You have booked your vacation in Istria and the next thing to do (of course) is making a plan of what to see and do while on vacation.
As this is a very diverse region there’s plenty to experience; from visiting Roman ruins by foot to cycling through vineyards and olive groves and tasting delicious produce on the way to enjoying local cuisine from a hilltop town with an extremely beautiful view.
Therefore, be sure to read our guide to the end and prepare an impeccable plan!
1. Rovinj – the most beloved town in Istria
We start with Rovinj, a seaside gem and often the most beloved town in Istria due to numerous romantic spots. The old town nucleus lies on a promontory which was until 1763 part of a coastal islet that was later connected with the mainland. Rovinj maintains close cultural and historical ties with Italy as it was a part of the Venetian empire for centuries.
As one of the last remaining Mediterranean fishing towns, still totally authentic, with colorful houses lined in cobbled streets, this small town offers you an escape from your daily routine. Plan your morning coffee along the sea with an incredible view, grab something to eat at one of the numerous piazzas, and make memories and pictures along narrow streets filled with shops. And don’t forget to walk a bit to a Venetian bell tower of the St Euphemia Cathedral, the most imposing structure, recognized worldwide and very well worth visiting.
2. Vrsar – A thrue Istrian hospitality
Heading up north, in the coastal area lies a small fishermen’s town Vrsar. A tourist-oriented town with true Istrian hospitality, lovely beaches, and high-quality accommodation facilities is best known for Giacomo Casanova. This well-known Italian writer and adventurer were a true “Don Juan” who fell in love with this place and through numerous visits to a beautiful woman made many interesting events that characterized his stay here.
3. Poreč – The most popular holiday resort
Even more north, after passing the famous Lim Fjord, you will reach the town of Porec. This most popular holiday resort reaches far back in history to prehistoric times. The largest settlement, still available today by foot, called Picugi, was home to an Illyrian tribe called the Histri (which is where Istria gets its name) in around 800 BC.
In 129 BC, the Romans succeeded in capturing Istria and the Roman settlement Parentium – present-day Porec – emerged and evolved. It grew in strength and importance and included Roman military and army bases. After the fall of Rome, Porec came under the rule of various empires – Roman, Austrian, Italian, and Yugoslavian – until it became part of Croatia.
Due to the town’s long history, a visit to the old town is a must. Be sure to start your walk by the 6th century Euphrasian Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage site, that is wonderfully preserved and well known for its beautiful gold mosaics. The Decumanus, once the main road is today’s most visited main street ended by a Marafor square where a Roman forum was once situated. Remains of two temples, to Neptune and Mars, are the biggest in Istria despite only a portion of its wall and foundations being preserved.
4. Grožnjan – The village of artists
Heading inland, you’ll reach the village of artists, an internationally significant Groznjan. Every year in May, Grožnjan wakes up for the intensive summer months filled with art, theater, and dance workshops and summer music academies. Well-known teachers and arts and music lovers spread their love and expertise which can be found at every corner of this tiny town. Its little narrow streets host numerous galleries, so find some time to stop for a moment and witness an art coming alive.
5. Završje – A perfect display of ancient architecture
Nearby, on a cliff above the Mirna valley lays a medieval town with a breathtaking view – Zavrsje. Situated on ruins of a prehistoric hill-fort from the 11th century, Zavrsje is a perfect display of ancient architecture, a combination of wood and stone, witnessing numerous possession battles and fortification skills come alive. The mystical quality of Motovun forest combined with a village as a single monument is a place you wouldn’t want to skip on your journey.
6. Motovun – Filled with typical and delicious Istrian food
The most visited of all Istrian hilltop towns due to the best breathtaking views from the town walls is Motovun. This tiny old town, set atop a 270-meter hill, is home to a striking old church and walkable medieval walls. Nevertheless, some excellent restaurants and stores with local produce offer typical and delicious Istrian food – truffles, olive oils, and wines so be sure to enter Motovun with an empty stomach.
7. Oprtalj – A magnificent view of the sea
By many one of the most picturesque towns in Istria is another hilltop gem just across the Motovun, named Oprtalj. Once a fort with strong defensive walls protecting row houses to the town gates, is today’s historical monument with a huge Venetian loggia still proudly standing and offering a magnificent view of the sea.
8. Hum – The smallest town in the world
In a pure and untouched inland, the smallest town in the world resists the time and weather. First mentioned in the year 1102. it survived the Venetian and the Turks attacks without bigger damages. Also known as The Gates of the World, it is recently recognized for the authentic type of brandy called Biska. It’s a mistletoe brandy whose original recipe comes from Hum so an exhibition and competition for the best brandy became a yearly tradition in October.
Hum is also the final point of the famous Glagolitic Lane commemorating the importance of Glagolitic literature. The Lane stretches for 7 km from Roč to Hum.
9. Bale – Surrounded with endless vineyards and olive groves
About an hour to the southwest the stone town of Bale offers a perfect combination of Istrian highlights. It is another hilltop town surrounded by endless vineyards and olive groves, only 10 minutes from the sea and a beautiful seashore. Widely known for its Jazz festival, one of the most popular festivals of its type in this part of Europe, it gives you a special kind of artistic atmosphere. Along narrow, cobbled streets you will find many historical remains and travel back in time when visiting a Bembo family castle dated from the 15. Century.
10. Fažana – A pure nature and a beautiful promenade
Nearby a perfect place to relax, apart from all the mass tourism is Fazana. A tiny village not far from Pula and with a boat connection to a National Park Brijuni, it offers you pure nature and a beautiful promenade full of restaurants and bars overlooking the islands. It is an active fishing port known for its excellent seafood and Istrian cuisine so plan at least one dinner in this charming seaside town.
11. Labin – A cultural center of Istria
Save some time to also visit the Istrian west coast and the medieval town of Labin. First mentioned as Albona in 285 AD it is an administrative and cultural center today. Visit the unique experience in this part of Europe, a miniature coal mine which used to be of a high significance to the Labin region, as a part of Town’s Museum. Explore the Memorial collection of Matthias Flacius Illyricus, the reformer, and collaborator of Martin Luther, or walk along the Sculpture Park in Dubrova with over 70 stone sculptures.
Remember, a good vacation plan has time to explore and be active but also to relax and enjoy like a local!