How does exploring a land of hilltop villages, seaside resorts, great adventure and active family vacationing sound? It’s all very doable on the Istrian Peninsula, formerly a part of Italy and today the gem of Croatia’s northern coast. Indeed, the juxtaposition of Italian-influenced coastal resorts and inland Croatian villages is possibly Istria’s most compelling feature. Both groups were preceded by Illyrian tribes and ruled throughout by Romans, Byzantium, Venetians and Austrians. However, Italian influence prevails throughout the region.
Every day is a new adventure outdoors on the Istrian peninsula. Be it active exploration of hilltop villages, water adventures of every kind on the coast, agrotourism on its olive oil farms, wine road and truffle forests, you move at your own relaxed pace here, absorbing the area’s Mediterranean Tuscan-like charm.
Elegant Opatija lies at the center of the Istrian Riviera, its lush green scenery, warm waters and mild climate provide a relaxing setting in harmony with nature., while its stream of foreign visitors provide the excitement. The Benedictine Abbey established here in 1420, around which the town settled, lends its name to Opatija, meaning abbey. The backdrop of the city, Mt. Ucka provides some great hiking trails, and a view from the mountain top is superb. Exploring the small fishing villages in the area also make for great adventure.
The contrast of lush gardens and an azure sea, lively entertainment venues and quiet natural settings for excursions, water sports and land activities galore all combine to make Opatija a very attractive Croatian destination.
The 14thcentury fortified town of Motovun, built by the Venetians, as was much of Istria, sits atop a hill overlooking vineyards and olive oil farms. This is an area to experience agrotourism at its best. Quaint doesn’t even begin to describe the mountains and hilltop villages, to the setting of purple-mauve skies, which provide an unforgettable scene of the sinking sun. Accommodations in traditional stone buildings, food grown where you’re staying, local olive oil and wine, and the pleasure of relaxed conversation with locals and guests around a stone fireplace after dinners works its magic, creating a sense of deep inner peace. Hiking and biking trails abound here and the drive to the nearby sea is short.
In Istria, the allure of the sea is ever-present. Porec, with its Italian influence has some amazing historical sites. The Basilica of Euphrasius, A UNESCO World Heritage Site, is prominent. This 16thcentury most beautifully decorated complex, with its superb apse mosaics represents an impressive synthesis of classical architecture of the times with the more ornate elements that had begun to develop in the East. The gilt-tiled mosaics literally illuminate the apse and are reason enough to travel to Porec.
Surrounded by hills covered with pines, Rovinj is the best loved towns of the Istrian Peninsula. This beautiful old town sits on a hill where you can easily lose your way among the winding, narrow cobbled streets. The church of St. Euphemia, built in 1736, is perched atop the hill, its tower modeled after St. Mark’s in Venice. From here, the view of lively seaside cafes and fishing boats bobbing in the harbor, to the backdrop of 13 small islands in the distance is astounding. This is the place for a boating adventure to Crevn, Otok or Katarina, some of these lovely offshore islands, or for scuba diving t o the Baron Gautsch wreck.
Since all of Istria is easily managed by short car jaunts, the array of choices are amazing – be it exploring, lodging or dining – the selections are absolutely outstanding!