offers a mini market and café bar, the Monte Carlo, both with easy parking. But stroll down into the old town for stunning views across to Motovun and look inside the Romanesque church of St Barnabus which dates from the 12th century. 15th century frescoes and Glagolitic graffiti are also much in evidence and these were restored and cleaned in 2000. Vižinada was the birthplace of renowned ballerina Carlotta Grisi, star of ballet stages in London, Paris, Milan, Vienna and St Petersburg during the mid 19th century. Cultural events occasionally take place in the town commemorating her life.
Visit Oprtalj, due north of Motovun, an impressive medieval hilltop town of narrow cobbled streets, small piazzas and buildings in baroque and gothic style. This truly is an atmospheric spot! Enjoy a meal at the konoba where, locals say, the best truffle meals in Istria are served. High quality locally produced wines, olive oils, pršut (hams), honey and truffle related products are sold at the shop under the loggia.
Indulge Yourself in Rovinj
The spacious quaysides here are the perfect venue to sit and unwind at one of the many terraced ice cream parlours or cafeterias. Sip a cappuccino and do some people-watching! Often street artists such as choirs, bands, jugglers etc can be seen here, usually performing close to the fountain.
Try and catch a performance at Pula’s Amphitheatre, known locally as the Arena. Artists such as Simply Red, Zucchero and Norah Jones have staged concerts here in recent years and it is home to the annual Pula Film Festival usually held in late July. What better venue?
In 24 tanks of varying sizes, discover the fish and other live organisms of the Adriatic Sea. (Open 0900-2200).
Get a Ticket to Ride on the Yellow Submarine!
The Yellow Submarine is a boat, purpose-built for underwater sightseeing. Departures are from the quayside at Porec and take you on a 90 minute cruise through clear Adriatic waters to view the sea life and underwater flora from a specially constructed viewing deck below the water line. Tel. 098 229 573.
A great way to unwind! For children and adults alike! (Open 1100-0100). There is also kart-cross here with a 1km track, illuminated at night, with water sprinklers! Take the main road out of Porec north towards Novigrad and you’ll see the venue on your right. www.kart-cross.net, tel 052 622 632.
Go To Market at Motovun
There is no better way to experience Istrian daily life first hand than with a visit to the market. Motovun’s is held on the third Monday of every month and sells fresh fruit, vegetables and other foodstuffs along with local handicrafts and souvenirs.
Whilst there, take a walk around the town walls and wonder at the fabulous views. The forest land you see in the Mirna Valley is rich in truffles, a revered delicacy in Istria. Motovun’s insignia, the propeller, was invented by one of its former inhabitants, a Czech from Bohemia called Josef Ressel who worked in Motovun as a forest warden. He tested his invention on the Krka river in Slovenia and then in the open sea off Trieste.
Pay a visit to Savudrija on the far north west coast of Istria. Here you will see the tallest lighthouse on the Adriatic. Built in 1818, it has been beautifully preserved and is still operating. The locals also maintain an old tradition of keeping their fishing boats hung on wooden constructions on the beach.
Go For A Bike Ride!
There are a number of dedicated cycle trails all over Istria, enquire at your local tourist office for a map and information on bike hire locally. What better way to enjoy the scenery?
is a charming hilltop village offering magnificent views. Wander around its largely deserted lanes and look for the Romanesque gates set in the town walls and, just inside, its loggia dating from 1549. Nearby is the church of Sveta Marija, a square structure with portico and belltower and frescoed walls inside. Notable amongst the other churches is that of Sveta Eufemija with its 14th century crucifix, though largely rebuilt in the 1500’s. Look for the Masonic headstones with their ‘secret’ symbols, some with British names.
You’ll soon appreciate the Italian legacy in the architecture, the food and the place names, well make a visit to nearby Završje which has its own leaning tower! The belfry here, 22 metres high, has an inclination of 40 centimetres. Take your camera as this is amongst Istria’s prettiest, most aesthetically pleasing villages.
