When I travel, plan my travels or just read about traveling, I like to browse trough the itineraries- usually, I don't stick to them blindly, but they are a nice well of inspiration and information. Given that I couldn't find many itineraries for travelers eager to explore our beautiful Istria, I made a little list myself, hoping that it could be useful to someone. At least to my friend Brandon, who is visiting this year and I can't wait to show him around. :)
Day 1: Pula
Whether or not you decide to stay in Pula, it is the biggest Istrian city and an unmissable stop during your trip to Istria. Pula is mostly known for its Roman heritage: namely, one of the best preserved amphitheatres, called Arena, triumphal arch of the Sergi (the so-called "Golden Gate"), temple of Augusts etc. But it is also an industrial city, with a working shipyard, which can be quite a scene if you stroll the waterfront by night and the cranes light up (every hour on the hour). One of the highlights is the central Market (or Merkat as locals call it), which aside of the beautiful Austro-Hungarian building and a lovely chestnut allee in front of it, has an extraordinary abundance of fresh local produce. You can find lavender honey, tasty cheeses, wild mushrooms, asparagus, sweetest fruit (in the summer!), olive oil... And if you're feeling hungry after seeing all this, then I would strongly suggest you to have a lunch at Trattoria Vodnjanka. They serve simple Istrian dishes "nonna style" (as if they were cooked by Istrian grandma), with only local and high quality produce. In the evening, have a drink at the beautiful main square Forum in a bar called Cvajner, popular among locals and with a great selections of beer and schnaps.
Day 2: Cape Kamenjak
Today is a day for relaxing, soaking up the fresh salty air, gaze at the sea, swim if the season is right, cycle or walk in the beatiful protected landscape of Cape Kamenjak. After all, you just travelled to Istria yesterday and already did a day of sightseeing in Pula, so why not give your self a little break? You can reach Cape Kamenjak in just a 15 minutes drive from Pula. If you choose to go within the borders of the park by car, you will have to pay the entrance fee (5 Euros) from May to October. If you choose to go by foot or by bycicle (which I recommend), then the entrance is free of charge. You can take the walking/cycling road that goes all around the peninsula, making breaks at whichever of the 30 bays you fancy. Stop for a drink in Safari Bar on the tip of the peninsula- it's a peculiar place that resembles a jungle with playground for kids and grownups (think human-size hamster wheel, giant swings, table tennis, steep wooden observatory...). After a day spent on the most beautiful coastline in Istria, endulge in a tasty dinner in Konoba Ancora in Premantura, a village that boarders the park. I usually enjoy pasta (try the raviolli!), fish dishes and desserts there, but they have some good meet meals as well, friendly staff and good prices.
Day 3: Rovinj
Rovinj is my favorite town in Istria, and not just because I used to spend my summer holidays there when I was a kid. It is a favorite tourist destination in Istria- narrow stone paved streets, laundry hanging between the houses, a bunch of chic restaurants, galleries and shops, colorful houses, lively fishing port, amazing view from the square in front of the cathedral on top of the city and the best Italian gelato in Istria, fairly defend its popularity. I usually take a walk on the waterfront, pass by the colorful port and head in the direction of main town beach (taking some photos along the way). When I reach the square in front of the St Euphemia cathedral, I usually spend some time there sitting on the wall, gazing at the sea and the islets of the Rovinj archipelago. If you feel adventureous, you can climbe the bell tower for a truly amazing view of the orange rooftops and the immense blue of the sea surrounding the peninsula of the old town. For a tasty dinner, I would suggest Restaurant Tipico and Konoba Veli Jože. Skip the dessert and take a walk to the Gelateria Italia, you won't regret it.
Day 4: Fažana and Brijuni National park
Fažana is a charming little town near Pula (abot 15 minutes drive), which also serves as a port for ships that take visitors to the Brijuni National Park. This National park is an archipelago of 14 islands and islets, known for its beauty but also as a residency of formal Yugoslav president- Tito, who introduced the exotic animals and subtropic plants to the largest, Veli Brijun island. You can definitely spend a day walking, cycling or driving little electric cars along its meadows and forests, or take an archeological route exploring its Roman and Byzantine legacy. Finish the day with a walk along Fazana's waterfront and have a simple fish dinner at Fish Food Antonio.
