Notice! The placenames below are written in accord with the region's bilingual status; the first toponym is the Croatian one, while the latter is in Italian.
Formerly part of the Venetian Republic, this region has seen many rulers such as the Romans, Byzantines, Austro-Hungarians, Italians and Yugoslavians (the Communists, that is). The cultural legacy of Istria is thus very rich and diverse.
After defeating the Illyrian Histri tribe, the Romans settled in the peninsula and left a large heritage, turning Pula/Pola into an important administrative centre and building villas, amphiteatres and temples. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the inner land remained a feudal territory occupied by Slavs, Frankish, Byzantines and finally Austrian Habsburgs, while the coast fell under control of the Republic of Venice in the 11th century. Intermittent fightings were held between both powers until the fall of Venice in 1797.
Since that date, the Croatian population of Istria struggled for autonomy and were severely repressed both by Austria and Italy (due to the rise of the Fascist regime after World War I) - Istria having been part of Italy between 1918 and 1947. Eventually, vengeful Yugoslav partisans took control of the region after the World War II, forcing most autochtonous Italians to leave; but today, ethnic Italian communities still live in the coastal towns. Relatively spared from the Yugoslav Wars, Istria is now a prosperous region and the last years have seen a growing regional sentiment and a reconciliation with its previously conflictive identities.
The peninsula offers stark contrasts: the interior is very unspoiled and mountainous with ancient walled cities atop hills with surrounding fertile fields, whilst the coast has numerous beaches - do not expect any sand in them, though - and stunning scenery of rocky walls plummeting into the sea. The Istrian coast is arguably the most developed tourist destination in Croatia. Hordes of Italian, German and French tourists enjoy package tourism during the crowded high season.
Croatian is the official and most common language but in these formerly Italian lands, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Italian language is co-official and nearly-universally understood; in many towns (such as Pula/Pola and Umag/Umago) street signs, addresses as well as toponyms are written in both languages... and there are still sizeable ethnic Italian communities as well, mostly on the coast. The German language is also widely spoken, with most restaurants in the main town having also an English speaker on staff.
It is not uncommon for market sellers to initially address tourists and customers alike in all four languages ("Izvolite, prego, bitte, how can I help you?").
Buses run from Venice and Trieste in Italy, Zagreb and other major cities to Pazin/Pisino, Rovinj/Rovigno, and Pula/Pola and also stop in central Istrian towns such as Motovun/Montona, or Zminj/Gimino
Ryanair provides a connection London (Stansted) to Pula/Pola three days a week, as well as direct flights from Dublin. Scandjet connects Pula/Pola to Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm once a week (on Saturdays) during the summer. Germanwings also serves that airport. In 2013 Jet2 introduced flights to and from Leeds, Bradford, Newcastle,Manchester and Glasgow. Croatian Airlines also has flights from/to Hamburg & Frankfurt.
The Trieste-Ronchi dei Legionari Intl. Airport, in Italy, is located only 80 km away from Istria; Ryanair flies to Trieste most days.
Trains run daily between Ljubljana in Slovenia and Pula/Pola, and from Rijeka/Fiume to Ljubljana. Unfortunately, due to an historical accident, the two train lines do not meet up despite some works having been commenced on a rail tunnel to link the two.
Venezia Lines is a high speed ferry operator that operated its first trip in May 2003. Operating in the Northern Adriatic, Venezia Lines links the North Adriatic's coasts of Italy and Croatia. From May 2003 to October 2009, Venezia Lines has carried more than 450.000 passengers between Venice and the northern coast of Croatia; they are currently utilising 2 vessels - San Frangisk and her sister vessel, San Pawl - both with a capacity of 310 passenger. These are currently deployed on routes between Venice, Italy and the Croatian ports of Mali Losinj/Lussinpiccolo, Porec/Parenzo, Pula/Pola, Rabac/Porto Albona and Rovinj/Rovigno.
Istria is a fine region to practise hiking and biking, as much in the mountainous inland as in the coast.
The southern end of Istria is arguably the best place for biking. Ask for a bike map in one of the many Tourist Offices, showing well-marked routes around the coast and in the Cape Kamenjak/Capo Promontore.
With such diversity at the heart of the region, you’ll certainly delight in new culinary experiences and reconnect with traditional flavours!
Istrian gastronomy is known by its huge diversity: pasta, gnocchi, risotto and polenta - as well as its quality vegetables (which can be found, at a cheap price, in any of the numerous open-air markets present in almost every Istrian town) - accompany main dishes, as an Italian heritage. Istrian peppers and truffles have international recognition. In the coast, fresh fish and seafood are a tradition; scampi are a favourite, together with squid and sole. Further inland, cured ham (prosciutto, also known as "pršut") and sausages are the highlights. But the gastronomic pearl is without doubt the truffles. After the beginning of the season, in late September, truffles can be found accompanying any dish and sauce; especially recommended is pasta with truffles.
Truffle-flavoured olive oil is also a typical product of the region.
Istria is a land of vineyards. Wines are sweet and fruity, with a wide variety of grapes present, such as white malvasia, red terrano and moscato (speaking of which, you should make sure to try some "Moscato di Momiano"). The most famous vineyard area is Kalavojna/Calavoina, on the eastern coast. The local liquor - grappa, truly a staple of this part of Europe - is widely produced in here, with several varieties available.