Umag's Town Museum
Pay a visit to the Gradski Muzej (Town Museum) at Umag (tel. 052 720 385 and open 1000-1200 & 1900-2200 except Monday). Here, within the town’s fortress, you can see Roman archaeological objects such as vessels, pots and lamps. The premises also house a contemporary art museum.
Ethnographic Museum, Buje
For an insight into a typical Istrian house and to see a collection of typical Istrian crafts, visit the Etnografska Zbirka (Ethnographic Museum) in Buje (tel. 052 773 075 and open 0900-1200 & 1700-2000 except Monday).
Fancy Purchasing Some Fresh, Locally Produced, Olive Oil?
From Oprtalj, take the road to Motovun but turn left shortly after leaving Oprtalj signposted Bencani and Ipši. When you reach Ipši, look for Claudio Ipša on the right hand side – this is the name of the olive oil producer. A very personal service awaits you to help you choose your olive oil, truffle products are also on sale. Tel. 052 644 216.
Head for the Beach at Dajla,
on the coast between Novigrad and Umag. Originally a little fishing harbour, it has a sheltered rocky beach.
Asparagus (šparuge) grows wild throughout Istria and is ready for picking in the spring. You will see stalls at the roadside offering bundles of freshly collected examples, selling for just a few kuna. The locals braise the tops in olive oil until tender and then add eggs, salt and pepper. The result? Delicious scrambled eggs (fritaja).
Grožnjansko Glazbeno Ljeto (Grožnjan Music Summer)
Head north to the medieval hilltop town of Grožnjan. Since 1969 the town has been the International Cultural Centre of Musical Youth. Strolling around Grožnjan at any time of year, you’re certain to hear the echo of music being practiced or performed whilst from the beginning of June through to the end of September there are many evening jazz and classical concerts. In fact, Georgie Fame played here recently.
...is a great destination for a lazy lunch and a wander. It affords wonderful views out to the Adriatic Sea, inland towards the Ucka Mountains, or north to the Julian Alps but was abandoned by its mainly Italian inhabitants after World War II. 20 years later, it was re-established by a number of artists and craftsmen who exhibit their work in galleries, studios and workshops. Pictures, drawings, pottery ceramics, hand made jewellery and other crafts are displayed in abundance.
Hum - The Smallest Town In The World...?
Head east towards the U?ka Mountains to the town of Hum, a fine example of a small medieval town situated on a ridge dominating the surrounding landscape. It has town walls and gate, a loggia and a parish church. Legend suggests that some building materials were left over after a project of town building in the Mirna Valley, enough to create a miniature town, hence Hum was born.
The Glagolitic Script
The Glagolitic Script was the first Slavic alphabet, which was used for many years in Croatia. The so-called Glagolitic Alley is a 7 kilometre stretch between Ro? and Hum where 10 monuments have been erected in recent years dedicated to this script and commemorating many Istrian Glagolitic scholars.
Driving around Istria, look for the kažun, a round beehive-shaped field hut built using the dry-stone technique, without any mortar or concrete. The material for this was usually collected by cleaning fields of excess pieces of stone. Farmers and peasants used them for shelter and for guarding vineyards or olive groves as well as for storage of agricultural implements. The kažun has become emblematic of traditional Istria and can be found all over the region these days, however they were traditionally prevalent in the south and west.
Visit Another Country – Slovenia!
Istria’s northern border is with Slovenia. From Buje in northern Istria, either take the road into Slovenia via the border point at Kastel or cross the border at Plovanija-Secovlje. From here you might like to explore some of Slovenia’s pretty coastal towns such as Koper, Izola, Piran or Portoroz, all within 30 minutes of the border. You’ll need your passports and some euros. If you picked your hire car up in Croatia, you’ll need to check with your supplier that you can cross the border with it.
Get Your Kicks... On Route 66!
