Istria, Croatia (beauty and history all around)
What can we say other than we LOVE Croatia! Christian and I took a road trip from Vienna to the Istria region of Croatia and we were blown away by the beauty of this coastal country.
The drive from Vienna took around 6 hours and our route involved driving south towards Graz, then through Slovenia all the way to the coast and then south to Rovinj where we booked an apartment for a few days.
Rovinj is a charming little city on the north west coast of Croatia. The history of the city is quite interesting (once governed by the Republic of Venice and than later the Austrian empire) and its diverse influence of various cultures can be seen from the cuisine to the architecture.
We arrived at Rovinj in the evening where the lady who was renting out her apartment greeted us. The apartment was just what we had in mind- very authentic and original. We suggest that if you plan a trip to Rovinj to make sure you book in advance (and avoid going during high tourist season) as we had troubles finding accommodation for this period. Luckily for us, Christian had a croatian friend who was able to reach out to one of their contacts last minute.
As we arrived late in the evening we walked around the area, got a late dinner of Ćevapi (a traditional balkan dish) and then settled in for the night.
The next morning we started the day by visiting a popular bakery in the town square. We could tell it was the place to go by the long line outside of the shop. Once we had a look at the baked goods we know why it was so popular-everything looked and smelled delicious! A popular baked good of this region is the delicious Börek. Börek is a baked pastry ( same idea as a phyllo) and it is filled with both sweet and savory fillings. We tried the spinach filled and cherry filled ones… so yummy!
Rovinj is a small enough city that you can walk around most of the old town in a day. There are plenty of markets, shops and restaurants to explore that you will be surprised at how quickly the day passes.
After a little shopping and a lunch of grilled squid we took a taxi boat to Katarina Island. This island is super tiny and you can easily walk around it in less than an hour. There is not much on the island other than a hotel called Hotel Katarina but from what we saw, it looked like the perfect spot for a family vacation. We explored the island for a bit and then jumped into the sea. The water was nice and warm and the colour of the water was a nice turquoise blue.
After basking in the warm water, we caught the boat taxi back to the main land and enjoyed dinner in the harbour while watching the sunset.
The next day we decided to explore the surrounding cities and towns with the car. If you find yourself visiting the Istria region we highly suggest renting a car. As we discovered, there was so much to see and we were happy to have had a car to see it all.
We drove south, down to the city of Pula. Pula is the largest city in the Istria region and it located at the southernmost tip of the region. Although the city is very industrial (the presence of ships and cranes take up most of the harbour), it was still very beautiful with the ancient amphitheatre looking out onto the sea. This roman ruin is the best preserved ancient monument in Croatia and is also depicted on the croatian 10 kuna banknote.
After an afternoon of exploring we made our way back to Rovinj. As we were driving back we saw a sign for the town of Bale. We had previously heard of the town without knowing much about so we decided to stop and check it out.
We were pleasantly surprised with this little town. With it’s stone paved roads, intricate alley ways and medieval architecture, we felt as if we had discovered a hidden gem. Although there was a time when this town was occupied by the likes of the ancient romans as well as the legendary lover- Cassanova, the town saw a period of abandonment when the towns people fled to Italy after the second world war.
Despite its recent history the town has seen a rejuvenation with the opening of hotels and restaurants, including the quirky jazz bar Kamene Priče.
After our day of exploring Pula and Bale, we made our way back to Rovinj where we spent our last evening drinking wine and cocktails in the harbour.
When it came time to leave Croatia we were sad to go. We spent a total of three nights in Rovinj, which of course flew by. It would have been nice to have had at least a week to properly explore the region, but we knew we would be back again some day.
On the drive home we stopped in the town of Poreč- a coastal town north of Rovinj. We found a parking spot in the main harbour area and walked along the water where street vendors were selling antiques of all kinds.
Unfortunately we only had a short amount of time to visit the town so we were not able to see much, other than the beautiful view from the harbour and a glimpse at the old town.
Shopping for Honey
We left Poreč and started the 6 hour journey back home. After driving for some while we stopped at a truffle and olive oil stand on the side of the road. The lady was also selling fruits, liquor and honey. We are big fans of honey so we were curious to try all the different flavours. We tried lavender honey and chestnut-honey finally ending up with sage-honey. Christian also bought a bottle of digestive liquor that was contained in an interestingly shaped bottle.
Although our time was short in Croatia, we had the perfect holiday. We had heard lots about southern Croatia, but not much about the north, so when we discovered how beautiful it was we were overjoyed.
For those interested in making a trip to Croatia, do not overlook the north. There is so much to offer and the beauty and history of the Istrian region will leave you wanting more.
We look forward to visiting again soon!