Covering an area of 3600-sq-km, Istria, the bucolic, heart-shaped peninsula on the northwestern coast of Croatia formed part of Italy until the early 20th Century, which explains the region's heavy Italian influence.
Istria's popular coastal resorts like Umag and Poreč offer some of the biggest draws for holidaymakers to Croatia, and the area has an impressive selection of budget, mid-range and luxury hotels and resorts catering for the influx of sunseekers who descend on its rocky shores each summer.
Don't just limit your visit to Istria’s beautiful Adriatic Coast. Istria is brimming with quaint hilltop towns and villages, each with its own unique appeal. Head to the charming town of Rovinj and its many quaint cobbled piazzas where you can bask in the sun with the friendly locals, drinking wine and playing cards. From Rovinj you can also take a ferry over to Crveni Otog, a small islet known as the Red Island which has an ornate 19th-century folly.
As an alternative to the region's many coastal hotels, Istria's verdant interior is dotted with rustic farmhouses and authentic agriturismos, each offering a more intimate accommodation experience.
Poreč, a buzzing resort on Istria’s western coast, is home to the imposing 6th-century St. Euphrasius Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site widely regarded as one of the most important Byzantine churches in Western Europe. Further south, Pula, Istria's largest city, is renowned for its Arena, a well-preserved Roman amphitheatre that could seat some 23,000 in its heyday.
For a cultural fix, Rovinj's Church of St. Euphemia is also well worth a visit. Built in 1736, it's the largest baroque-style building in Istria. Emulating the belfry of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, the 60-metre high bell tower is topped by a copper statuette of St. Euphemia. For a small donation you can climbed the tower for extensive views across the town.
Art-lovers will enjoy the quirky art trail around Groznjan, a tiny Tuscan-style village and home to many of the region's artists and musicians. The rambling ramparts in hilltop town of Motovun are another popular attraction. Each July, the town host's Croatia's largest independent film festival attracting some 40,000 movie buffs.
Istrian cuisine is hugely diverse and heavily influenced by its Italian neighbours. Most Istria hotels and restaurants will feature an extensive range of pastas, gnocchi and fresh seafood dishes. However, Istria's gastronomic jewel is the white truffle, which comes into season in September and influences many a classic Istrian dish.
For lunch on the hoof, why not grab a picnic of fresh fruits, local meats and breads from one of the areas many fragrant open-air markets, and chuck in a chilled bottle of local wine. Istria is blessed with some of Croatia's best vineyards and produces a fruity, dry white wine, as well as a fine grappa, the local firewater.
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