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Istria is one of Croatia's most enchanting regions ready to delight everyone from beach bums to history buffs, foodies to cyclists, winelovers to rock climbers. The long, indented coastline is dotted with beaches, a drowned valley, and fascinating coastal towns such as Rovinj, Pula and Porec. From there it's easy to explore the hill villages of Motovun, Groznjan, Buzet, Bale and Buje deep in Istria's rolling interior. (Work it out on this suggested Best of Istria itinerary). But Istria is more than just sightseeing. The easygoing Istrian lifestyle is defined by fine restaurants and a culture heavily influenced by neighboring Italy with whom Istrian history is deeply intertwined.
There's a startling array of cultural attractions on offer. The Roman amphitheatre in Pula vividly evokes the days of gladiators and circuses; the 5th-century mosaics in Porec make the Euphrasian basilica a Unesco World Heritage Sight; the hilly old town of Rovinj charms the eye with reminders of Venice and don't forget the hill villages of Motovun and Groznjan. See the top highlights of Istria.
Bordered on the north by Slovenia and to the east by the Kvarner Gulf, Istria covers 3160 sq kilometres edged by 430km of coastline. The northern part of the Istrian peninsula covers the Slovenian resorts of Piran, Portoroz and Koper. The eastern resorts of Opatija and Lovran are considered part of the Kvarner Gulf even though they are technically part of the Istrian peninsula.
About one third of the Istrian territory is forested and the rest is carpeted with vineyards, olive trees, pastures and orchards. The rolling hills are topped with walled hill villages (such as Motovun, Buzet and Groznjan) that offer sweeping views of the countryside. No wonder travel writers can't decide whether Istria is the "new Tuscany" or the "new Provence"!
It's not just the mild, sunny climate and easy-going way of life that invites comparison to the best Mediterranean destinations, it's also the devotion to fine eating that bewitches visitors. Istrian cuisine offers some of the best dining in Croatia, especially for fish, smoked meat and truffles. Istria's long culinary tradition is heavily influenced by Italy which is one reason why Italians flock to Istria for their summer holidays. Read more about Istrian cuisine and check out Istria's best restaurants.
Naturally, most people start in gateway cities like Pula, Porec and Rovinj but there are a multitude of fascinating destinations in Istria. See a complete list of Istrian destinations or check out recommended Istria itineraries.
Naturally Istrian accommodation is most expensive on the coast but quite reasonable inland. The best hotels in Istria include several amazing spa-resorts in Rovinj, Umag and Savudrija but Pula does nicely for itself with excellent four-star resorts on the Verudela peninsula. The Istrian countryside offers everything from boutique hotels to charming inns, villas and guesthouses.
There are easy passenger ferry connections from Venice to Pula, Rovinj, Porec and Umag that run from around April to October. It's fast and comfortable.
Pula is a major gateway for international flights. Car and passenger ferries heading south to Dalmatia are spotty however. Check Jadrolinija for a passenger ferry linking Pula with Mali Losinj and Zadar.
To see it all, rent a car
Bus connections are excellent between Istrian coastal towns and you can easily reserve online at Autotrans. Between villages and towns, not so much. To explore the Istrian back country, you need to have wheels. More on getting around Istria.
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