Istria feels separate from the rest of Croatia. Christened "Terra Magica” by the Romans, this triangular peninsula was Italian until the World War II. Istria has its own celebrated gastronomy, its own wines and world class olive oils. The joy of Istria is never far and inland is every bit as beautiful as the coast. The road network is good, but the public transport is somewhat limited. If you have time to hire a car or drive down to Istria, you will be awarded by villages weird and wonderful, Roman cities and lush nature.
Known for its Roman amphitheatre, Pula was centre of Habsburg shipbuilding and still is a lively port shipping millions tons of cargo every year. Centre of the town is filled with ordinary businesses and shops, a big covered market and fresh fish stalls. Don't fret, Pula has a lot to offer to its visitors, but to enjoy it, you'll need to explore it. Try with the Arch of the Sergians or the Golden Gate, then Forum, the Temple of Augusts and if nothing else, grab a boat to Brijuni from Fažana.
One of the Istria's most dramatic phenomena is the Limski kanal, a 10 kilometer narrow sliver into the heart of the peninsula with densely forested cliffs and calm, green water. You can get guided boat tours through the canal or enjoy the view from a platform on the main road. If you enjoy mussels and shellfish, chances are they were picked at Limski kanal farms. History buffs might enjoy the fact that Sir Henry Morgan, famous British pirate supposedly hid within Limski kanal to escape his enemies, while Giacomo Casanova wrote about it in his memoires and often came back.
Buje is maybe ten kilometres far from the coast between Umag and Novigrad, on a two hundred metres high hill from which you can see the thin blue line of the sea under the skyline of the Dolomites, Italian section of the Alps. Looking around the town you'll find two bell-towers. One raised at the place where a rich merchant brought a statue of the Blessed Virgin from Venice, right in front of the old town door, and could not move it, supposedly because the Blessed Virgin liked it there and did not want to be moved. The other, older St. Servulus is known for the beautiful portal and some valuable statues and paintings made by famous Venetian artists as well as the magnificent organ built 1791. The rest is narrow streets and magical atmosphere of a bygone era, as well as festivals of wine, mushrooms, colours, chocolate and so on. If you have kids, a gigantic waterpark is not too far of.
Built by Venetians on 1102, hilltop town of Grožnjan was a strategically important fortress until the collapse of the Venetian empire in the 18th century.
Almost two centuries later it was turned into an artist colony in 1965 which in turn attracted Jeunesses Musicales International to start a summer school for musicians in 1969 which has been going strong ever since. Every summer is flush with concerts, recitals and ballet being shown at the local castle or in the squares, under the starry sky. Nowadays Grožnjan is home to more than 30 artist studios and galleries, open mostly for the summer.
A tiny 14 island archipelago of Istria's west coast, Brijuni are an open air time machine, displaying thousands of years of human history, starting with the petrified dinosaur footsteps. Only 2 islands are open to visitors, housing a golf course, bird sanctuary, zoo and a safari park, three museums and the main archeological sites. You can pass the main attractions on a little train or hire a bike or an electric buggy and set of on your own.
When talking about central Istria, you have to mention Pazin - the “heart of Istria”. It is known for it's castle (Kaštel) sitting over a 130 meters deep chasm where the river Pazinčica flows into the Pazin Pit - scenery is so stunning it inspired famous French writer Jules Verne to set one of his novels here and have the hero escape from the castle over the chasm. Apart from the stories of old, Pazin is pretty standard little town surrounded by rolling Istrian countryside and offering hiking, free climbing, zip-lining, cycling and acacia honey made by local bees and beekeepers. There are several interesting medieval towns neraby you can discover along the 10-kilometer-long trail of St. Simon.
As a hilltop town characteristic of the Istrian interior, Motovun - Montona is a popular tourist destination, mainly for all the cultural events taking place throughout the year. Most loved and known is Motovun Film Festival, taking place in summer - but there are so many reasons to climb the hill up to Motovun. As you enter the main gate, the view is stunning: a thin silver line of the river Mirna, and the canopy of the nearby forest, rich with truffles whose quality is world famous. If truffles are your thing, come in the autumn, September to November and visit Livade, which are just across from Motovun, but in the plains for the truffle auctions and tasting menus. Another thing you'll notice is the vineyards sloping down hill as far as your eyes can see. These produce the white wine Malvasia and red wine Teran which you can try in every local ‘konoba’ or restaurant - there's quite a few around here.
Istarske toplice thermal spa with curative water it not far from Motovun, if you need some hot thermal pools to relax.