At a Glance
The westernmost region of Croatia gives way to the untamed beauty of the region of Istria - including its eponymous peninsula - and the Kvarner islands. Sweeping into the brilliant blue of the Adriatic sea, you'll find a smattering of small landmasses, each offering an individual exciting adventure complemented by an unforgettable backdrop. This is the Kvarner Gulf. Take a moment to contemplate the fantastic sandy beaches and shock of verdant trees on every island, all just waiting to be explored.And then there are the towns of the Istrian peninsula - vibrant and bustling as they are, again dotted throughout the best of what Mother Nature has to offer. Our scenery snakes the land, where various rivers writhe and twist like the scales of a silver dragon, snoozing in the sun. You won't be disappointed by what this part of the world has to offer, that's for sure.
Pula acts as a primary transportation hub for Istria, so if you're not driving, it's very likely you will end up here first. Its central station is extremely well-connected and serves everywhere from central Istrian towns such as Motovun and Zminj to nearby Italian cities including Venice and Trieste. Neighbouring Slovenia is also accessible by train and, if you're off to explore the Kvarner islands, you'll likely require a high speed ferry from Pula, courtesy of Venezia Lines.
Eating and Drinking
Istrian cuisine prizes diversity above everything else, and in a typical restaurant, you might expect to find pasta, gnocchi, risotto, polenta and all manner of other dishes on the menu. Fresh vegetables are held in high esteem throughout Croatia - Istrian peppers have an international reputation - and crisp fresh fish can be found near the coastline. Scampi and sole are the favourites, and you'll want to sample both if you're holidaying on the Kvarner Islands. But if you're really into your cuisine, you'll visit Istria when truffles are in season in late September. These are an absolute diamond of the region and people travel far and wide to sample them. Delicious.For something to drink with your traditional Croatian meal, you'll want to try the wine. Istria is a land of vineyards and there are a wide variety of grapes grown here, including white malvasia, red teran and muscat. Kalavojna, located on the east coast, is the most famous wine-producing area, so keep an eye out for that name in particular if you're into your various vintages. Otherwise, there are sweet drinks such as grappa - a regional liquor - and rakija to sample. Both come in a number of varieties, so you certainly won't get bored of experimenting with them.
The towns that populate Istria harbour some fantastic goodies that are well worth hunting down through the various shops. From Porec to Pazin, and down further to Pula market town, with its goose fat livestock and its ragstone amphitheatre, you'll find no end of knick-knacks to discover. These might range from homemade crafts that are perfect to take home for that hard-to-please mother in law to traditional Croatian ingredients. Specifically, keep an eye out for truffles - Istria is famous for these - as well as Malvazija and Teran wines. Also worth taking home is a bottle of rakija, a traditional Croatian alcoholic beverage.Exploring the larger Kvarner islands such as Krk and Cres will offer you a similar choice to what's on offer in Pula. There are some extraordinary cities holding back precious secret shopping places. It is pleasant enough to wander the intricate old towns of Punat or Dobrinj, seeking out treasures while sustaining yourself on homemade traditional Croatian foodstuffs. The markets here are diverse thanks to Croatia's many neighbouring countries. In fact, with the languages of Croatian, Italian, German and English widely spoken here, it is common for stallholders to greet you in all four: "Izvolite, Prego, Bitte, How can I help you?"
Things to See and Do
There is plenty to keep you occupied on your holiday in Istria and on the Kvarner islands - so much so that you simply won't know where to begin. We'll start with the coastline, which features beaches both wild and beautiful. The peninsula is where you'll find the majority of these, although don't expect to see any of the sandy variety. However, the sight of plunging rocky walls is rather awe-inspiring in itself. Water sports are a popular pastime on the beaches, and you won't have to walk far before stumbling upon a windsurfing school or hobie cat rental centre.Away from the coast, Mother Nature also has plenty to offer in the way of hiking and biking. Beyond the confines of Pula and the other towns, great mountains rise up to pierce the atmosphere - nature's own skyscrapers. Roaming across them is an inspirational activity, and you'll discover centres offering both easy and challenging routes.
The majority of the dancing and drinking takes place in Pula, the cultural centre of Istria. You'll want to head north-east of the centre for the mainstream clubbing scene - a taxi will be necessary if you're arriving via the train station or bus from another town. Particularly worth a visit is the summer-only beach bar and restaurant Ambrela, which invites top DJs to thump out house, hip hop and techno while the punters dance the night away with views over the stony beach. If you're seeking a nightlife experience in Pula but staying in another resort, it's possible to be out all night before catching the first available transportation home.
Istria plays host to many events throughout the year which cater to a wide variety of audiences. Foodies will no doubt want to arrive in time for the Truffle Days festival that takes place across the Motovun and Buzet areas. Similarly, Motovun Film Festival will give movie buffs something to do. And fruit fans are encouraged to enjoy the Days of Cherries Festival in June, which sees the gorgeous red fruit picked across fields in Lovran and Opatija.In short, you'll want to take a look at the calendar of events before booking your holiday to Istria and the Kvarner Islands.