Istria is a region and peninsula in western Croatia. It is famous for wine and truffle hunting, as well as, rocky beaches and a rich history. The region has obvious influences from previous ruling empires like the Venetian Empire. Rovinj is even know as Istrian’s Venice because of the Venetian’s heavy influence.
The Istrian Peninsula holds so much culture and history. You could spend months here and not experience it all. While we were based in Pula, we explored some of the Istria region. We rented a car for a few days and took public transportation to reach our destinations. Honestly, the more we saw, the more we realized we’d have to come back to experience everything we wanted to.
Istria is a beautiful region of Croatia with so much to offer. We were amazed by the variety of things to do. There’s honestly something here for everyone. Foodie? Istria. Hiker? Istria. Wine Connoisseur? Istria. Geology Nerd? Istria. History Lover? ISTRIA.
Renting a Car in Croatia:
We were super lucky to find Last Minute Car Rental because not only were they the cheapest option, they delivered and picked up the car right at our accommodation. We rented our car for 5 days, and 2 of these included our trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park. The rest of the time we had the car was spent exploring the Istrian peninsula. Although there are buses that connect the cities, renting a car is the easiest way to truly experience the region.
While growing up, Ty learned how to drive manual/stick shift which was really convenient since that’s the kind of cars you’ll find in Europe (thanks dad!). However, it had been a while and within the first 5 minutes we got stuck at a light, in an uphill position, for THREE light cycles causing a traffic jam…
On the gearshift, it looked like Reverse was the farthest left option, so Ty was putting it in the second farthest left option for 1st (which actually was 3rd) and the car kept stalling. We were going uphill, manual cars roll a bit, and cars kept coming up behind us super close. We were both freaking out and Ty was trying everything he could. Sam was about to get out of the car and start redirecting traffic around our car because we were STUCK. Somehow, Ty figured it out and we drove off, after upsetting MANY people…oops.
Okay so we got it and drove to Umag. Then as we go to park, Ty realized he couldn’t figure out how to reverse! We parked and said okay worst case, he puts it in neutral and we push it out. There was no manual or directions and so we were a bit stressed. After clicking and switching everything we could, Sam realized there was something we had to pull in order to shift it into reverse. Thank goodness.
This whole fiasco is funny now, but at the time it definitely wasn’t.
The western coast of Istria is home to gorgeous beaches and beautiful old towns.
On our first day exploring Istria, we drove to the northern part of the coast, and worked our way south from Umag to Porec.
Umag is a town on the northwestern coast of the Istrian Peninsula. Here you will find remains from Roman times, as well as, the empires that followed. It is surrounded by gorgeous beaches and has a beautiful old town that we enjoyed wandering around.
In Novigrad we went wine tasting, since this is a “must-do” in the Istrian Region. Istria is famous for its two unique grape varieties: Malvasija and Teran. Neither of us are wine connoisseurs, but we wanted to experience everything we could.
We went to the Moreno Ivancic Winery and sampled 5 wines and a wine brandy made from the Teran grape, Teranino. Ternanino tastes like Christmas! Ty is not really a fan of wine, but was sweet enough to try anyways.
After the winery, we walked around the old town of Novigrad for a bit. We visited the city walls, searched the tide pools for crabs, and wandered the streets.
Our last stop of the day was Porec. By the time we got here, the sun was starting to set. We went to dinner and made plans to come back another day because there was so much to see here. For dinner, we went to the only 100% vegan restaurant in all of Istria and Sam was super excited.
We came back to Porec to explore the old town and are so happy we did. This city is a work of art. Porec has a large walkable waterfront lined with cafes. During this visit, we saw major sites including Church of Our Lady of the Angels Vergottini Palace, Euphrasius Basilica, and the Romanesque House. The beaches are a popular draw to the area as well, but we spent our time wandering the alleys since it was a bit too chilly for a beach day.
After Porec, we visited Rovinj. Rovinj is stunning with its Venetian style buildings. The old town is home to the hilltop church of St. Euphemia that you can see as you approach the city. We spent a couple hours roaming through the old town, admiring all the details and trying to pet all the cats. Istria is home to SO MANY CATS. You see one and there are probably 3 more around the corner.
If we are ever lucky enough to come back during a warmer season, we would definitely take advantage of the coastal excursions offered here, such as island tours and shipwreck diving!
In between two popular, picturesque coastal towns, Porec and Rovinj, is the Limski Fjord. If you have your own car and can make a pit stop, the panoramic views of the fjord (free next to the food stands) are so worth it!
Truffle hunting near Motovun
Motovun, pictured on the left, is a village in central Istria located where a fortress of both the Celts and Illyrians once stood. We didn’t go up to Motovun, but we did enjoy the views of the town from a lookout nearby. The fog sat at the bottom of the hill, adding to the magic of the view.
We went on a truffle hunting tour in Livade, near Motovun, with Zigante. Zigante is a famous name in the truffle world since they held a guiness world record for the largest truffle, their restaurant earned a Michelin Star, and their shops can be found all over Istria.
We learned about the different types of truffles found here and how dogs are used to find them. They grow underground, so without a helpful animal, people would struggle to find them. The dogs can smell them up to 50 meters which is helpful since they can be up to a meter beneath the surface!
After our tour, we went back to the shop to try some of the truffle products. They have everything from truffle spreads to truffle infused chocolates!
The smallest town…and the largest brandy selection
After our tour, we headed to the smallest town in the world (according to them), Hum! Hum’s population is around 20 people, give or take a few. With a history dating back to the 11th century, this tiny settlement is filled with historical sites, local shops, and one tavern. We had read that this small “town” is worth the stop so, we made our way.
When we got there there were barricades and people setting up some kind of event. We parked and wandered up to a guy at the entrance. He told us that on this day Hum is closed to the public for a festival and we can only enter if we buy tickets. He had said the type of festival but we weren’t sure what it meant.
Well, we were already here and the tickets weren’t expensive so we figured “why not?”. We went to the ticket booth and were handed a shot glass and a pamphlet… What was going on? Funny story, we found out that the guy before had said it was a “rakija” festival. Rakija is the term for fruit spirits or brandy that is popular in the Balkans. The largest number of producers of traditional rakija are found in this region of Istria. Every year, they host a one day exhibit in Hum and we just happened to end up there on that specific day! Our visit was in the end of October, so if you want to go make sure to check the dates around this time of the year.
Throughout the two streets of Hum were 8 stands with a total of 190 different rajika options to taste!At the stands, they poured a sip or two into your glass to try. There were so many different kinds from Plum to Pine! We tried pear, honey, mistletoe, and a Teranino (the christmas flavored brandy we had tried before!). Dear family, don’t worry we only tasted a few!
Located in central Istria, Pazin is home to a medieval castle, an underground cave, and an exciting zipline!Alongside these obvious draws to the city, we loved the trails that run through and around Pazin. The trails are well marked and offer a range of options. We chose the 711 Pazin – Beram – Pazin path. Check out the options here!
We took the 7am bus from Pula to Pazin for a morning of hiking. The trail we chose is a loop that left from Pazin’s tourist office, visited one of the oldest inhabited towns in Istria, and led us to a waterfall at the end. In total, we hiked close to 9 miles. While hiking, the trail took us to Beram, one of the regions oldest and continuously populated settlements.
It also led to a small church, The Church of St. Mary on Škriljinah, that is home to a famous mural, “The Dance of Death”. Sadly, the church was locked so we could only peer in through the windows to get a glimpse of the mural.
The waterfall at the end, Zarečki Krov, actually had two falls running into a large pool. In the summer, it is popular for swimming, and on a warmer day we totally understand why.