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Croatia's Istrian Riviera


I am often inspired by long-haul trips but there are some closer to home destinations that are equally rousing - the stunning Istrian Riviera is one of them.

Many visitors to Croatia, especially first timers, head for Dubrovnik or Split but I promise you this area is something special.

The Pula region, known as the Istrian Riviera, is a triangular peninsula dangling off the Adriatic coast just below Slovenia and the north-east coast of Italy.

The area is served by three airports - Trieste, Pula or Rijeka - all between a half hour and two-hour drive from any point on the peninsula.

Steeped in history and often compared to Italy’s Tuscany, the Istrian Riviera is the largest Adriatic peninsula, with miles of dramatic jagged coastline begging to be discovered.


The bustling seaside resorts are a hive of activity with a variety of cafes, restaurants and bars.

Venture inland and you will find thick green forests, vineyards and olive groves stretching to the horizon, stunning national parks and historical walled towns.

Every part of this heart shaped peninsula has an intriguing story to discover.

The Istrian Riviera also happens to be a culinary gem of a destination. Its best-known foodie treasures include olive oil, wine, Istrian prosciutto (dry-cured ham), boskarin (Istrian ox) steak, oysters and seafood, pastas, sheep and goat’s cheeses, truffles and seasonal vegetables and fruit.

I have hugely enjoyed several holidays along this gorgeous coastline and have picked out a few highlights as an introduction to those wishing to consider a visit.



Umag is the westernmost town in Croatia, located just 10km from the Slovenian border. Its popular riviera is about 20km long with a coastline full of pretty little bays and an old town filled with attractive and narrow, cobbled streets. It is well known for its marina and the international tennis centre which hosts the Croatian Open ATP event every July.


Located in the centre of the Istrian Riviera, Poreč is a charming resort stretching across a peninsula that looks out onto a cluster of exotic islands.

A historic haven but with lots of modern twists, it features a tranquil harbour, protected by the island of Saint Nicholas, Roman architecture, Venetian houses and the UNESCO listed ancient monument, the Byzantine Basilica along with plenty of modern pavement cafes, bars and restaurants.

Relaxing on the beach is enticing or explore the maze of narrow cobbled streets. The car-free zone is dotted with quaint shops, churches and restaurants, and is perfect for a relaxing stroll.


For me, Rovinj - resplendent with some amazing Venetian architecture - is coastal Istria’s star attraction.

The old town is contained within an egg-shaped peninsula, webbed with steep cobbled streets and small squares, and punctuated by a tall church tower rising from its highest point.

Originally an island, it was connected to the mainland in 1763 when the narrow channel separating it was filled.

Rovinj has become a popular tourist destination for couples and families alike, with its lovely beaches, shallow waters, choice of watersports, wonderful views over the Adriatic and a splendid selection of restaurants serving fresh local cuisine.

Croatia's first Michelin star restaurant, MONTE is situated in Rovinj.


Bathed in a wealth of ancient history, the region’s capital Pula, one of Croatia’s largest towns, is located on the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula.

The well-preserved UNESCO site of Pula Arena, built in the 1st century AD, is one of the world’s largest surviving roman amphitheatres, once used for gladiator fights and now the centre of city life, hosting events and festivals.

The sea here is beautifully clear and there are a variety of beaches to be enjoyed, including the family-friendly and blue-flagged Ambrela, popular due to its crystal-clear shallow waters and velvet sands.

Good shopping, excellent museums and art galleries also add to the mix in this delightful seaside town.

Seagull’s Rocks Beach, Pula
Seagull’s Rocks Beach, Pula

There are also several excellent trips you can take from this area, including one I would highly recommend to the Brijuni group of fourteen small islands and islets, separated from the west coast of the Istrian peninsula by the Fazana Strait.

With much to explore by foot or rented bike, scooter or golf cart, attractions include a national park, museum, botanical gardens and churches.

Brijuni National Park
Brijuni National Park

The Venetian Empire had a long and far-reaching influence on the peoples of Istria and Venice is easily accessible from the peninsula.

The city, directly across the Adriatic, is reached in two and a half hours by a fast ferry that departs from Poreč or Pula in the morning, returning in the early evening.

From Poreč, you can also reach Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, in two and a half hours, and the stunning Lake Bled in 3 hours.

Istria is a fantastic choice for those seeking a holiday that offers superb food and wine experiences, beautiful landscapes, charming coastal towns and plenty of cultural and historical sites.

A typical coastal restaurant in Istria
A typical coastal restaurant in Istria


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