Visit Istria & Get Off The Beaten Path With These Lesser Known Stops
Istria, the triangle-shaped peninsula in northwestern Croatia, is an increasingly popular tourist destination. It’s easy to see why. Offering a fun mix between Italian and Croatian cultures, Istria is a place of gorgeous architecture, superb culinary specialties, and incredible landscapes.
The Istrian coast is lined with resorts and all kinds of tourist facilities. In certain places, it’s hard to find some authenticity. Rovinj is an exception, though, one of the last true fishing villages in the Adriatic. Rovinj is extraordinarily photogenic, set on a round peninsula and boasting a charming old town center.
The people who do venture into the Istrian heartland often limit their excursion to Motovun, the region’s most popular hilltop town. And yes, Motovun is strikingly beautiful as well—definitely worth a visit. However, to get a taste of the “real” Istria, untouched by mass tourism, we suggest that you also visit some of the following off-the-beaten-path places in Istria.
Završje lies in the northwestern part of Istria, not too far from Motovun. Also perched scenically atop a hill, this is a real architectural gem. Built with wood and stone, Završje is definitely one of the most off-the-beaten-path places in Istria. Few tourists ever go there. Those who do, love the experience.
This is not a big town by any means. If anything, it’s a village. Built atop a prehistoric fort and of strategic importance to the Romans, its roots go back thousands of years. Medieval and, later, Venetian noblemen also recognized the town’s beauty and significance, adding more fortifications.
Therefore, even though it’s less-visited, Završje has lots to check out. From its palace and castle to the Church of St. Mary and the Church of St. Rocco, there are plenty of architectural highlights, especially considering how small it actually is. Another notable feature is the Three Istrian Musketeers cycling route.
In the same area as Završje, also near Motovun, Oprtalj is yet another of the Istrian hilltop towns that are worth visiting. This small town also features fortified town walls, a bell tower, and winding alleyways. It’s a fantastic place to immerse yourself in the rich history and fascinating folklore of Istria.
Oprtalj’s churches are adorned with works of art while the restaurant which overlooks the valley below serves traditional dishes—don’t forget to try the local truffles if you have not already! Gastronomy plays a significant role in the story of tourism in Oprtalj. It has many farms, and agricultural taverns are places that you should definitely check out when you visit Istria.
Try to plan your visit to Oprtalj around the town’s famous chestnut fair – known as a kestenijada! We spent a glorious day at the fair with the two kids. Between the huge kid’s park, music, beer, wine, food and of course chestnuts, there is plenty to keep you (and the kids) happy for many hours.
Entrance is free, and the prices of food and drinks are very reasonable.
We used Livade as our base for exploring a section of Istria recently. We did so for several reasons:
- For it’s close proximity to Motovun and the surrounding villages we planned to explore in Istria
- We found a place on Airbnb that has views across to Motovun, and that had a heated swimming pool
- The Zigante Truffle festival takes place here for 10 weekends over September, October, and November – and we wanted to spend time eating and drinking our way around the festival.
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Livade itself is small, but it makes a great base for central Istria. There is a market, and several coffee spots as well as several wonderful restaurants. I totally recommend Konoba Dorjana. A blog reader suggested it to me, and my Airbnb host also gave it the local thumbs up – we ate two of our best meals there! Try the game goulash as well as the homemade fuži with truffles.
The Zigante Truffle Festival is definitely worth a few hours. There are many exhibits, with loads of free samples to try before you buy. There is also a very spacious eating area inside and outside for you to enjoy the dishes on offer.
We loved the truffle eggs, truffle burger and truffle chips with a truffle mayonnaise! But there was also truffle pasta and truffle tiramisu – if you can belive that!
Speaking of Zigante, Livade is also home to the famous Zigante Restaurant. And, trust me, if you like fine dining and truffles, you want to save your holiday pennies and eat here. It’s not cheap, but the food is something out of this world and the experience is worth the extra kuna. You can read about what I ate here.
Situated deep in the center of Istria, far away from the coastal crowds, Hum is self-proclaimed as the smallest town in the world—but, not officially as in the Guinness Book of World Records that we can see. Although its population ranges at around just twenty, it is an official town – with a mayor and all.
Just this fact alone would make it an interesting place to visit, but there’s more to it than that. This tiny village consists of no more than about a dozen a stone houses and is entirely encircled by a stone wall. It’s definitely surprising that such a small place needed to be fortified at a particular point in its history, a testimony to the fact that this region was once much contested, a fertile landscape valuable to a number of foreign powers.
Attractions in and around Hum include the Glagolitic Alley, a three-kilometer-long walkway lined with massive stone monuments, the Romanic Chapel of St. Jerolim, and the stone streets, buildings and walls. You may also want to explore the lush landscapes in the area, home to truffle forests, meadows and hills.
Situated in the southwestern corner of the Istrian peninsula, about twenty kilometers from Pula. This medieval town, its origins lying in the Roman stronghold known as Castrum Vallis, is sometimes regarded as the best-kept secret in Istria.
Constructed entirely from stone, it features a labyrinth of cobbled streets lined with old stone townhouses, a Gothic-Renaissance castle and the 36-meter-high bell tower of the St. Julian Church.
A laid back and welcoming atmosphere await you in this friendly town, while nearby beaches, and the camping area are among the most pristine on the entire peninsula.
Perhaps the best possible mix of Rovinj and Motovun, two of the most popular tourist destinations in Istria, Labin lies about three kilometers from the Adriatic Sea. Set 325 meters high on a hill, it offers gorgeous views of the Kvarner Gulf, including the coastal resort of Rabac.
Labin is essentially a picturesque hilltop town featuring the colorful architecture that’s found most notably in Rovinj. It’s steep and narrow, sometimes cobbled, streets take you on a fun urban adventure while countless pastel-colored buildings contribute to the undeniable charm of this less-visited Istrian town.
For such a small town, it packs a large number of attractions. These include the Fortica Fortress and the Mining Museum, but also numerous art galleries and museums. Of course, it wouldn’t be a town in Istria, a food-focused region, if there weren’t several excellent restaurants as well.
Other Lesser Known Spots In Istria You Can Explore
There are a few other less famous places is Istria that you also want to take a look at:
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Now, tell me, do you feel ready to visit Istria?