Istria, the picturesque peninsula wearing out into the Adriatic in the very north of Croatia is much like a country in itself. Often referred to as little Tuscany, Istria even has Italian/Croatian bilingual schools and street signage. The rolling hills of Istria reveal a myriad of gems waiting to be discovered, from deep forests and hilltop hamlets to jagged cliffs and red-earthed vineyards. There is no doubt that Istria is a destination for all the senses to be utilized at the fullest. Find out where you will be using your five senses in Istria.
Bike Tour on the Parenzana Railway Trail
Istria has such a varied landscape; vineyards on rolling hills, ancient olive groves, tropical vegetation, sea vistas that reach Italy, carob forests, quaint villages… these are all sights for sore eyes. There is no better way to take in the Istrian panoramas than on the Parenzana narrow-gauge railway trail by bike. This 115 km railway trail connected Trieste with Poreč from 1902 to 1935 but has since been abandoned. Opt for the 60 km Parenzana route by bike and you will be guided through charming hamlets, Malvazija Istriana vineyards and family wineries, with the illylic Istrian landscape as a backdrop. Traverse the narrow strait as you explore the Istrian interior; stop in Buje for truffles at Zigante, get art-inspired in Grožnjan, step back in time in ancient Buje, stiff truffles in Livade, ascend to picturesque Motovun and take it all in as you rest in Vižinada.
Istrian Thermal Resort
Rejuvinate at Istarske Toplice, a thermal resort in Livade in the peninsula’s hinterland. The resort is nestled against a giant 85m high cliff where the Sveti Stjepan natural hot spring thrives. This spring has been used for therapeutic purposed since time can remember, by Roman conquerors to modern-day holiday makers. Feel the power of healing with a visit to Istarke Toplice; here you can indulge in treatments such as a warm olive oil and lavender massage, mud baths or simply soak in the sulphurous waters, that rank third in terms of quality in Europe, and let nature do its thing.
Istrian Winery Visits
Istria has become increasingly recognized globally for their premier wines, and for good reason. Their indigenous Malvazija Istriana white variety has gained quite a following and the famous glass producers, Riedel, have even designed a glass in its honor. Istria also has a fabulous Teran red variety, and noble varieties such as Merlot flourish in the red-earthed soil that cover this pristine landscape. If you haven’t sipped on a Malvazija Istriana in a winery, then you haven’t experienced Istria. A breathtaking winery is Kabola in Momjan, an illydic stone-house with blue shutters and a famoulous little tasting room where you can flavour their sumptuous selection paired with local olive oils, hams and truffles; it doesn’t get more Istrian than this!
Orhids at Cape Kamenjak
At the very southern end of the Istria is the Premantura peninsula, a green haven with Cape Kamenjak at its tip. Cape Kamenjak is a protected landscape with countless plant species, where the aromas of many protected orchids intertwine. A great way to test your sense of smell is to take a trek around the cape and sniff the endemic plants such as Serapias istriaca Perko and Serapias x pulae Perko before wondering amongst the largest concentration of the smallest orhid, Ophrys bombyliflora. In between inhaling floral aromas, take a daring cliff dives into the Adriatic.
Music for everyone!
Whether you are a techno buff, salsa aficionado or folk freak, Istria brings you the sounds that ring best in your ears. First up is Umagination, an electronic music sensation to kick-starts the summer season in Umag every year. This festival always has an impressive line-up the most famed DJ on the e-music scene, and thousands swarm to Croatia to rave for two unforgettable days to the piped tunes of stars like FatBoy Slim, Tiesto and Erick Morillo. For salsa lovers, head to the coastal town of Rovinj in summer in time for the Croatian Summer Salsa Festival, a salsa extravaganza where the winding streets of this Venetian town turns into a dance stage for 10 spectacular days. Alternatively, get closer to Istrian traditions and attend the Folk Fest in Oprtalj and listen to the tunes of traditional instruments as you look over the valley divided by the Mirna river. If you miss the sound of silence, find a secluded cove and just take in the sounds of crickets and splashing Adriatic.
Which senses will you be exploring in Istria this year?