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Travellers Reviews

'Expect a warm welcome in Istria'

For someone visiting Croatia for the first time, the Istrian peninsula provides an accessible introduction to this fascinating country. If you're familiar with Croatia, but haven't yet made your way up to its north-western corner, then don't waste any more time. Istria, lying in close proximity to Italy, Slovenia and Austria, has been subject to many cultural influences. As a result, it is very vibrant and cosmopolitan, and extends a warm welcome to visitors from around the globe.

There are a number of attractive Istrian towns, both on the coast and inland. You can easily visit several places during a week or fortnight, making journeys of around 50 kilometres between various locations. Istria does have its own airport at Pula, but this is served by a limited number of airlines from several European cities. For the international traveller, the airports at Trieste and Venice provide a wider range of options, including direct flights from major US cities.

If you plan to start or stay in the northern part of Istria, Motovun, which overlooks the Mirna River valley, is an extremely picturesque medieval town, with many excellent restaurants. The Motovun Film Festival takes place in late July, and in October, several events celebrate local wine and truffles. Only 20 minutes drive away, is Groznjan, another medieval hilltop town, which has a thriving community of artists and musicians.

Driving a little further south and heading for the coast, you'll arrive at Poreč, one of the longest-established tourist destinations in Istria. There are a number of good hotels here, both in the town itself and also adjacent to the excellent Plava Laguna and Zelena Laguna beaches. Don't leave Poreč without visiting the 6th century Euphrasian Basilica - the Byzantine mosaics in particular are truly amazing.

A day trip to Venice from the Istrian coast is truly delightful. You'll see Venice's buildings gradually appear on the horizon before you dock at the maritime station within easy walking distance of St. Mark's Square. Ferries run from several Istrian towns, including Poreč and Rovinj, with a sailing time of around 2 hours. A day trip will you cost around 70 Euros per person, although you'll probably end up spending much more in Venice, especially if you visit the Murano glass factories!

Around an hour’s drive south from Poreč, you'll find another Istrian highlight - the coastal town of Rovinj. The Venetian influence is obvious, especially as you wander around the Old Town and visit the Church of St Euphemia. The harbour is a great place to sit and watch the world go by - perhaps in one of the excellent seafood restaurants.

A final Istrian landmark to visit if you have time - or maybe to save for your next visit! - is the amphitheatre at Pula, near the southernmost tip of Istria. Pula itself is a busy port, but its Roman heritage is still evident. The 1st century amphitheatre is one of the largest in Europe, and there are also gates remaining from the old city walls, as well as two Roman theatres.

There really is so much to see and do in Istria! I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by its prices, with good hotel rooms to be had for 50-100 Euros per night and excellent meals from 5 Euros per head. The period May to September is probably the best time for a visit - I particularly enjoy September, when the coast becomes less crowded, but the weather is still warm enough for swimming in the sea. Expect a warm welcome in Istria and I'm sure you'll soon be planning to return.
by Alison O'Donoghue

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