Istria is renowned for its truffles (tartufi), and you’ll find them on the menu pretty much everywhere, particularly inland – shaved over steaks, infused in the sauce of exquisite pasta dishes, scattered through locally made cheeses, even appearing in ice cream.
Istrian olive oil is also exceptionally good, and has recently been garnering an increasing number of international awards. Klaudio Ipša’s olive oils were the first in Croatia to be listed in L’extravergine, the highly respected Italian guide to the world’s best olive oils, in 2005, and have been included every year since.
Croatia’s best dry-cured ham (pršut, similar to prosciutto) is produced in Istria, especially the area around Tinjan, where it is still made following traditional methods. You’ll find Istrian pršut on offer in most restaurants, but if you want to taste a selection from local producers, head for Konoba na Kapeli just outside Tinjan, where it is sliced wafer-thin and almost melts in your mouth.
‘In between all this you can feast your eyes on some of Croatia’s greatest architectural treasures – the first-century AD Roman arena at Pula, exceptionally well preserved and one of the six largest in the world, and the UNESCO-listed Byzantine mosaics at Poreč.’
Istria produces some of Croatia’s best wines, mainly from its signature grape Malvazija, and the autochthonous Teran. Several vineyards offer tastings, including Franc Arman, where winemakers Oliver and Franc Arman craft several fine wines.
Konoba Batelina is a wonderful little family-run restaurant in Banjole serving outstanding fresh seafood, often prepared with an inventive twist – think scallops seared in sesame seeds, or a fluffy mousse made from conger eel. Konoba Nono, near Umag, sources many of its ingredients from its own farm – its homemade pasta dishes are delicious, as is the sea bass baked in salt. Le Mandrač in Vološko is consistently rated as one of Croatia’s top tables.
In between all this you can feast your eyes on some of Croatia’s greatest architectural treasures – the first-century AD Roman arena at Pula, exceptionally well preserved and one of the six largest in the world, and the UNESCO-listed Byzantine mosaics at Poreč. Explore medieval hill towns in the Istrian interior, or simply lounge on a beach along one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline anywhere in the Mediterranean.
In Motovun, the best known of Istria’s inland hill towns, you’ll find the lovely Hotel Kaštel, a restored 18th-century palace with a particularly beautiful spa. Another great place to stay is the Vela Vrata, a new boutique four-star hotel in the old hill town of Buzet. The best place to stay in Pula is the Park Plaza Histria, just outside town on the Verudela peninsula.