Pretty coastal towns, ancient ruins and an impressive culinary scene: Istria has plenty of strings to its bow, says Abra Dunsby
Croatia is having a moment right now. Yes, that’s partly down to Game of Thrones, which used Dubrovnik as its filming location for King’s Landing, but Croatia has much more to offer beyond swords and sorcery.
The country is one of Europe’s sunniest destinations and is blessed with blissful beaches and attractive towns.
While Dubrovnik’s current popularity has left it struggling to cope with tourist numbers, the heart-shaped northern peninsula of Istria offers beauty by the bucketload, and fewer crowds.
Located on the Adriatic coast, Istria is home to three of Croatia’s prettiest coastal towns – Pula, Rovinj and Porec, which between them have more than 275 miles of coastline, over 50 Blue Flag-awarded beaches and three marinas.
It’s getting easier for clients to reach Istria too: this summer British Airways is celebrating its first full season flying to Pula from Heathrow, and airlines including easyJet, Jet2.com and Ryanair are also now operating weekly direct flights there.
The added flights have had a positive impact on tourist numbers according to Denis Ivosevic, director of the Istria Tourist Board, who told me the region has seen a 30% increase in UK visitors compared with 2016.
Pula is the most well known of Istria’s three coastal towns, popular with electro-music fans who descend each summer for music festivals Dimensions and Outlook, as well as sunseekers and history lovers. Pula is also home to one of the world’s best surviving Roman amphitheatres, built approximately 2,000 years ago.
Clients can time their visit to coincide with its annual film festival, taking place in July, which shows films inside the ruins of the arena.
Lesser-known Rovinj is equally impressive, lined with Venetian-style houses, a harbour sprinkled with fishing boats and the St Euphemia cathedral. Further north in pretty Porec stands the sixth-century Euphrasian Basilica, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of Europe’s finest intact examples of Byzantine art.
The region welcomes a cluster of new hotels this year and next, from the five-star Grand Park Hotel Rovinj, featuring 193 rooms and 16 suites, to family-friendly The Hotel Park, located a stone’s throw away from Porec.
It’s also giving nearby Italy a run for its money in the foodie stakes. “Istria is renowned for its home- grown truffles – we are the only place in the world where both black and white fine-quality truffles can be found – as well as our award-winning olive oil and a vast array of wineries,” says Ivosevic.
Clients might not bump into Jon Snow and co in Istria, but with its excellent food and drink, standout beaches and historic towns, the region is sure to work its magic on them.