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Heart-shaped and surrounded by crystal clear Adriatic waters, Istria has for centuries been an intersection of different cultures: visit Roman ruins; Venetian ports; haunting medieval hilltop towns; and be sure to look inside its larder, bulging with grapes, olives, truffles and seafood.
Pretty country byways snake up and down this striking peninsula through vineyards and olive groves. As Istria is only around an hour's drive from top to bottom, you are never too far from anywhere, including the coast which is not more than 30 minutes away from all the houses in our portfolio.
Tranquil Beauty Perched atop a lush, green hill is the historic little medieval town of Motovun. Life here is relaxed and friendly:do not be surprised to be offered a glass of local grappa (called biska, a mistletoe flavoured liquer) by hospitable locals. This is the heartland of 'truffle country' - a forested area world famous for this rare delicacy, with virtually every restaurant boasting its own truffle related speciality.
Laid back Oprtalj is equally impressive. A place where children play in the cool shadows of narrow cobbled streets and alleyways, amongst the stone and brightly painted façades of beautifully restored buildings standing as testament to a rich architectural heritage.
Gronjan is the city of artists and music where galleries and concerts abound. Sleepy Sovinjak offers one of the most dramatic views in the whole of Istria whilst Završje, largely uninhabited, is an aesthetic delight. South of here, hilltops punctuated with cypress trees give way to rolling fields and woodland dotted with glorious stone built villages, some bustling, some with just a handful of residents, others deserted, all equally captivating. Compact Višnjan, dominated by its tall campanile, is an attractive cluster of terracotta roofed dwellings. A wander around its intimate network of narrow streets with views across to the Adriatic is most rewarding.
Many towns on Istria's west coast merit close attention. Peninsula bound Novigrad has a Venetian derived bell tower and medieval rampart remnants; Poreč, on a finger promontory, is a precious city overlooking the sea. Decumanus, the main artery of the old town,was built by the Romans whilst the grandiose basilica, completed during Byzantine times, is now one of UNESCO's world heritage treasures. Vrsar is a hilltop town crowned with an impressive church tower looking down onto a marina where fishing boats snuggle up to luxury yachts; and Rovinj, all pale, pastel painted waterfront façades whose old town is a clenched fist of cobbled alleyways, arched passages and captivating Venetian architecture.
The dramatic Limski Kanal, a fjord like rift stretches inland, rich in fish, oysters and mussels and home to two spectacularly located,widely celebrated restaurants. Svetvinčenat, a town of just 300 people,bursts into life every summer hosting concerts in the walled fortress of Grimani and dance festivals in the town square - one of the most attractive piazzas in all of Istria.
Historic Barban with its grand baroque gate (Vela Vrata), announces the rugged eastern coastline of Istria where the old town of Labin, with its wealth of soft ochre painted palaces, high on a hill, offers staggering views over the Gulf of Kvarner, across to the island of Cres.
Vodnjan's sizeable Italian speaking community dates back to when the peninsula was part of Italy. The towering campanile of St Blaise's church, modelled on St Mark's in Venice, is the tallest in Istria and as the patron saint of singers it is not unusual for opera stars to visit the church prior to performing in Pula's amphitheatre. It was the Romans who established Pula; their rich legacy includes the Forum, the temple of Augustus and the aforementioned amphitheatre, the fifth largest in the world, which today plays host to many summer concerts and festivals. A lively market also takes place daily.
The Brijuni Islands lie north-west of Pula, a small archipelago famous as the summer retreat of former President Tito and now a National Park.Access to this historic conservation area is strictly controlled with ferries running only from the picturesque little fishing village of Fažana. Croatia's coastline is indented by wide bays and sheltered coves lapped by warm Adriatic waters renowned for their clarity.
Most Istrian beaches are of the shingle, pebble or weathered rock type with the sea temperatures usually reaching a peak of around 22-25°C in August and September. Naturism has been widely practiced on the Adriatic coast for many years and there are specific coves and stretches of beach specifically set aside for naturists.
Seafood such as octopus, squid, mussels and scampi is ubiquitous; the scampi is served in its shell, the size of jumbo prawns, often on a bed of pasta in a sauce known as buzara, made from garlic and white wine. For dessert, try pancakes (palačinka) filled with chocolate, ice cream, walnuts or jam. Accompany your meal with a locally produced wine such as Degrassi, Koreniki, Arman or Matešović.