Fun for Families in Istria, Croatia

Thanks to Heather Cowper, I now know where I’m vacationing next summer — Croatia! Heather visited Istria with her kids recently and I invited her to write a guest post about her experience. I didn’t realize there is such a strong Italian influence in that area until I read her commentary. I’m intrigued!

Rovinj in Istria

This summer I visited the heart shaped province of Istria in Northern Croatia, for a short break with my family. Istria surrounded on three sides by the sea and is close to Trieste on the Italian border. Between 1917 and 1945 Istria was part of Italy, so there is a strong Italian influence in the food and culture. Many of the old towns by the coast and inland have Venetian influence in  their architecture, and the landscape of the olive groves, poplars and old hill-top towns reminded me very much of Tuscany.

We stayed in the Plava Laguna (literally Blue Lagoon), close to the holiday town of Poreč, in the Hotel Laguna Molindrio. The resort certainly lived up to it’s name with stunning views over the sparkling blue sea, with the yachts bobbing in the marina and the rocky coastline clothed in pine woods. Istria is an ideal place for a holiday which combines natural coastal beauty, plenty of sport and resort entertainment, picturesque old towns and beautiful unspoilt countyside among vineyards and olive groves when you explore inland. We were there with our two children aged 12 and 14, and there’s a lot of variety to please families with children of all ages.

Here are some of the things we enjoyed …


Swimming in the lagoon at Plava Laguna

The coastline here is gorgeous, with rocky inlets and shady pine woods. As in the rest of Croatia, sandy beaches are rare and most of the swimming is done from the rocks or pebbly beaches. There are many swimming platforms, jetties and sheltered seawater pools set up to make it easier to swim, but you may need to buy plastic water shoes and choose your spot carefully if you have toddlers. Having said that, the water is clean and emerald green, with many interesting places to explore and great snorkling from the rocks. Almost all the resort hotels, apartment complexes and camp sites also had great pools, which could be an easier option for younger children.

Sports and Cycling

Cycling with my kids around Plava Laguna

Plava Laguna Resort and the whole of this part of the coast is well set up for sport, with tennis courts and excellent sports facilities — there was a water skiing loop right in front of our hotel. Many national teams come to this area to make use of the world class facilities and major tennis tournaments are also held here. A good way to get around is to hire bikes and cycle along the path which follows the sea through the pine woods, stopping every so often to take a cooling dip or buy an ice cream. There are also well-marked cycle trails through the olive groves and vineyards inland, taking in many points of interest along the way. You can hire a bike for the day and pick up a free map for these trails at your hotel, cycle shop or the tourist office.

Sightseeing in Poreč

Poreč is a bustling holiday town with a marina and harbour where you can take a sightseeing boat trip. We enjoyed wandering around the traffic-free old streets with mellow stone buildings and medieval architecture. You’ll find plenty of interesting squares to sit with a picnic or ice cream and lots of restaurants and cafes too. As the old town is surrounded on both sides by water you can see the locals swimming off the rocks here and enjoy the views of sparkling, clear water. Culture vultures will enjoy the beautiful golden mosaics in the Basilica of Eurphasius and you you can also climb up the bell tower for views over the town. From the Plava Laguna resort, we took the small tourist train through the pine woods and into Poreč which was a relaxing way to get around for families.

Visiting the hill-top towns

Old houses in Grožnjan

If you want to venture a little further afield, then hire a car for a day or two and venture inland to the old hill-top villages where you can park the car and then walk around the narrow old lanes and streets. We particularly enjoyed Grožnjan, which has become an artists’ town and now house many different galleries and artists’ studios. At nearby Motovan, you can walk around the old stone ramparts of the town with fantastic views over the countryside and this is the place to find many shops selling the local wines, olive oils and other gourmet products such as truffles.

Food and wine

Truffles at Zigante

Because of the Italian influence, pizza, pasta and ice cream are on almost every restaurant menu and the style is relaxed and family friendly. If you want to be a little more adventurous in your eating, then try the local specialties of dishes made with truffles. The area around Motovan is renowned for it’s truffles that grow in the moist soil of the nearby woodlands and the largest truffle in the world was found here. We tried the fresh pasta with a creamy sauce and shavings of fresh truffles, and you can buy jars of truffle paste and sauce to bring home. Along the coastal stretch near Rovinj you’ll find outstanding seafood, and our favourite meal was at the Limski Channel, a fjord like inlet famed for it’s clear water and farming of oysters and mussels. The Istrian wines are also excellent and widely served in every restaurant – because they don’t produce enough to export widely you should try them while you can, as you won’t find them at home.

We really enjoyed our family holiday in Istria and whether it’s swimming, culture, food or relaxation you’re after, you’ll find there’s something for all ages and tastes in this small self-contained region of Croatia. For more information on things to do and accommodations in Istria, you can visit the Istria Tourism website.

To read more about Heather’s experiences in Istria and a long list of other international destinations, be sure and check out her blog All of Heather’s photos of Istria are on her Flickr page


  1. Many thanks for featuring my guest post – I’d heartily recommend Istria as a great destination. I forgot to mention that because it’s outside the Euro zone, you’ll find the prices very reasonable compared to the rest of Europe. All the more ice creams for your money!

  2. We also found Croatia (especially villages on the coast) very child-oriented with lots of playgrounds and fun activities for kids.

  3. We also visited Croatia this summer and loved it. I agree with Heather that Istria is a wonderful family destination. I would recommend staying in or near Rovinj as it is a truly beautiful spot. Another highlight of our visit was the Premantura Penisula south of Pula. Kolombarica Beach is not to be missed. The cliff diving is amazing!
    After visiting Istria, we headed South to visit Plitivice Lakes National Park. It’s a World Heritage site and probably one of the most beautiful places in Croatia.
    Our next stop was the Island Bol. Ir’s not as popular as Hvar, but definitely worth a visit. The people were friendly, the food was delicious, and the town of Bol is charming. My kids (ages 9, 11 and 12) and I took Windsurfing lessons with instructors who spoke near perfect English. Meanwhile, my husband spend time on his new found passion: kiteboarding. Bol is the sports capitol of the Dalmatian Islands and a great family destination.
    We ended our two week long trip in Dubrovnik. The city was beautifully restored and a perfect end to a terrific family vacation.

  4. Istria as well as Croatia is especially child destination because it is quiet, small, nice and peaceful place to have proper holiday and enjoy Italian way of living and shared culture. All Istrian places are more interested to me than any other province in Croatia. Dubrovnik has its own personality but Istria is really something different that you need to taste. Nice stone houses, pasta and beautiful beaches is a big advantage of the whole area.

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