Istria, on the paths of a magical land
Medieval towns on top of green hills boasting beautiful views of fairy forests or the blue sea. If you happen to find yourself in a surrounding resembling a fairy tale, you found the way to Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula, the biggest one in the Adriatic, and a world-known tourist region in northwest Croatia, offering the closest seaside beaches to many Europeans.
Northern and central Istria – voyage to the centre of the Earth
If right after crossing the border you feel the urge to have a snack, no need to worry, it is not because of a black magic spell cast by this Terra Magica, magical land, as Istria is often referred to. It is a natural reaction to the scent of what makes the town of Buzet special – black and white truffles, that grow in abundance in the forest of Motovun. This medieval town, beneath which these mushrooms can be found, is home to Veli Jože, the kind-hearted giant-slave from Istrian mythology. The same part of central Istria is very well known for the Motovun Film Festival, dedicated to the promotion of small and independent film productions. It is only one of the many events that you need to attend to if you are in Istria during summer and spring. In those months and in any other period of the year, here you can enjoy not only landscapes that many people compare to those in Tuscany, but also the fascinating Istrian gastronomy, wines and world-famous olive oils.
In the proximity of Motovun be sure to visit Grožnjan, a town of artists and music, whose art galleries, around 60 venues, will feed your soul. You will find the heart of Istria on your way to the eastern coast of the peninsula, in Pazin, the seat of Istria County, where the French writer Jules Verne, even though he never stayed here, found inspiration for his novel “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. It is believed he was inspired by the depths of the Pazin Grotto, that today can be crossed over by a zip line.
East and south – industrial heritage and ancient Rome
You will learn more about the depths of Istria if you visit Labin and its surroundings, an area known for its mining heritage, brought back into life for cultural and tourism purposes. In Labin you will get acquainted with the life and work of Matija Vlačić, the protestant reformer and a close collaborator of Martin Luther, born right here, in this corner of Istria, close to Rabac, which is today a very popular summer destination. During your trip to the most southern part of the Istrian peninsula, be sure to pay a short visit to the town of Vodnjan. In its church of Saint Blaise there is the world-famous collection of relics and “Vodnjan mummified” bodies of saints.
Around ten kilometres to the south there is the largest city in Istria, Pula, home to about a quarter of the total population of Istria County or to approximately 56 thousand people. Pula is widely known for its ancient monuments, among which the most important one is the Arena, one of the six largest and best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the whole world. It has been used for many years as a summer venue for the concerts of the world’s famous artists and as a stage for the oldest film festival in Croatia, the Pula Film Festival. In the Arena’s underground area there is a museum with a collection of amphorae, the vases once used for the transport of olive oils, wines and some other products. Close to the amphitheatre there is the archaeological site with the world’s largest collection of amphorae. An ex-factory for the production of amphorae and other types of vases gave the name to the town of Fažana. Situated 8 kilometres from Pula, Fažana is the closest port of departure for one of Croatia’s national parks, the islands of Brijuni.
Istria’s western coast – from the sea to… the stars
The top destination of Istria’s tourism is located on the western coast of the peninsula. It is Rovinj, which is considered by many people as the most romantic town in Croatia and which is also known as “the little Venice”. The picturesque alleys of its old town will delight you with the atmosphere, numerous art galleries and taverns. Near the town’s Zlatni Rt (Golden Cape) Forest Park there are some of the best Istrian and Croatian hotels.
About thirty kilometres further north, as soon as you leave behind Lim Channel, you will find Poreč, another important tourist centre on the Croatian coast. The town is known for its precious architectural gem, the Euphrasian Basilica, which has been on the UNESCO’s List of World Heritage sites for years now. A varied and rich tourist offer and a crystal-clear sea are the characteristics even of this part of Istria, where during the past years, thanks to the “MTV Summerblast” festival, was possible to enjoy performances of some of the stars of the world’s dance music scene. If you wish to be closer to real stars, you should visit the astronomical observatory in Tićan, located about 16 kilometres from Poreč, near Višnjan. This is the world’s second most successful astronomical observatory, after NASA, in the identification of asteroids representing a danger for our planet! The westernmost town in Croatia is Umag, which in 2018 boasted the title of the European City of Sports, being, among other things, the host of the famous ATP tennis tournament. Here it would be a pity to miss the chance to visit the oldest functioning lighthouse on the Adriatic. It is located in Savudrija, on a cape which is the westernmost point of the Republic of Croatia. All these places are situated 10 kilometres from the border between Croatia and Slovenia, which is for some people the beginning, for others the end of their visit to the Terra Magica.