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 Heatheronhertravels.com. All of Heather’s photos of Istria are on her Flickr page.