If you love the delights of Italy such as wonderful food and wine, stunning Adriatic coast with beautiful seaside towns, hilltop villages surrounded by green rolling hills, historic sites and spa treatments, but are thinking twice about shelling out the high euro prices in Italy, I have a solution for you. Visit Istria in Croatia and you can savour the delights of Italy at real value for money prices. I love Italy but have found it pretty expensive there on my recent trips, so when I visited Istria I was really impressed by what was on offer at much lower prices than in Italy.
Rovinj, Istria, Croatia
Croatia has not yet adopted the Euro, using the Kuna, with a currrent exchange rate of around 8.4 Kuna to the UK pound(or 5.6 kuna to the dollar/7.4 kuna to the euro). According to a Guardian article about falling holiday prices in Europe published on 2 May 2009, the price for a holiday basket of goods including drinks, a meal for two and suncream costs Â£64.76 in Croatia and Â£77.05 in Italy, representing a saving of around 15% in Croatia.
Istria is a peninsula on the Adriatic coast, a two hour drive south of Trieste. Istria has been part of the Republic of Venice, The Holy Roman Empire, The Hapsburg Empire, Italy and Yugoslavia before becoming part of Croatia after the 1990s war in Yugoslavia. Italian is the second language in Istria and all signs are in Croatian and Italian.
Ryanair fly to Pula in Istria three times a week from London Stansted, Croatia Airlines also fly to Pula from London. You could also fly into Trieste in Italy, which would then require a two hour drive south to Istria through Slovenia.
Istria is carving a name for itself as a gourmet destination. Starting from around Â£30 per person you can have a gourment meal with wine.
I particulary liked Konoba (Taverna) Batelina on the outskirts of Pula where the fish starters were served raw, Sushi style. It was a real family affair with Dad the fisherman, Mum the cook and their son filetting the fish by our table.
The view from Restaurant Blu is so perfect over the sea with the silhouette of Rovinj on the horizon. They serve the most delicious herby flat bread with meals.
Sole wrapped in courgette, monkfish and squid fritter served at Blu
At Konoba Astarea most of the food is cooked on the open fire. They serve great seafood and the most tender veal I have ever eaten.
The open fire at Konoba Astarea
There is great food for all budgets as I saw fish menus in restaurants in Rovinj starting at Â£5.
Truffles are big in Istria, the world’s largest truffle as recorded in the Guniness Book of Records is replicated in the Zigante truffle shop in Livade. Truffles are often served thinly sliced over freshly made pasta.
The Zigante truffle shop in Livade
The local proscuitto ham, known as prsut, is dried rather than smoked. Personally I preferred this to the smoked proscuitto that I’d tasted previously.
Olive oil production has also moved upmarket with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity and the emergence of brands such as Chiavalon with its attractive yet practical packaging. There’s an Olive Oil Route, so you can visit several producers and taste their oil.
Wine tourism is also growing in popularity in Istria. Many Istrian wineries have made the decision to concentrate on high end production. There’s now an annual Vinistra exhibition. Most restaurants serve a selection of Istrian wines. At present most of the wine is for domestic consumption, although I’m sure quite a bit is exported by tourists. You can arrange wine tasting sessions and visits to producers such as Matosevic Wines and Poletti Wines by following the Istria Wine Roads. As I don’t drink alcohol, I can’t comment on the Istrian wines.
Istrian Adriatic Coast
My favourite coastal town is Rovinj, built by Venetians. As you approach Rovinj it looks as through the coloured houses have risen from the sea. Although there is a working harbour the water is so clear.
View over Rovinj
Istrian Historic Sites
One of the highlights of my trip to Istria was the Coliseum in Pula which is very well preserved.
There’s also a Roman temple and triumphal arch in Pula. In the Brijuni Islands there are several Roman ruins.
Istrian Hilltop Villages
Groznjan is a delighful hilltop village which now has a reputation as an colony for artists.
Istrian Spa and Wellness Centres
Istarske Toplice, the most well known therapeutic bath in Istria lies in the forest near Motovun. Many hotels have their own Spa and Wellness Centres. I had my initiation to spa treatment in Istria at the Kastel Hotel in Motovun, where a 30 minute classic massage costs under Â£20.
The only negative aspects are related to transport. If you don’t live in the south east of England there no direct flights to Istria. I live in the north east of England and I had to fly from Edinburgh to Venice via London and then have a two and half hour drive to Istria. Car hire in Istria is as expensive as in Italy. Also, if you want to fully explore the region and visit locations such as the hilltop villages Motovun and Gronzjan and the wineries and olive producers, you’ll really need your own transport, so driving down from Trieste or even Venice isn’t so much of an issue.
I visited Istria 20 – 24 April 2009 as a guest of the Istrian Tourist Board on a travel bloggers press trip. The agreement was that I would write at least three posts for the Europe a la Carte Blog about Istria but there would be no editorial control and I would write honestly and in my own style.
I think I have demonstrated that Istria really can allow you to enjoy the culinary, scenic, historic and spa delights of Italy at credit crunch busting prices with a unique Istrian flavour.