what activities your heart desires, you can find the perfect fit in Istria. This is just a glimpse into your potential Istria itinerary. I’ve yet to even mention the boating or the fishing and potentially the best part, getting lost on the local roads.
When you’re in Croatia, make sure Istria is at the top of your list.
Written by Guest Blogger Sara Dyson of Expat in Croatia