Flavors of Italy
At the north end of Croatia, along its border with Italy, is the Istrian Peninsula. Here, the landscape of rolling green hills, fertile valleys, vineyards and hilltop villages has a distinctly Italian feel — think Tuscany without as many tourists.
As a base for exploring Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, many choose the fishing village of Rovijn, where they can linger over espressos in outdoor cafes or wander through Balbi’s Arch, an ancient city gate with a late Renaissance clock tower, to prowl the Old Town. Some even make it to the top of the town’s hill to the baroque Church of St. Euphemia. Legend has it that the martyr’s coffin washed ashore here in A.D. 800, and her feast day is celebrated September 16.
A day trip from Rovijn might be to one of the 60 wineries that dot the Croatian part of the peninsula, mostly producing a grape used for Malvasia, a white table or dessert wine. The wineries provide a spectacular setting for sampling the vintages. At Kozlovic Winery, the tasting room overlooks a hill crowned by a medieval castle, and the Kabola Wine Estate is postcard perfect, with stone buildings boasting electric-blue shutters and window boxes planted with red geraniums.
Thoughts of wine automatically lead to thoughts of food, and Istria is justly celebrated as Croatia’s culinary capital. Foodies have a number of spots from which to choose. Try lunch on the poolside terrace at San Rocco, a boutique hotel in the village of Brtonigla, where fresh fish and truffles, sniffed out here by dogs instead of pigs, are accompanied by local wines.
Or there’s Stancija Meneghetti, another boutique hotel nestled among vineyards and olive groves. At a lavishly appointed table beneath an arbor groaning with wisteria, sample prosciutto and goat cheese, followed by selected dishes of Blue Istria — the bounty of the sea from crabs to octopus — and Green Istria, beef, pork and free-range chicken.
Find new meaning to the concept of slow food during a meal at Toklarija, a restaurant in a converted olive mill, where a three-, four- or five-course lunch can take up an entire afternoon.
A Dramatic History
A traveler cannot live on leisurely lunches alone, and Istria has much to offer the adventurous sightseer, especially considering that its history has been shaped by Romans, Goths, Lombards, Franks, Venetians, Austro-Hungarians and Germans, to name just a few.
This compelling history can be traced throughout Istria. If it’s ancient history you want, a stop in Pula is in order to see its famous Roman amphitheater, one of the largest in the world. Constructed from A.D. 27 to 68, it was enlarged by Emperor Vespasian in A.D. 79 for use as a gladiatorial arena. Today, with room for 23,000 spectators, it is a popular concert venue.
Of later vintage is Vrsar, with its steep, cobbled streets and shaded squares overlooking the sea; the town is linked to notorious 18th-century Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova. Fleeing here after publication of his scandalous memoirs made him persona non grata in his native Venice, Casanova proclaimed Vrsar a place of “great wine, good food and nice women.”
Take a boat from the resort town of Fazana to the Brijuni National Park, a group of 14 islands in the northern Adriatic. Only two of the islands may be visited, with the largest, Veli Brijun, the most popular.
Veli Brijun has some impressive archaeological sites, including a Bronze Age hill fort, a Roman villa from the second century B.C., a Byzantine palace and a church built by the Knights Templar during the 13th century. However, the island is best known as the summer residence of Josip Tito Broz, longtime president of the former Yugoslavia. The charismatic Tito, who led the resistance against the Nazis during World War II, governed from 1953 until his death in 1980 and is still revered by most Croatians. A museum on the island showcases his remarkable life.
After exploring Dubrovnik, Istria and the islands and villages of the Adriatic, your travelers will come to appreciate Croatia’s remarkable history and think of the country in a whole new way.
For more information visit the Croatian National Tourism Board website at croatia.hr.