The coast of Istria, a peninsula that juts down from the rest of Croatia into the northern Adriatic, is quite built up, with mega-hotels alongside its pretty, alley-hugging houses. Though beautiful, its beaches can be crammed with sunbathers jostling for position. We set out on our vacation to find the more unspoiled side to this spectacularly beautiful part of the world, and fell in love with parts of Istria that many tourists miss. Croatia accommodation need not mean hotel complexes – there are many places to stay a little further off the beaten track, and many beautiful sights are missed by those who just lounge on a beach for their entire holiday.
We started our explorations inland, away from the busier parts of the coast. Inland Istria was a fascinating landscape, characterised by mediaeval settlements and idyllic stone villages, and a series of peaceful, winding roads through the lush Mediterranean scenery. First, we visited Motovun, where the houses crowded up the wooded hill and looked down on the surrounding patchwork of wheat fields and vineyards. This is a place popular with artists, and I could see why, as I looked out over the town and the farmland beyond. Next, we went north, and found another artistic town, Grožnjan, a sleepy little town whose battlements gave us an excellent vantage point, from which we could see Motovun in the distance, and the peak of Mount Učka on the horizon.
After a while, we craved once more to be down by the Adriatic shore. Rovinj was formerly an island, but now it is a pretty mediaeval port town which has spilled onto the mainland. The harbour was filled with a photogenic mix of yachts and fishing boats, and yet again, there was an artistic vibe in the pretty-coloured streets. Yacht charter Croatia could not be easier – there was a way to see the shore from a different perspective. We hired a yacht, and took to the blue, blue water. First, we sailed round in calm waters around the former island of Rovinj, and saw the other small Rovinj islands, then we made our way along the coast to the Special Ornithological Reserve at Paul, where we watched birds from the boat, and enjoyed views of the beautiful, unspoiled shoreline.
Further on, we came to the Brijuni Islands, a National Park made up of fourteen small islands. In spite of the number of visitors received annually on these islands, they are relatively unspoiled, and sailing round between them, we enjoyed absolute solitude, listening to the waves lapping on the shores. The Brijuni islands are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, even rare plant life can flourish here. We took some walks ashore and explored the forests, lakes and bird-filled marshlands. We went to the safari park, which was home to many other interesting creatures. When we returned to the boat, we floated through waters teeming with sea life. Dolphins followed the boat, keeping us company for a time.
Eventually, we made our way reluctantly back to shore. But we knew that there was plenty more to explore in this corner of the Adriatic, and we knew that we would come back as soon as we possibly could. We had forged our own path, and discovered that there was a lot more to Istria than we had ever imagined.