Istria's largest and best preserved frescoes,
dating from the fifteenth century, are found in the church of sv Marije (St Mary) at Skrijinah, near Beram, just north east of Pazin.
Visit the Zavicajni 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).
Gracisce and Pican
Take a drive on road number 64, specifically the stretch between the villages of Gracisce 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).
Gracisce 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 boasts some lovely medieval buildings.
South of Pican is the little town of Krsan where a visit to its 13th century fortress is a must.
Asparagus (sparuge) 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).
Try and catch a performance at Pula's amphitheatre.
Artists such as Sting, Jamiroquai and James Brown have staged concerts here in recent years and it is the venue for the annual Pula Film Festival usually held in late July. What better venue?
Also in Pula, walk up to the old star-shaped fort - Kastel,
the central point of a spider's web of narrow streets, steep paths and alleys in the heart of the city. This vantage point affords great views out to sea, over the amphitheatre and across to the old Roman theatre.
Take a trip back in time - visit the Riviera Hotel in Pula.
Built in 1908 in ornate Belle Époque style, this was a 5 star hotel, a grand symbol of Austro-Hungarian rule. Here mingled officers, bohemians, Viennese ladies, artists and salesmen. It was the place to be seen. Sadly, although its waterfront façade maintains an imposing presence, the hotel is not what it was.
Park Skulptura Dusan Dzamonje (Dusan Dzamonje's Sculpture Park).
The sculpture park of this world famous sculptor is located beside the artist's home and studio at Valkanela, just north of Vrsar, affording a superb view of the bay. The contrast of the vivid green grass setting against a blue sea and sky backdrop within which stand these extraordinary sculptures should not be missed. (Open 0900-1100 and 1700-2000, closed Monday).
Driving around Istria, look for the kazun, a round beehive-shaped field hut built using the dry-stone technique, without any mortar or concrete. Shepherds used them for shelter as well as for storage of agricultural implements. The kazun has become emblematic of traditional Istria.
Head down to nearby Svetvincenat
and take time to stroll around this delightful town with its pretty main square, 15th century church of the Anunciation and 13th century castle, Palazzo Grimani, with its magnificent lawned keep. There are a couple of bars with terraces here, so stop for a cool beer and watch the world go by.
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).
Mini Croatia, Rovinj.
See Croatia in miniature: the state borders, mountains, rivers, lakes, islands, railways and important cities. (Open 0800-2000).
Or, go diving!
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!
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 fortified moody ruin said to have been established by Uksok pirates.
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 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 Fazana. (Information and booking tel. 052 525 807).
Fazana itself is a colourful 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!
In 24 tanks of varying sizes, discover the fish and other live organisms of the Adriatic Sea. (Open 0900-2200).
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 machiato and enjoy some people watching!
Whilst in Rovinj, look for the batanas, traditional flat-bottomed, square-sterned wooden boats which have been used for centuries by the local fishermen.
A great way to unwind! For children and adults alike! (Open 1100-0100.
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 £80). Tel. 091 5009 808.
Visit Funtana, a coastal village between Vrsar and Pore . The Istrian coast is said to be the most indented here offering numerous coves, inlets, beaches and pine and oak groves. A number of fresh water springs or fountains, hence the derivation of the name Funtana, and this has secured the prosperity of the village over the centuries. Stop for lunch at one of the pizzerias or restaurants, or compose a picnic from the pastry shops and supermarkets.
Held on the third Tuesday of every month, this is a great way to witness everyday Istrian life, first hand. Here, from dawn until dusk, you can purchase fresh fruit, vegetables and other foodstuffs as well as traditional handicrafts and souvenirs.
Head west to Sveti Lovrec.
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.
Pay a visit to nearby Lim Fjord
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, for example the Viking (tel. 052 448 223) which offers dishes such as oysters on crushed ice or noodles with scampi and mushrooms.
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.
between Rovinj and Barbariga, is an ornithological reserve and swamp area of great interest to bird watchers. It is the temporary or permanent habitat of more than 200 bird species.
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 Fojba 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.
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?
Get a Ticket to Ride on the Yellow Submarine!
The Yellow Submarine is a boat, purpose-built for underwater sightseeing. Departures from 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.
An evening of jazz at the Lapidarium.
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.
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.
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 reveal 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.
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).
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-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 must 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. We recommend you book in advance via www.venezialines.com. Alternatively, our local agent can book them for you.
Get your kicks... on Route 66!
For a beautiful scenic drive, take the road no. 66 north east along the Kvarner Riviera. Start from Barban, passing through Rasa, Labin, Plomin, Moscenicka 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.
Trsat 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.
Workaday Rijeka 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.
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!
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!
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.
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