Istra, Croatia - My Travel Guide to a Hidden Gem
Motovun, Premantura, Rovinj
It is time for a travel post! Due to coronavirus, most of us naturally had to cancel our travel plans and instantly forget about the attractive destinations we have been eagerly waiting to explore for so long. Instead of giving up traveling, this was an excellent opportunity for each one of us to get to explore the beauties and unknown corners of our home country. After all, if you genuinely think about it, we tend to spend thousands of euros on trips to remote islands, before discovering our own! Why not revise that and support local tourism? :)
I am half-Croatian and am generally used to spending my summer holidays under one same palm tree. Don’t get me wrong - I typically prefer active holidays, but as I know I can always come back to Croatia, I don’t experience the rush to travel through it often. Once the pandemic has calmed down a bit and it has become allowed to travel through the country (before you could only move in your municipality), I carefully decided to visit a few cities I haven’t been to for years. Looking back, this was such a good idea, as I gained a fresh, new perspective on the country.
Why visit Istria
When visiting Croatia, most tourists go to Dalmatia, the southern part of the country. Popularly known for its party scene and as the prime location for many Game of Thrones episodes, it undoubtedly is worth visiting.
However, the prominent Northern part of Croatia, less popular among the youth but well known by experienced travelers, is a must-see Mediterranean gem. Located at the head of the Adriatic, the Istrian region is shared by three countries: Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. Popularly known for its lovely nature, medieval villages, delicious food, charming islands, and beautiful coast, the Italian-like county was my favorite choice this time. With that in mind, I will use the following post to introduce you to my favorite spots in Istria - Rovinj, Motovun and Premantura.
Arts and Culture in Rovinj
In case you’re seeking an artsy city, Rovinj is the ideal place to go. Located on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula, the old town is one of the most romantic destinations in the Medditeranean.
As the Montmartre of Croatia, it has been gathering accomplished painters, talented singers, local poets and successful actors for decades. Fun fact: The town is officially bilingual, therefore, you will hear Italian and Croatian spoken by most residents!
The historic Old Town area remains my local favorite - it has many magnificent galleries, jewelry stores, and local cafes spread around the hill. Although it is reasonably easy to get lost while wandering on the cobblestone streets, make sure to keep walking towards the visible top of the hill. Why? Because there, you will find St. Euphemia Cathedral, the cathedral dating from the 17th century and powerfully built by Venetians. This area for sure offers the worthiest skyline, and you can enjoy the stunning view of the sea from the park next to it.
Here are some of my preferred places to visit when there:
The Art Gallery Brek is conveniently located in the old town, and it is great to visit in case you want to buy local, authentic art. Besides paintings and unique sculptures from local artists, you can also purchase handmade souvenirs and jewelry. Every time I visit this place, I enjoy a pleasant chat with the staff, who always share the most unique insights about their work and the city. The gallery is also relatively affordable, so you can definitely find gifts for friends and family over here.
Would you like to explore every corner of the country, but simply don’t have enough time? Then visiting ‘Mini Croatia’ represents an attractive alternative. The cultural museum that showcases Croatia in a specific area of 5,500 m² helps you get to know the country in only a few hours. Hence, instead of traveling for days and spending weeks, you can check out different landscapes and landmarks, cities and mountains on a small scale. What I cherish about the park is that it contains over 300 various regional plants, typical for the Mediterranean. In case you have kids, there is furthermore a small zoo with goats, donkeys, and other farm animals, which is often very exciting for the youngest visitors. The museum is open from April to October and typically costs only 3 euros to get inside. It is also about two kilometers from the historic city center of Rovinj, so you can easily cycle or walk there. PS. In case you’re arriving in Rovinj by plane, the best city to land in common is Pula. Airport Pula is only 40 minutes away from Rovinj and has good connections with other European cities.
Sea and Nature in Premantura
Do you like wild, rocky, natural beaches? Then Croatia is the best choice. In case you expect a sandy coast, you will be saddened as that is super rare over here. As nature is still relatively intact in Istria, the only thing that has been carefully shaping our extensive coastline are the waves. Hence, a picturesque village I would definitely recommend visiting is called Premantura. Strategically located on the top southernmost tip of the Istrian peninsula, it offers over 30 km of the beautiful coastline with several coves and pristine beaches.
My favorite beach is called Rt Kamenjak, which is moreover a protected nature reserve. With its clear blue water and cliff diving opportunities, it is perfect for adventurous travelers. As it can be a bit difficult to reach this area by car, I enthusiastically recommend renting a bicycle. It typically takes you about 30 minutes to arrive at the shore. There, you can also rent a kayak, surf with friends, and relax in cool beach bars on the lovely coast. My favorite bar is the Safari Bar, a beach bar, and a resort that gives you the vibe you’re in the middle of a jungle. Hence, once you’re done from sunbathing and jumping from cliffs, go grab a refreshing drink or delicious calamari over here:
Wine and food in Motovun
In case you’re visiting Istria and would naturally like to try out some delicious food, then Motovun is the proper place to go. The miniature village in central Istria has around 900 local inhabitants and is, therefore, an underrated gem among most of the tourists.
If you visit it in late August, I recommend checking out the Motovun Film Festival, which happens every year and lasts for five or six days. The cultural event is popular among the local youth and backpackers. Every year, the town traditionally places a camp for visitors on the foothills of the city, so you can just come there and put up their tent.
Istria is popularly known for its delicious food and drinks - from local fish and calamari to truffles and excellent wine. I love truffles, and luckily, the local forest in Motovun has plenty of them. Every morning during the season, men with dogs carefully search for them, and truth be told, they carry out an amazing job at this.
My favorite restaurant is called ‘ Pod Voltom’, which means ‘Under the Arch’. Located in the historic heart of the city, it occupies a beautiful terrace that offers charming sights in the countryside. Although it is one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the city, it gives you an intimate atmosphere and is therefore perfect for a romantic night out!
As might be expected, I could write for hours and hours about the beauty of Croatia, but if I reveal all of its secrets, there will be nothing to explore. Instead of visiting the most popular places, I really recommend checking these ones out. You won’t regret it! Have you ever been to Istria and what are your thoughts? I am curious to hear about your unique experiences!
Love, Una xx
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