Wander Around the Walls of 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.
Ever Been Potholing...?
You can do this at the Jama Baredine (Baredine Cave), found just north of Nova Vas, halfway between Višnjan and Porec. Declared a natural park in the 1980’s, it has been open to the public since 1995. Formed over thousands of years, it’s a treasure chest of stalagmites and stalactites, spread over 5 caverns with underground lakes. The less adventurous can take the 40 minute escorted tour, followed by a coffee on the terrace or a picnic in the grounds. (Tel. 052 421 333 and open 1000–1600).
Panoramic Flights from Vrsar
Vrsar Tourist Airport offers a 30-minute sightseeing tour of the Istrian coast by plane, taking in Vrsar, Rovinj, Porec and Novigrad. Maximum 3 people, cost 800 kuna (approx £90). Tel. 091 5009 808. The airport is situated off the road towards Bale from Vrsar.
Visit the Matoševic winery
Just a couple of miles from Sveti Lovrec, the Matoševic winery is one of Croatia's leading winemakers and well worth a visit. Run by the charming Ivica, this winery produces wines that appear on the wine list at Heston Blumenthal's world famous Fat Duck restaurant.
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 from outside the Neptun Hotel on the waterfront in Pore? 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.
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?
Porec Annals - Art with a View
This annual art exhibition is one of the longest established in Croatia. Held in the spectacular historic Parliament Building in August and early September it features work by emerging Croatian artists who are supplied each year with a particular topic. Previous themes have been 90’s Baroque, and art and mythology.
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 Pore? north towards Novigrad and you’ll see the venue on your right. www.kart-cross.net, tel 052 622 632.
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!
Spice Up Your Life!
Buy some Vegeta. First conceived in 1958, Vegeta is a powdered condiment comprising a mixture of various vegetables and a combination of spices. Add it to soups, salads, potatoes and meats for an extra ‘zingy’ flavour. In its distinctive blue packaging, you’ll find it on the shelves of every mini market and hypermarket in Istria, (as well as in the larders of many private homes!), in a number of different varieties and is established as one of the most recognised brands in Croatia.
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.
Look for the Legacy of Venetian Rule – the Winged Lion
This was the symbol of the Venetian Republic and can be seen at the entrance to towns, archways and other structures of the day. Examples are in evidence in Motovun, Oprtalj and Bale.
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 Kastell or cross the border at Plovanija-Se?ovlje. 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, 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, Moš?eni?ka 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 U?ka 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.
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.
Trsat, a Gentle Hilltop Suburb,
stands guard over Rijeka. Over the years its castle has been home to the ancient Illyrians, the Romans and the Frankopans. With its views inland to the U?ka Mountains, out to sea over the Bay of Kvarner and across to the islands of Krk and Cres, you can understand why.
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 pretty little seaside town,
its 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!
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 picturesque 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.
Head up into the hills between Pazin and Buzet
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 U?ka 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 Kaš?erga, near Motovun.
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. You will have to pay the toll of 14 kuna per car for this pleasure, however. Alternatively view the structure from the road between Tar and Novigrad along the old pontoon bridge crossing the Luka Mirna at Antenal.
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.
Go To Hell!
More accurately, visit Pazin Castle, a 16th century structure standing on the remains of its 10th century predecessor. It overhangs a gorge into which the river Pazin?ica 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.
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.
Istria's Own Leaning Tower
You’ll doubtless have noticed the Italian legacy in the architecture, the food and the place names, well make a visit to 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
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! Stop for a coffee or, if you have more time on your hands, have 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.
Purchase 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.
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).
Purchase Your Daily Bread!
Bread in Istria is delicious. Many varieties are readily available either in dedicated bakeries, mini markets or supermarkets, always freshly baked every day. You’ll find white and brown loaves and rolls, many seeded or with nuts, the range is endless. Brioche and croissants are also plentiful. A number of restaurants also bake their own fresh bread such as the Istarska Konoba at Bui?i, on the right hand side as you head towards Pore?, on the road from Žbandaj.
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).
Head for the Beach at Dajla,
on the coast between Novigrad and Umag. Originally a little fishing harbour, it has a sheltered rocky beach.
Relax! Visit Istarske Toplice,
Istria’s most popular inland health resort whose sulphurous waters are said to ease back pain, rheumatism and skin complaints. The indoor swimming pool of the Hotel Mirna (tel. 052 664 300) is fed by spring water which emerges ready warmed from nearby cliffs.
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.
Grožnjan 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 studios, galleries and workshops. Pictures, drawings, pottery ceramics, hand made jewellery and other crafts are displayed in abundance. Furthermore, a glass of wine or a cappuccino at the laid back cafe called Kaya Energy Bar.
Hum - The Smallest Town In The World
Head east towards the Ucka 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.
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.
Zavicajni Muzej Buzet (Buzet Regional Museum)
Featuring archaeological, historical and ethnographical items from the entire Buzet region. (Tel. 052 662 792, check for opening days/times). Incidentally, there are two market days each month in Buzet: the first Friday and the third Thursday.
Anyone For Tennis...?
Visit the coastal town of Umag, venue for the ATP Croatia Open, usually at the end of July. It has attained three Awards of Excellence for its organisation and recent winners of the event include Nikolay Davidenko (2009), Juan Carlos Ferrero (2010), Alexandr Dolgopolov (2011), Croatia’s own Marin Cilic (2012), Tommy Robredo (2013), Pablo Cuevas (2014) and Austria’s Dominic Thiem in 2015.
The Castle of Sipar
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.
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 in Motovun, 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.
Gracišce and Pican
Take a drive on road number 64, specifically the stretch between the villages of Gracišce and Pican. From these two vantage points, absorb the unique panorama of the valley from which Mount Ucka, the highest peak in Istria, rises (to 1,396 metres).
Gracišce 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 its14th century crucifix, though largely rebuilt in the 1500’s. Look for the Masonic headstones with their ‘secret’ symbols, some with British names.
The Little Walled Town of Pican
The little walled town of Pican was a bishop’s see from the 5th to the 18th century and boasts some lovely medieval buildings.
Head South to Svetvincenat
Head south to 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.
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