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Best things to do in Istria
Istria is a region in the north-western peninsula of Croatia. The central part of the region is home to beautiful forests, rolling hills and local vineyards. The western stretch of Istria is home to buzzing cities like Pula and Rovinj. Along the whole region, local delicacies like olive oil, truffles, local wines and freshly caught seafood are on offer, making it one of Croatia’s most attractive gastronomic destinations.
Located in the southern tip of Istria is Pula – a coastal city famed for its lively atmosphere. From live music events to outdoor sporting events, a visit to Pula is certainly a must-do when you are in Istria. The most striking landmark in Pula is the Amphitheatre. In some instances, this iconic ruin has been considered the Croatian version of Rome’s Colosseum.
The Amphitheatre was built more than 2,000 years ago and, although it’s certainly a ‘shell’ of a building now, the ring of ruins still stands tall and give an insight into just how impressive the amphitheatre once was. Walk around the ruins and be transported to an entertainment venue thousands of years ago. Other historic buildings and landmarks to see in Pula include the Roman Forum, the Temple of Augustus, the Pula Fortress and the Arch of the Sergii.Whether you are looking for the classic, quiet dinner out, or a much livelier night scene, Pula can facilitate both.
Go Truffle hunting
Although you can expect to see fresh seafood and fish on the menus in all of the restaurants in the region, Istria is famously known for its olive oil and truffles. In particular, the white truffle and the common black truffle are found in Istria and a trip here without tasting them would simply be criminal.
More than 80 years ago, truffles were found in the grounds of the Istrian forests and have been carefully protected ever since. There is much more behind the truffle growing than just the cooking. The Karlic family specialize in training dogs which go out before dawn to dig out the white and common black truffle. Dogs (in particular the Italian Lagotto Romagnolo breed) have a heightened sense of smell so, with plenty of adequate training, tracking truffles in the ground comes naturally to them. The white truffle grows in the winter months of Croatia – between September to February. During this time, large white truffles can be found regularly.
Visit an olive farm or mill
The other delicacy in Istria is the much-loved olive oil. Oil is a Mediterranean essential when it comes to cooking and dressing freshly cooked meat, salads and fish dishes. Studies have also shown that, believe it or not, olive oil has many health benefits and beauty remedies, so don’t hold back! The landscape of Istria features rolling hills and leafy mounds. These are home to olive farms which have been grown and cultivated since the Roman period.
Many of these olive farms are family affairs and the land has been passed down generations for decades. Consequently, this makes the olive oil industry an independent and special industry. If those who are interested in the process of the olive harvesting and production, it is worth visiting a local oil mill or cellar for a tour or a guided walk. This will give you an in sight into the process – from plant to plate.
Vineyards and wine tasting
Istria would not hold the title of the gastronomic destinations of Croatia if it wasn’t for its vineyards and wineries. The warm weather, reliable sunshine and soil type in the region make it perfect for growing certain types of grape – the white Malvazija and the red Teran wines in particular. During your stay in Istria, one of the best things to do is visit a winery to get a tour of the production of Croatian wine – from grape to bottle.
Hike the Istrian countryside
The coastal stretch of Istria is lined with buzzing cities and stunning beaches, but head further in land and you will reach Istria’s breath-taking countryside. Home to leafy forests, rolling hills and river valleys, a visit to the Central Istraia Riveria is certainly worth it. Here you can enjoy hiking, cycling or leisurely walks, taking in panoramic views along the way. Of course, these landscapes are ideal settings for many of the local delicacies like olives, truffles and Croatian wine.
In this region is Ucka Nature Park which sits inside the Cicarija mountain range. From the highest peaks in this mountain range, vast views across the Dalmatian coast, Italy and Slovenia can be seen. Mount Ucka is a great hike for those looking for something more active during their time in Istria. On the leafy slopes, you will be able to see an array of flora and fauna, including the very rare endemic Učka or Tommasini bell-flower.
Enjoy water sports and activities
Istria’s coastline is picturesque: natural beaches and coves, bright blue waters of the Adriatic Sea and of course, it benefits from the Mediterranean weather. These all make it a very attractive destination to enjoy recreational activities on the water including diving, snorkeling, sailing, fishing and more adrenaline-fuelled activities like windsurfing, kite surfing or paragliding.
Diving in the Istrian peninsular is very varied as there are caves to make your way to and sunken vessels and wrecks to explore – giving you an insight into Istria’s important history and medieval presence. For those looking to relax on a beautiful beach, head to Medulin which is on the southern trip of Istria. Medulin is a popular tourist destination for all of the right reasons: it’s famous beach (named Bijeca) stretches more than one kilometer and smaller islets can be found further out.
Visit the Brijuni Islands
The Brijuni archipelago are made up of around a dozen smaller islands and can be accessed by boat from the coast of Istria (approximately 6 kilometers from Pula city). The largest of these islands, named Veli Brijun, can be visited by boat. As you approach the island, you will immediately see palm-fringed beaches and bushy forests. Tours of the island will include the Tito Museum, Roman ruins and landmarks such as St Mary’s Church and disused quarries. The natural landscape is diverse, home to hundreds of olive trees, swamps and native pine trees. There is even a safari park on the main island.
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