For a beautiful scenic drive, take the road no. 66 north east which hugs the coastline of the Kvarner Riviera. Start from Barban, passing through Raša, Labin, Plomin, Mošcenicka Draga, Lovran, Opatija and round to Rijeka. Any of these places would make a good stop for a drink or a meal. Return to your house taking the inland route via the Ucka Tunnel (toll payable). You will need to allow at least half a day for this.
take a stroll down Korzo, the main pedestrian street. Wonder at the grand secessionist and art nouveau architecture which betrays the Austro-Hungarian heyday of the port, Croatia’s third largest city after Zagreb, the capital, and Split in Dalmatia.
should call in at the Kras shop at 2a Korzo in Rijeka. Dating back to 1911, Kras was the first Croatian company to manufacture chocolate and is now the largest producer of confectionery products in south east Europe. Try Bajadera, for example, with its distinctive flavour of fine nougat enriched with almonds.
is at its no-nonsense best beside the port: maybe a little scruffy but full of character. Stock up for a picnic in the art nouveau market and purchase cheeses, unusual pastries and a great variety of breads or go for a bargain-priced snack in one of the workers’ bars amongst the tangle of streets behind.
stands guard over Rijeka, a gentle hilltop suburb. Over the years its castle has been home to the ancient Illyrians, the Romans and the Frankopans. With its views inland to the Ucka Mountains, out to sea over the Bay of Kvarner and across to the islands of Krk and Cres, you can understand why.
Crystal clear waters, underwater plant life, rock formations and sea life are all irresistible reasons to explore the ocean. Off the coast of Rovinj, explore the sunken shipwreck Baron Gautsch, said to be one of the 50 most beautiful diving sites in the world!
Purchase a Necktie!
Around the year 1635 a number of Croatian mercenaries arrived in Paris to support King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. The traditional apparel of these Croats, in particular the colourful scarves tied around their necks, aroused interest amongst the French who were delighted by this new article of clothing, previously unseen in Europe. In contrast to their starched white lace collar piece, this new neck scarf was much more practical and manageable. During Louis XIV’s reign, the neckwear was accepted in the French courts, the style known as a la croate which evolved into the French word cravate. The fashion soon spread across Europe and to the colonies on the American continent.
Grimalda and Draguc
Head up into the hills and visit the hamlets of Grimalda and Draguc. Here you will be rewarded with magnificent views to the west over Lake Butoniga, to the north towards Buzet and the foothills beyond of Slovenia’s Julian Alps or to the east over the Ucka Mountains.
Wander through Draguc
to the charming little church of St Roch at the far end of the village. Here, in addition to its view, wonder at its beautiful frescoes which cover nearly the entire interior, created by one master Anthony of Padova. Not to be mistaken with the well known Italian town, Padova is in fact the old name for the little town of Kašcerga, near Motovun.
Istria’s largest and best-preserved frescoes, dating from the fifteenth century, are found in the church of sv Marije (St Mary) at Škrijinah, near Beram, just to the north west of Pazin. This is a breathtaking display which covers both ceiling and walls!
Etnografski Muzej Istre/Muzej Grada Pazina (Pazin’s Ethnographic and Town Museums)
Both housed in the medieval castle there is an ethnographic collection representing traditional Istrian life as well as a display of archaeological finds from the area. (Tel. 052 622 220, open 1000-1800). By the way, Pazin’s market takes place on the first Tuesday of the month.
Take a Trip to The Brijuni Islands
Once Tito’s holiday home and the meeting place for the international jet set it is now the only national park in Istria. Principal of the 14 islands, Veliki Brijuni, is the one to visit because of the diversity of its interests: see wildlife including deer and peacocks roam wild in beautiful natural parkland; Roman ruins; a safari park; beaches and traces of dinosaur footprints! You need to allow at least half a day for this excursion which involves taking a ferry from Fažana. (Information and booking tel. 052 525 807). Take a picnic with you or enjoy a meal in one of the island’s cafes.
Fažana Itself is a Colourful Little Seaside Town,
iits quayside backed with pastel-coloured Italianate buildings and many waterfront cafes, bars and restaurants. If you stop for a snack you must try pilchards, emblematic of the town. Try them cold in a marinade of oil, vinegar, water, parsley, rosemary and pepper – the Istrian way!
The Fažana Pier
The Fažana pier (riva) was built with stone taken from Pula’s city walls which were torn down following the plague of 1635. Look for the Sardine Park, a leafy promenade with sculptures of this fish, so dear to the town. You can walk from Fažana along the promenade south to Valbandon. Stretches of informal, pebbly beach are found heading north from the town.
