This attractive, walled little town was the headquarters of Venice’s military command in Istria during the Middle Ages. See the 11th century church of Sv. Martin and view the museum in the 15th century loggia which displays sculptures from the monastery of Sv. Mihovil in the Limski Kanal.
The Limski Kanal
Pay a visit to nearby Lim Fjord, a spectacular protected landscape and special marine reserve situated between Rovinj and Vrsar. This long, narrow inlet is bordered by wooded, canyon-like cliffs rising up to 150m above sea level. It is said that one flank of this canal is populated by deciduous trees, the other by evergreens. A couple of restaurants are situated on the water front, namely the Viking (tel. 052 448 223) which offers dishes such as oysters on crushed ice or noodles with scampi and mushrooms and the Lim Fjord (tel. 052 448 222).
Fish and Shellfish Cultivation
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.
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.
Vrsar, at the northern mouth of the Limski Kanal is often overlooked because of the larger towns of Rovinj to the south and Porec to the north. The old town however, atop a hill, is a beautifully kept architectural gem with a number of brightly painted buildings chaperoning the citadel (kaštel), once the summer residence of Porec bishops. Look for the relief of a lion on the stone slab above the old town gate.
Panoramic Sightseeing Flights
Vrsar Tourist Airport offers a 30-minute sightseeing tour of the Istrian Adriatic coast by plane, taking in Vrsar, Rovinj, Porec and Novigrad. If you take the road from Vrsar towards the Limski Kanal, you will find the airport on the right hand side, just after leaving the town. Maximum 3 people, cost 800 kuna (approx £80). Tel. 091 5009 808.
Palud, between Rovinj and Barbariga, is a swamp area and ornithological reserve of great interest to bird watchers. It is the temporary or permanent habitat of more than 200 bird species. In addition, turtles, eels and lizards inhabit the area.
Ever Been Potholing?
You can do this at the Jama Baredine (Baredine Cave), found just north of Nova Vas, halfway between Visnjan 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).
Head west to the historic town of Porec and specifically to the Basilica. Here from the beginning of July to the end of August enjoy a classical concert in the serene surroundings of the beautiful basilica.
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 Porec 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.
Evening of Jazz
Also in Porec, on Wednesday nights from the end of June to the end of August, why not sample an evening of jazz at the Lapidarium. Many different local and international performers play during the season.
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 art and mythology, and 90’s Baroque.
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 heading north towards Novigrad and you’ll see the venue on your right. www.kart-cross.net, tel 052 622 6320.
Take a Coffee!
Café bars are everywhere in Croatia and without exception serve excellent coffee, always in the correct cup for the drink ordered. Taking a coffee is part of Istrian and Croatian identity, it marks the beginning of the day, nurtures friendship and business relationships and should you be invited for a coffee it may not necessarily mean actually drinking coffee, it’s more a euphemism for a chat over a drink of any kind!
Fancy a tipple?
The Radovan vineyard in the village of Radovani produces and sells some highly renowned wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Teran, Chardonnay and Malvzija Istarska. It’s on the right hand side as you drive into the village from the main road which runs between Baderna and Vižinada, you’re always welcome for a tasting! Tel.052 462 166.
Get Your Kicks... On Route 66
For a beautiful scenic drive, take the road no. 66 north east along 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.
Crystal clear waters, underwater plant life, rock formations and sea life are all irresistible reasons to discover 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 Your Daily Bread!
Bread in Istria is delicious. Many varieties are readily available in dedicated bakeries, mini markets and 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. Many restaurants or konobas 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.
Frescoes at Beram
Many of Istria’s churches and chapels house frescoes but the largest and best-preserved, dating from the fifteenth century, are found in the church of sv Marije (St Mary) at Škrijinah, near to the village of Beram and just to the north east of Pazin. It is signposted from the Pazin-Porec road, no. 48.
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. Pazin is Istria’s administrative ‘capital’.
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.
South east of Pazin, 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).
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, intriguingly, with British names.
The little walled town of Pican was a bishop’s see from the 5th to the 18th century and, at the time, Istria’s smallest diocese. It has well preserved town gates dating from the 14th century and boasts some lovely medieval buildings. Views across central Istria's countryside are spectacular on a clear day. A festival celebrating Istrian legends, tales and myths is held at the end of July and at the beginning of August.
