FIVE questions
you should
ask ...
Speak to one of our travel
within 5 rings

Which of these is important to you?

  • Concierge style service. Your own dedicated travel manager who'll look after you until you travel.
  • Better value. Exclusive fares you won't find online to save you money.
  • 24 hour helpline. A worldwide team just a phone call away if you need help while you're overseas.
  • Top on Trustpilot. More highly rated than all our competitors with 98% saying they'd book again.
  • Risk free. Fully licensed with Client Trust Account to protect your money. ABTA, ATOL protected.

Your calls always answered within 5 rings.

You've read the reviews so why not call us NOW?
Tell us what you need. We'll find you a solution
Europe Reviews 7731
Europe Offers 33
Europe Fly-Drives 12
Intriguing Istria

Croatia's Tuscany by the sea

The unspoilt peninsula of Istria does a great impression of rural Italy...but has its own identity too, writes Jane Horrocks

Croatia is increasingly popular for Brit­ish travellers, and we decided to jump on the bandwagon. But rather than head for the Dalmatian coast islands, we opted for the intriguing peninsula in the far north, known as Istria.

There are regular flights from the UK to the region's capital, Pula, where you quickly pick up the Italianate feel, thanks to its well-preserved Roman amphitheatre, Italian menus and elegant architecture left behind by 450 years of Venetian occupation.

The imposing amphitheatre in Pula dates back to 68 AD

Venice is less than three hours away on a high-­speed ferry these days but Istria very much has its own identity.We stayed close to the town of Sveti Lovrec, a 40-­minute drive north of Pula. It's a beautifully pre­served example of a medieval fortified town. Within its walls, the cobbled streets are deserted and silent but for the tolling of the church bell, while a couple of mini­ supermarkets, bars and an excellent pizzeria lie outside the ramparts.

Don't be fooled, though - Sveti Lovrec erupts into life in early August when the town holds its annual Beerfest - a bit like a huge, unruly wedding.

The peninsula's rugged coastline means that the beaches tend to be small, pebbly affairs. If you're looking for golden sands, head to Dalmatia and the islands. But the geology here throws up far more interesting features. Take the Limski Kanal, for example: a spectacular six-­mile, fjord-­like estuary that cuts inland a few miles south of Sveti Lovrec. You'd think such an enormous channel would be hard to miss, but on our first attempt by car we overshot the turning and ended up in the port of Vrsar, with my partner Nick squinting into a map on his iPhone.

A boat ride down the cobalt waters of Limski Kanal is a must

While negotiating a three-point turn, we were struck by the number of naked families in front of us and it became clear that we had driven into Koversada, a huge nudist colony.

We quickly returned to Vrsar to get on a boat instead; trips run all day every day from the harbour and will take you on a cruise along the Kanal and also to the beautiful town of Rovinj. The town juts out into the sea, a stunning cluster of Venetian houses clinging to a rocky isthmus, crowned with the spire of St Euphemia's Basilica at the top.

We disembarked and ascended the picturesque cobbled streets, enjoying wonderful sea views from outside the Basilica and the cooler air within it. We also discovered the joy of cevapcici (sausage-shaped 'burgers' served with raw onion and pepper sauce) outside a bistro halfway up the hill.

Later, the boat dropped us off to inspect a pirate's cave allegedly used by Captain Morgan and now conveniently housing a bar. From here we enjoyed views of the calm waters and densely wooded banks of the Kanal, and also views of naked pensioners in speedboats: it seems enthusiasm for naturism is everywhere.

Istria boasts pretty hill-top towns and an undulating landscape

Along the northern bank, restaurants serve up beautifully fresh seafood and it isn't ridiculously expensive. The same goes for most of Istria's restaurants; high quality, low prices. There are treats for the meat-eaters, too: with suckling pigs roast on spits at roadside grills. Another great boat excursion is to the Brijuni islands. This little archipelago, a couple of miles off the coast, has a long and fascinating history.

The Venetians quarried the stone here to build their own city; then, in the late 19th Century, an Austrian entrepreneur turned the islands into an exclusive beach resort, which, after the Second World War, became General Tito's private summer residence.

On Brijuni he entertained everyone from Fidel Castro to Elizabeth Taylor. A little museum houses a terrific exhibition of photos of Tito with his glamorous guests. Tito's parakeet Koki is still alive too and available for a chat in his aviary.

