Istria is Croatia’s biggest peninsula that got its name after the Histri tribe which inhabited the area in prehistoric times. More than 2100 years have passed since then, habits and life of the locals have changed, but Istria has succeeded to preserve its grace and charm which seduce thousands of tourists each year.
The Istrian symbol is the Amphitheatre in Pula built in the 1st century. There is a legend that explains why this Arena (the popular “nickname” for the Amphitheatre) doesn’t have a ceiling. According to the legend, in ancient times fairies decided to build a town for themselves over the course of the night. They dragged rocks and gravel from the nearby Učka mountain and cautiously aligned them to shape the famous monument. Soon enough, dawn came and they had to hide from the humans leaving their work unfinished and the famous Arena was left roofless. Why they didn’t return the next night stays unclear, but who are we to question how the fairies think.
Another Istrian gem is the Euphrasian basilica in Poreč protected by UNESCO. It is one of the most exquisite examples of early Byzantine art in the Mediterranean. Besides Poreč, many other small coastal towns are placed in Istria. Rovinj is one of them – a small city by the sea with houses on the cliffs, part of the city walls on the landside and lots of narrow streets and balconies decorated with potted flowers.
The town of Umag is located in the far north. It’s a wonderland for all fans of active vacation and offers a wide range of activities like horseback riding, paragliding and caving. This coastal town is also a sports centre of Istria mostly due to the fact that it’s the household of the Croatia Open ATP tournament since 1990. In fact, the whole Istrian peninsula offers plenty of exciting sports and adventure activities.
Besides its beautiful turquoise waters and picturesque coastline, Istria offers an abundance of small hill towns in its inland area. The most eminent one is Motovun, a scenic town overlooking the Mirna river. Highly popular because of the Motovun Film Festival which is known for its casual and informal atmosphere. The festival itself features films made in independent productions and small hipsterish studios. We loved it before it was popular.
Three rivers flow through Istria; Mirna, Raša and Dragonja. They run through its small hills creating graceful and fascinating landscapes that can be admired from the very top of the Učka mountain (located in Nature park Učka). There is a stone tower there with a 360° view of the entire peninsula!
The land of giants
We have another legend for you here! Once upon a time giants lived in Istria and each one of them built a town for himself. Very much like the fairies, they didn’t plan ahead and had some left over building material which they scraped up and built Hum – the world’s smallest town that is now inhabited with only 17 people. Just to summarize; Giants built the smallest town in the world. Yup.
As you’ve surely noticed, this peninsula has an abundance of legends and folk tales. We mentioned only two but if you’re interested in knowing more just sit down with the locals over a glass of wine (or more, we don’t judge), and you’ll find out everything you want to know, and more! Istria’s great wines go best with great food, great food consists of great ingredients, and a great ingredient are truffles. Truffles are also one of Istria’s trademarks, try some truffle soup, truffle pasta or fried eggs (with truffles!). Keep your wallet in hand though, it’s not going to be cheap.
Photographs used in this article (excluding the Amphitheatre photo) are by Roberto Taddeo, see his gallery here: Istria – a stroll through heaven.
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