Church of St Michael, Pican
The tiny Romanesque Church of St. Michael from the 13th century is situated at the top of 365 meters high Calvary Hill (Kalvarija), next to the cemetery. The interior of this single-nave building is decorated with valuable Gothic frescoes from the first half of the 15th century, enriched by Glagolitic engravings during the 15th and 16th centuries. Being located on a hilltop, its natural viewpoint offers a wonderful view of the surrounding area. In addition, this beautiful vista was embellished by a stone sculpture called The Family by Nane Zavagno, who also exhibits at the Mediterranean Sculpture Symposium at Dubrova near Labin.
Dubrova Mediteranski Kiparski Simpozij (The Dubrova Mediterranean Sculptors’ Symposium).
This is a nature park just north of Labin where, year after year, sculptors come from all over the world to enrich the existing collection of Istrian stone sculptures, leaving behind tangible examples of their creative work.
Try a Pizza!
Pizza in Istria is excellent and the real deal. Think large with a thin crust base, a variety of toppings, and baked in a wood-burning oven. Pizzas in Croatia are great value depending on size and the choice of toppings. The normal size pizza is big enough for two. Pizzerias also often serve grilled meats, salads, pasta, and risottos. Another Italian legacy! The Pizzeria in Sveti Lovrec is an excellent example!
Labin Art Republika
Head due east to the medieval hilltop town of Labin. Once a coalmining centre, in recent years it has transformed itself into a centre for the arts. Every Thursday or Friday from 8pm there are live performances, theatre productions, ateliers with artists in action and authentic crafts for sale at street stalls.
Narodni Muzej Labin
The recent history of this town as a centre for coalmining is portrayed in the Labin National Museum as are historical events from the time when, in 1921, Labin was declared a republic. (Tel. 052 852 477. Open 1000-1300 & 1800-2000).
Visit the Liburna Reserve,
the habitat of the original breed of donkey from the Croatian regions of Istria Kvarner and Primorj. There are also nature-related workshops here you can participate in. Situated at Raša, near Labin. (Open 0900-1200 & 1600-2000).
Istria's 'Newest' Town
On the way to Labin, take a look at Raša, the ‘newest’ town in Istria. Built in the 1930’s, it was formerly swamp land at the mouth of the little Krapan stream which flows into the River Raša from which it takes its name. Part of the Labin coal basin, an architect from Trieste outlined a model miner’s settlement consisting of two nearly parallel lines of uniform two storey houses with four worker apartments in each, running along the valley floor. These meet in the central square where a church is modelled in the shape of an overturned coal wagon, its belltower reminiscent of a miner’s lamp. The neat layout can still clearly be seen today.
Fancy an Hour's Scenic Walk?
Take the old mule path from Labin down to the sea at Rabac. This hillside pathway offers fantastic views over the Kvarner Bay across to the island of Cres. Once a quiet fishing village, Rabac is now a small family-friendly resort, generously bestowed with restaurants, café-bars and a broad sweep of pebbly beach.
Take the Ferry to the Island of Cres
Drive to Istria’s east coast port of Brestova, off the route 66 just north of Labin. From here you can take the 30 minute Jadrolinja car ferry crossing (www.jadrolinja.hr) across to the island of Cres (the ferry comes into a little port called Porozina) and then drive south to visit the wonderful Cres Town. Its enclosed harbour location enjoys a number of restaurants and bars, all painted in pretty pale pastels.
Continue south from Krk Town, to the island south of Krk, called Lošinj and to its capital, Mali Lošinj. The islands are connected by a causeway which carries the main road so you hardly notice the transition from one island to the next.
Head 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, a konoba 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.
Take a wander around the ruins of Dvigrad, situated between Mrgani and Kanfanar. You can spend an hour or so here wandering around this moody deserted 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 Svetvincenat, 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.
Kanfanar Tobacco Factory
This state of the art installation was built in 2005, relocating under one roof from factories in Rovinj and Zagreb. Now owned by British American Tobacco, the premises produces 20 billion cigarettes annually. With a much greater proportion of smokers in the Balkans compared to western European countries, its main markets are Croatia itself, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia as well as some other central European territories. Situated between Kanfanar and the Ypsilon motorway, it is noticeable at night when illuminated in different colours, which change constantly.
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).
Driving around Istria, look for the kažun, a round beehive-shaped field ‘hut’ built using the dry-stone technique, without any mortar or concrete. Its roof is constructed by placing thin stone ‘plates’ in increasingly concentric circles, thereby creating a shallow dome. 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.
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 café/bars. Sip a cappucino and do some people-watching!
Whilst in Rovinj, look for the batanas, traditional flat-bottomed (for fishing in shallow waters), square-sterned, brightly painted wooden boats which have been used for centuries by the local fishermen. Locals say that they were traditonally built at home, using oak or pine wood. They were built on the ground floor and no 2 batanas were alike as the length of the room determined the length of the boat!
