Istria is the most diverse tourism region in Croatia , due to its natural particularities, its rich cultural monumental heritage, its location, and its transportation position. Istria is the largest peninsula of the eastern coast of the Adriatic and takes the leading position in Croatian tourism.
The climate is Mediterranean with elements of continental. The most famous natural heritage includes: Brijuni National park, Lim Bay (sea reserve), Motovun Forest, Kontija near Vrsar (vegetation reserve), the Pazin abyss (geo-morphological reserve), the Istrian spa region and the islands of Rovinj (characteristic landscapes). Tourism options available include excursions, naturism, hunting, sports, nautical, medicinal, congressional, and rural tourism.
Istria is the largest peninsula of the entire Riviera and it is situated on an area of 3160 km 2. It is a unique region where central Europe descends to the warm Adriatic Sea . It is in this very place that the sea cuts deepest into the center of Europe , surrounding Istria on two sides. Due to the vicinity of the Mediterranean Sea , the winters are snow-less, and the summers are long, sunny, and warm. Istria peninsula is among the sunniest oases in Europe and at the same time, it seduces with its cosmopolitan charm, picturesque landscapes, medieval towns set on the top of hills, and its beautiful coast.
From the tourism point of view, Istria is the most developed region of Croatia. The people of Istria live for tourism and from tourism. The most significant tourism centres are located on the west coast and they follow in a row all the way down to the largest Croatian port, Rijeka , situated at the peak of Kvarner Bay. Along the coast of Istria , there are eleven modern marinas. Situated in the inland region are the medicinal Istrian Spas, numerous hunting grounds, picturesque towns and the smallest town in the world, Hum. There is a nature reserve here, the famous Motovun Forest , and the capital of Istria County – Pazin.
The culture of Istria , the largest peninsula on the Adriatic coast, was historically determined by the development of small towns, the blending of various cultural traditions and the bonding of the cultures of continental life with life on the sea. Among the towns in the inland part of Istria , the ones that stand out in terms of the number of the inhabitants are Buzet, Pazin, Motovun, Zminj, and Buje.
Motovun is one of the most picturesque Istrian towns, situated on top of a hill in the idyllic Mirna River valley. Not far from the town is the Motovun Forest where one can find truffles, a local gastronomical delicacy. As of recently, the town also hosts an international film festival.
The coastal part of Istria at the northwestern end is defined by the old fishing village of Savudrija , where the forest is closest to the sea. Here, preserved and still in function, is the tallest lighthouse on the Adriatic from the nineteenth century, when the beginnings of tourism began to develop in Savudrija. At this time, the first holiday resorts began to emerge, attracting guests from Europe due to the exceptional serenity and gentleness of the coastal landscape. Many local inns offer a wonderful combination of continental and Mediterranean cuisine. In the nearby town of Zambratija , a public festival is held at the end of July to honour St. Mary Magdalene. A peculiarity of this area is the old way of keeping fishing boats, which are hung on a wooden construction on the beach.
Further south down the coast is the ancient town of Umag , several times outgrown by nearby tourism hotels and apartment complexes. Umag has been the host of the ATP tour Croatia Open for ten years, and the town has also become famous as the place of the most comprehensive design project in recent Croatian culture. There is a well-equipped marin a in the town – the destination of many boaters sailing the Adriatic .
To the south of Umag is the town of Novigrad , which can be reached by a pleasant ride along the coast. It is situated on the north side of the bay of the Mirna River . Novigrad has a long tourism tradition that stretches back to the end of the past century, and today it attracts the modern nomads who enjoy bathing in the traditionally clean sea, hunting in the Mirna valley, canoeing on the river, or listening to the music of jazz bands in the evening hours at the annual summer jazz festival held in the town. The customs of the traditional people can best be seen at the end of August during the three-day celebration of St. Pelagius, the patron saint of the town.