Day 5: Grožnjan, Motovun and Buje
This would be one of my favorite days spent in Istria. Grožnjan, Motovun and Buje, all of them medieval hilltop towns, each of them charming in its own way. My personal favorite is Grožnjan, because of its cobbled streets filed with flowers, its greenery, its artsy vibe and beautiful vistas. It was brought back to life in the sixties, since the artists started gathering here and opening studios and galleries, and since the annual summer school for young musicians was established. As you hop from gallery to gallery, you can hear the music resonating through its narrow streets. Motovun is famous for its film festival (held in summer), and amazing views of the peaceful Mirna river valley. Buje may not be as romantic as Groznjan and Motovun, but it is still a charming hilltop town with beautiful main square and its peculiar church facade. For a better view of the Istrian countryside, climb the high bell tower, and then reward yourself with probably the most amazing meal of your Istrian trip. Konoba Malo Selo in Kaldanija near Buje serves the most amazing grilled steaks, truffle dishes and pies (you have to try the gibanica pie, made of walnuts, apples and fresh cheese!) in a cozy and relaxed atmoshpere. The owners (mother and daughter, the cook and the main waitress) are darlings. Enjoy!
Day 6: Poreč, Baredine cave and Lim fjord
Today is a day for savoring both culture and beautiful Istrian nature. Head to Poreč, a town located about 50 minutes drive from Pula. Poreč is home to one of the finest examples of early Byzantine art on the Mediterranean, the Euphrasian basilica. There you'll find golden mosaics adorning the apse and the triumphal arch, whose beauty can be compared to famous mosaics in the San Vitale church in Ravenna, Italy. The complex which consist of the basilica, a baptistery, a sacristy and a bell tower has made to the Unesco World Heritage list in 1997.
After visiting the man made beauty of Euphrasiana, it's time to see some pure nature beauty near the city, the Baredine cave. It is well adapted to visitors who can take a tour down to its lowest chamber with a little underground lake, about 60 meters deep. The lake is home of the endemic species of aquatic salamander called olm or proteus, which can be found in the caves of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia.
As the end of the day approaches, on your way back to Pula, stop at the Lim fjord, a 10 km long estuary of the river Pazinčica. Thanks to its combination of fresh and salty water, it is breeding ground for fish, as well as a grest spot to grow mussels. Most of the visitors come for fresh oysters and a swim in the clean waters of canal.
Day 7: Medieval Bale, wine tasting in Višnjan, dinner at Banjole
As it can be observed, I am quite enthusiastic about picturesque Istrian medieval towns. So, pack your picking bag and drive to the medieval town of Bale, situated between Pula and Rovinj. Get lost in its maze of cobbled streets and stone houses, wander at the gothic-renaissance plalace of the Bembo family, and have a drink at the well-known artsy restaurant-bar called Kamene priče. In August, Last Minute Open Jazz Festival takes place on the romantic piazza in front of the Bembo palace, and is free of charge for all visitors.
A trip to Istria wouldn't be complete without tasting some of the famous Istrian wines, namely Malvazija (white) and Teran (red). My suggestion would be to drive to Višnjan, a little hilltop town known for its Observatory, but also as a region of good wines. My favorite wine-maker is Poletti with its fragrant malvazija, but you can visit others as well, just be sure to announce your visit a day before.
After some seriously good wine tasting, and presumably loaded with a few bottles of wine, head to the Višnjan Observatory. It has become a favorite day trip (or evening-trip) spot of locals and tourists alike thanks to a couple of enthusiastic scientists who organize workshops for kids, nights under the skies and lectures on astronomy there. The building itself is beautiful, and so is a large meadow surrounding it. You can have a picnic there, or if the Observatory is open for visitors, engage in a communication with the astronomists, they always have something interesting to say!
As today is your last day in Istria, treat yourself with a dinner at the famous (well-deserved!) restaurant Batelina in Banjole, near Pula. You have to book in advance, as they only take reservations, and if you're visiting during summer season, call at least a week in advance to ensure a table. It will be well worth it. In any case, try everything of the starters they serve that day, as it will be the highlight of the dinner. Think fish pates, Istrian style sushi, crunchy fish chips, acommpanied with home made bread and excellent local wines. What you'll order after starters is up to you, just don't skip starters!
I hope you've had a lovely week in Istria and that by now, you have already decided to visit again. In the meantime, don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions regarding good places to eat, secret gems or lovely local places to stay! Have you ever been to Istria? Please share your thoughts if you have!