Visit the Zavicajni Muzej Rovinja (Rovinj Town Museum),
which is 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).
If you’re in the Rovinj area on the second Sunday in August, be sure to visit the open air art exhibition known as Grisia. Grisia is in fact the name of the main street leading up the hill to St Euphemia’s church and artists exhibit their work here, thus becoming a large al fresco studio for a day where walls, doorways and house facades all present themselves as ‘gallery hanging space’, festooned with watercolours, sketches and prints.
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.
Take It ALL Off!
Croatia has been a popular naturist destination for a hundred years or so. There are a number of nudist beaches – try the one called Rt Montauro, just south of Rovinj. From the old town follow the coastline south coming into Zlatni Rt Park and then follow the coast south for another 1 km. It’s a small pebble beach between tall rocks and some shade from nearby pines. No facilities, so bring all you need. Except your bathing suit...
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, you’ll need to check with your supplier that you can cross the border with it.
Spend a Day in Venice
Take the Venezia Lines hydrofoil service from Rovinj, Pore? or Pula to this unique city. Don’t forget to take your passport and some euros. We recommend you book in advance via www.venezialines.com
Italian Outlet Shopping
Palmanova Outlet Village is situated to the west of Trieste on the A4 Trieste-Venice (Venezia) motorway (Palmanova exit, 2 exits further on from Trieste Airport) and features about 90 retailers such as Benetton, Deisgual, Guess, Gap, Kappa, Tom Tailor and Stefanel. It opens every day between 1000 and 2000. Catering is surprisingly ordinary, so go in to UNESCO-protected Palmanova town itself, a spectacular hilltop fortress town, in the shape of a nine pointed star, dating from the late 1500s. A meal here, sitting at one of the terraces on the hexagonal-shaped central ‘square’ is a much more authentic Italian experience!
Head North to the Hamlet of Hlistici
Stop at the spot where the road is covered in sand and not asphalted. This section of road forms part of the bowling ground of the village. When the locals gather for a game of bowls, a large 8 litre jug called a bukaleta is placed in a recess in the wall and the loser has to fill up the jug with wine from his own cellar!
is a traditional ceramic jug usually glazed and decorated with grape motifs and an inscription. You well see these in konobas and private homes. Traditionally, they were used for drinking homemade wine in company by groups of fishermen or farm workers after a hard day’s work. Supa, a mixture of red wine, olive oil, roasted bread and pepper and a speciality of Istria, is also often served in a bukaleta. These vessels make good gifts to take home.
Traditional Music and Dance
Try and catch a performance of the local folk dancers, a very visual affair, even if you can’t follow the language, you’re sure to enjoy the music, dance, songs, colour and general bonhomie! Most commonly performed is the balun, characteristic for spinning round dance partners, often to music played on a double-reed, oboe-like traditional instrument known as the roženice or the sopele, sometimes accompanied by an accordion. Centrepiece to this tradition is the Bumbar Fiesta held in Vodnjan in late August. Incidentally, the word bumbari translates as ‘bumble bees’.
Visit Nearby Kringa
This intimate village is fringed with hackberry trees and has a well with two wells within it, one for the locals and one for the teacher! Go there on August 15th, the day of the church of the Assumption of the Virgin, and you will see local men with a blot of red wine on their white shirts, a signal that their wine barrels are full. Hearsay talks of one inhabitant, a vampire called Jure Grande, who molested his relatives and local people for a 16 year period, behaviour which only ceased when they opened his grave and cut his head! Stop for a coffee at the appropriately named Vampire Café!
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 of America.
Until recently there were no waterparks in Istria but now there are two! Aquacolurs is the most recent opening, situated just south of Porec, on the road towards Funtana and Vrsar. Expect the usual selection of slides and pools as well as certain other sporting activities and fast(ish) food catering. A half day ticket is available for arrivals in the afternoon. www.aquacolors.eu The other waterpark, by the way, is Istralandia, just south of Novigrad.
In 24 tanks of varying sizes, discover the fish and other live organisms of the Adriatic Sea. Situated in the pedestrianised heart of the old city, just follow the signs. (Open 0900-2200).
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, potatoes, stews and meats for an extra ‘zingy’ flavour. In its distinctive blue packaging, you’ll find it on the shelves of every mini market and supermarket in Istria, (as well as in the larders of most private homes!), in a number of different varieties and is established as one of the most recognised brands in Croatia, now sold in over 30 countries worldwide.
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