Further down the coast is the town of Porec , likely the Istrian town with the greatest wealth of historical monuments. The old structure of the Roman streets has been preserved in the center of the town, as has the complex of the Euphrasian Basilica from the 6 th century, with its beautiful mosaics from the period of Emperor Justinian. The Basilica is included on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. There are also several well-preserved Romanesque and Gothic residential buildings. The town is surrounded by beaches that are also accessible on the Island of St. Nicholas , situated before the town core. In the town of Porec itself and in its vicinity, the pine forests extend almost to the sea. The tradition of tourism in Porec is very old – it is interesting to note that the town had its first tourist guide as early as 1845. The town can be reached by boat that can dock in the marin a, or fly in with a sports aircraft to the airfield in the nearby town of Vrsar .
Not far from Porec is the town of Rovinj , situated on a very indented shore with many little nearby islands. The beauty of the town resulted in the opening of the first sanatorium and health spa as early as the nineteenth century, which can be regarded as the prehistory of tourism. The town was built on a small island and was first mentioned in the 7 th century. The town was later connected with the continent. The Cathedral of St. Euphemia dominates the town with its sixty-meter tall bell tower, topped by a statue of the town’s patron saint.
Particularly beautiful are the islands of St. Catherine and St. Andrew in front of the town as well as Red Island , where a Benedictine monastery, later expanded into a Franciscan monastery, stood before it was turned into a castle and finally a hotel. In Rovinj, there is also a marin a that provides shelter for boaters throughout the year, after a tiring day of sailing.
Pula is the largest Istrian city that developed on the site of a former Illyrian settlement and a Roman colony. It is possible to sail into the city through the interesting Bay of Pula , well-reputed since the old days as a safe haven for ships, and dock in the marin a which is in the very center of the town. Since ancient times and to this day, a large amphitheater from the 1 st – 2 nd century that can hold over twenty thousand people has been preserved. There is also the Triumphal Arch of the Sergians from the 1 st century and the Temple of Augustus from the same century next to which, on the site of the former Forum, there was previously another temple which today is preserved only as a single wall in the town hall from the 13 th century. In front of the former town gates was the large Roman cemetery, mentioned by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy, in the 9 th verse of the Inferno. A walk through the center of Pula is a passage through history, which has left its mark in every part of the city.
Early tourism in Pula was related to culture and history as the first groups of tourists were admirers of antiquity who organized visits to the city. Pula has been host to a film festival for fifty years, with projections held in the Roman Amphitheatre. There is also an international airport close to the city. Not far from Pula , in the sea at the town of Fazana , is Brijuni National Park, a place of special character recognized since ancient times. The picturesque quality of the Brijuni Islands attracts people in search of serenity and natural beauty, which the remains of Roman architecture bear witness to even today. Near Pula are the towns of Medulin, a place of beautiful beaches, and Barban, a picturesque Medieval settlement where the game of knighthood “Race on a Ring” has been held in the second half of August since the seventeenth century. Further north towards the Raša canyon is the town of Raša , the youngest settlement in Istria , erected in the 1930s for the functioning of the nearby coal mine. Today it is a beautiful example of the modern architecture of that period. The center of the former complex of coalmines is the town of Labin where today, after the end of the exploitation of the coal, the mineshaft serve as a tourist attraction and a place of international cultural and artistic exchange in the Labin Art Express Programm. The Istrian inland consists of medieval stone villages, surrounded by rural houses and bowers. The rural estates are ready to welcome all guests who want to spend time in nature, enjoy peace and quiet, and the freshness of the inland, to live in the authentic houses, far from the city crowds and business, while only a half hour drive or one hour bicycle ride away from the sea. Various activities offer relaxation and the favorite is bicycling along the almost one thousand kilometers of well developed panoramic bicycle paths that pass by churches, monuments, small villages, and wine roads.
And what else should we emphasize? The magic of the landscape, the stone nests – towns on top of hills, the Castle of Pazin – the most preserved medieval castle in Istria, the famous wall paintings of Vincent of Kastav in Beram, the Glagolitic gates of the smallest town in the world, Hum, the beauty and the richness of the national costumes, the special Istrian melody, the Istrian ox- “boškarin”, one of the symbols of Istria, the famous Istrian cuisine, the wines – high quality, aromatic, white and red.