Istria (Croatian: Istra) is the north-westernmost region of Croatia. In a triangular shape, it is bordered in the north by Slovenia, east by the Kvarner region of Croatia and on the south and west by the Adriatic Sea.
Formerly part of the Venetian Empire, this region has seen many empires such as Byzantine, Roman, Austro-Hungarian, and Yugoslavian (Communist). 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 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 13th century. Intermittent combats 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 Austrians and Fascist Italy (after World War I), eventually ending with a revenge from Yugoslav partisans after the World War II, forcing most autochtonous ethnic Italians to leave. A small ethnic Italian community still lives in the coastal towns. Relatively spared from the Yugoslav Wars, Istria is now a prosperous region. Latter years have seen a growing regional sentiment and a reconciliation with its previously conflictive Italian identity.
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 Venetian lands Italian is nearly universally understood. There is still an Italian ethnic community in many coastal towns. German is also very widely spoken. Most restaurants in the main town also have an English speaker or two on staff. Some market sellers will initially address you in all four ("Izvolite, Prego, Bitte, How can I help you?").
Ryanair provides a connection London (Stansted) to Pula three days a week, and Dublin Pula also. Scandjet connects Pula to Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm once a week (on Saturdays) during the summer. Germanwings also serves Pula.
Trains run daily between Ljubljana in Slovenia and Pula, and from Rijeka to Ljubljana. Unfortunately due to historical accident, the two train lines do not meet up despite some works having been commenced on a rail tunnel to link the two short distances.
Venezia Lines is a high speed ferry operator that operated its first trip in May 2003. Operating in the North 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. In the North Adriatic Venezia Lines is currently utilising 2 vessels, San Frangisk and her sister vessel San Pawl, both with a capacity of 310 passenger, They are currently deployed on routes between Venice, Italy and the Croatian ports of Mali Losinj, Porec, Pula, Rabac and Rovinj.
Istria is a fine region to practise hiking and biking, as much in the mountainous inland as in the coast.
With diversity at the heart of Istria, you’ll delight in new culinary experiences and reconnect with traditional flavors.
Istrian gastronomy is known by its huge diversity. Pasta, gnocchi, risotto and polenta, as well as its high-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. Especially, Istrian peppers have international recognition.
At the coast, fresh fish and seafood are a tradition. Scampi is the favourite, together with squid and sole. In the inland, air-cured ham (Prsut) and sausages are the highlights.
But the gastronomic pearl is no 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. Also, olive oil with truffles is 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 teran and muscat. The most famous vineyard area is Kalavojna, on the Eastern coast.
Regional liquor grappa is widely produced in here, with several varieties available.