Go To Hell!
More politely, visit Pazin Castle, a 16th century structure standing on the remains of its 10th century predecessor. It overhangs a gorge into which the river Pazincica disappears, supposedly the inspiration for Dante’s description of the Gateway to Hell in his Inferno as well as a major scene from Jules Verne’s 1885 novel Mathias Sandorf.
Head South to Svetvincenat
Visit Svetvincenat and take time to stroll around this delightful little town with its pretty main square, 15th century church of the Anunciation and 13th century castle with its magnificent tree-lined lawned keep. There are three bars with terraces and a couple of excellent pizzerias here so stop for a cool beer and a snack and watch the world go by. A market is held here on the third Saturday of the month.
Pay a visit to nearby Lim Fjord, also known as the Limski Kanal, a protected landscape and special marine reserve situated between Rovinj and Vrsar. Canyon-like cliffs rising up to 150m above sea level flank this long, narrow inlet. A couple of restaurants are situated on the water front, such as the Viking (tel. 052 448 223) which offers dishes such as oysters on crushed ice or noodles with scampi and mushrooms.
Fish and Shellfish Cultivitation
Platforms in the fjord betray the farming of oysters, mussels and fish such as bream and sea bass, encouraged by underwater freshwater springs which render the water partially brackish.
Follow the Coast Road North from Umag
where, between the small villages of Katoro and Zambratija, there is a tiny peninsula (sometimes an islet depending on the tides!) which exhibits the ruins of an ancient fort, the Castle of Sipar. Archaeological finds in the vicinity tell of the town’s existence as far back as Roman times. Sadly, some remains have been discovered out to sea confirming the gradual sinking of the coast.
Wander Around Sveti Lovrec
Well worthwhile is a walk around the walls of the old town of Sveti Lovrec as well as the higgledy piggledy streets and squares found within them. Known as San Lorenzo in Italian, it previously served as an important military base for Venice during the 14th century, hence the (now crumbling) fortification.
Take a wander around Dvigrad, situated between Mrgani and Kanfanar. You’ve almost certainly already passed it in the car, but spend an hour or so here wandering around this moody ruined fortification said to have been established by Uksok pirates. A week of classical music performances usually takes place here during the second half of June, check at one of the tourist offices for details.
The Small town of Kanfanar
only really developed after 1630 with the arrival of displaced inhabitants from Dvigrad. These people brought with them various valuable items to preserve the memory of the town, such as the flagpole in the main square which contains an inscription from the year it was made – 1475.
extracted from a quarry located between Kanfanar and Svetvin?enat, is much sought after throughout Europe. It decorates the National Theatre in Budapest, the parliament building in Slovakia and has been used for paving squares in Montpellier.
The Mirna Viaduct
For an uninterrupted, elevated view out to sea, or inland into the Mirna Valley, cross the Mirna Viaduct. Completed in 2006, this engineering wonder forms part of the A9 main road known locally as the Ypsilon, the principal north-south artery of Istria. 1.4km in length, it is supported on 21 concrete pillars. Alternatively view the structure from the road between Tar and Novigrad along the old pontoon bridge crossing the Luka Mirna at Antenal.
Rovinj Town Museum
Visit the Zavi?ajni Muzej Rovinja (Rovinj Town Museum) housed in an impressive baroque palace dating from the 17th century in Rovinj. A permanent exhibition of paintings by old masters dating from the 15th to 19th centuries is found here together with a contemporary collection of Croatian sculptures and paintings. (Tel. 052 816 720, open 0900-1200 & 1900-2200, except Monday).
Whilst in Rovinj, look for the batanas, traditional flat-bottomed, square-sterned, brightly painted wooden boats which have been used for centuries by the local fishermen.
Mini Croatia, Rovinj. See Croatia in miniature: the state borders, mountains, rivers, lakes, islands, railways and important cities. (Open 0800-2000). Situated on the main road between Rovinjsko Selo and Rovinj, on the right hand side.
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