It's once you leave the coast and drive inland that you realise why Istria is often dubbed 'the new Tuscany'. We headed north to hook up with some of Nick's friends, and were stunned by the endless sublime vistas.

The ancient town of Groznan

One such town, Groznan, is reached only by a winding dirt track and is a haven for artists and musicians. The sound of a cello echoed through the empty streets as we went to meet Mike and Marijana, and sat on a hillside terrace sipping prosecco and gazing at the preposterously beautiful town of Motovun a few miles away.

Later we visited a wonderful restaurant, Konoba Mondo, in Motovun, and had a terrific evening enjoying Istrian produce that inspires its comparisons with Tuscany - first-rate olive oil, world-class wine and truffles galore. As we devoured plates of pasta, we could actually hear the truffle-hunting dogs in the valley below.

Istria is hospitable, charming, a bit off the beaten track and very much on the way up. Tuscany had better watch out…

First published in the Daily Mail -  April 2016

More articles below...

For more inspiration, read what travel writers have to say...

Montenegro rediscovered

A new-found clamour for glamour awaited Jeff Mills in this chic little Balkan country

Highlife in Cannes

Film producer Frank Mannion tells you how to live like a star here

Loving Lyon

Giles Milton revels in the culinary capital of France

Good Morning Crete!

Charlotte Hawkins recharges her batteries on the Greek island

Magnificent Madeira

There’s a reason the capital is called Fun-chal, says Louise Thomas

Luxury afloat

On a super-yacht, Stephen Cole proves big isn't always best

Greek cliff-hanger

Louise Saunders discovers an iconic hotel carved into the volcanic cliff face

Milan glamour

Deirdre Fernand explores this treasure-house of culture

Florence in a flash

Italy's famous art capital wows with culture galore and delicious food

I just adore a parador

From magnificent castles to luxurious converted convents, Dave Balow takes a tour

Weekend in Seville

This Spanish city is perfect for a short break

Turkish delight

Yoga enthusiast or not, you'll love this oasis of luxury, says Sofia Zagzoule

The Durrells' Corfu

Read Thomas W. Hodgkinson's guide to their enchanting isle

Break for Rome

David Dillon and his sons discover the Italian capital

San Sebastian

A feast for the eyes and the tastebuds, as Martin Symington discovered

Modern Montenegro

James Hughes-Onslow reports from the Balkans

Greece is still divine

And this family resort is heavenly, says Jeremy Daniels

Sparkle at the Ritz-Carlton Abama

Anne Murray takes a lingering look at a hotel of unabashed luxury

The Marbella Club

The Spanish resort is still full of panache, as Mark Palmer discovered

Soulful Mallorca

Kate Amey reports from the luxurious Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel and Spa

Warm up in Iceland

Sky News presenter Kay Burley luxuriates in a steaming lagoon and marvels at the Northern Lights

Kefalonia's hue

Martin Ogden makes his very own Odyssey to the idyllic haven

Who couldn't love Lisbon?

Caroline McGuire gives you the lowdown on this perfect city break

Falling for Formentera

Ibiza's neighbour - but quiet and chic, as Mark Palmer discovered

The heroic island

Miranda Seymour reveals why fans of the magical holiday spot of Malta return every year

La Dolce Vita in Portofino

Sarah Turner discovers Hollywood’s heyday at the Hotel Splendido

Simply baking in ancient Greece!

Bake Off star Candice Brown has a delicious time in Halkidiki

My Mykonos adventure

Denise van Outen's dream of exploring a Greek island comes true

Madeira madness

Taking free-kicks in Madeira with Cristiano Ronaldo

Towering Tuscany

Take me back to my dream destination, says Mark Palmer

Dining in Palma

Sarah Gilbert savours the delights of Palma on a plate

Portugal's pousadas

Magnificent hotels with wall-to-wall history

Seductive Sardinia

Why Sardinia was a dream worth waiting for, says Lisa Brady

Vibrant Valencia

Is this cultural treasure house Spain's finest seaside city? Michael Hodges gives his verdict...

Croatia's Islands

Frederick Tratt explores the unspoilt gems off Croatia's fabulous coastline

Cypriot ultra spa

How did destination spa Anassa measure up?

Florence and Milan

Make a long weekend in Italy twice the fun

Twin cities

Connect two fascinating cities by train on a European mini adventure

Not quite what you're looking for?
We can easily customise an offer to suit your exact requirements