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Croatia is a destination that has been gaining a lot of interest in recent years. However, most visitors are attracted by its Dalmatian coastline of dreamy islands and turquoise blue waters. Also, for important cities such as Dubrovnik, a World Heritage Site and the setting for the famous series Game of Thrones.
But Croatia has other great destinations that are less crowded and far from the usual traveler circuit. This is the case of Istria, this peninsula located in the northwest of the country that hides a treasure yet to be discovered. It is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic and makes a wonderful getaway.
It could be said that in this peninsula there are two different universes. On the one hand, we have the blue Istria which is coastal and full of fishing ports and charming towns like Rovinj and Pula. And on the other is the green Istria of the interior which is often called the Croatian Tuscany.
Until the mid-20th century, Istria belonged to the Italians, which is why a large part of its population is still bilingual. This also shows in its architecture, the warmth and hospitality of its people and, of course, its purely Mediterranean gastronomy.
Croatian Tuscany is colored with Medieval villages crowning its hills, Roman ruins, fortifications, vineyards and olive groves. Furthermore, its geographical position has made it a region with a strong Italian influence.
Visiting Istria: What to See and Do
This nice little tour through the secondary roads of Istria will take you to many beautiful medieval villages hidden in the mountains.
This charming medieval-looking village is perched on a hill overlooking the Mirna River Valley. It has an impressive walled watchtower with a rich historical heritage that deserves at least a day’s visit.
Motovun was part of the Venetian Republic between 1278 and 1797 and you can still see this influence in its architecture. Its medieval old town became a World Heritage Site in 2007.
The best way to visit it is to leave the car at the entrance of the village and walk through its walls to enter the old town. You will be greeted by cobbled streets, beautiful gardens, charming old houses and souvenir and truffles stores.
Best Tips & Tools to Plan Your Trip
The truffle is its product par excellence. The Mirna Valley is home to the production of this prized product and year after year is an attraction for lovers of the tasty fungus.
Don’t miss a visit to the Baroque church of San Stefano. Here you can look out over its walls and see green fields, vineyards and in the distance the Croatian coast. The panoramic view is breathtaking, especially at sunset. It is best to sit on one of the terraces and enjoy a delicious dinner while admiring the scenery.
The next stop on the route is Hum, a 40-minute drive from Motovun. Along the way it is also worth stopping to visit the villages of Buzet and Roč.
Hum is another of the charming villages of inland green Istria in Croatia. Here time seems to have stopped in the Middle Ages. The dimensions of this town are tiny, yet its cultural heritage is immense.
It is so tiny that the Guinness Book of Records named it the smallest town in the world with only 25 inhabitants. In fact, it is unusual for an urban center with such a small population and territorial extension to even be considered a town.
This small medieval town lost in the heart of Istria is full of charming corners. Touring the whole town will take less than two hours, but the experience and the memory of Hum will stay with you.
Walk through its quiet medieval streets and discover its solid cobbled houses. There are also treasures to be found such as documents written in Glagolitic, the oldest known Slavic alphabet. This alphabet dates to the 9th century and was used in Istria until the 19th century.
This waterfall is located on the Pazinicia river, a 10-minute drive from the beautiful town of Pazin. It is a much lesser-known spot than Motovun or even the small town of Hum, but it is also worth a visit.
Zarecki Krov falls forcefully over a huge cave that acts as a roof over the river. In this way, its waters form a drop of almost 10 meters which gives rise to a natural, deep pool.
During the summer people come here to swim in its waters, go hiking or have a picnic. However, the best time to visit this waterfall is autumn. In this season it is quite a spectacle as its crystal-clear turquoise waters contrast with the autumn colors.
It is one of the largest waterfalls on the Istrian peninsula and is part of the unexplored nature of this region.
This town is the capital of Istria County, but despite its importance in the region it still retains its village essence. In Pazin, it is essential to visit the ancient fortress known as Montecuccoli Castle, its most important historical building.
This fortress is located on the edge of a high cliff, so climbing up here is quite a spectacle. In addition, below the castle is the Pazin Cave, another of the wonders of this place. It is a karst cave and you can discover its interior through a guided tour.
Istria is the perfect choice for those travelers looking for a destination out of the ordinary. A place that combines excellent gastronomy, beautiful landscapes and charming villages. It is a real treat for the senses.
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Start planning your exciting adventure to Istria today. Get prepared with insider tips on how to get around, hotel and VRBO accommodations, local restaurant reviews and more through TripAdvisor and Travelocity.
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Author Bio: Based in France, Lucia Otero Medraño is Spanish with a master’s degree in travel journalism. She has worked in the tourism sector but her true passion is to live enriching experiences and discover amazing places around the world and write about them. In her spare time, she likes to enjoy her second passion, music.