If you looking for the Tuscany and Provance of the 1960’s, with amazing gastronomy, stunning nature and private beaches – Istria is the place for you. From film festivals to jazz festivals; simple eateries to Micheline star restaurants; sandy beaches to secluded rocks; Istria offers variety for individual and family visitors which is unique in the Mediterranean. Read about our top tips below.
Gračišće has one of the oldest and most beautiful walking paths in Istria. Stretching over 12 km, walking path marked with the stages of cross runs through picturesque shire of rolling hills from Gračišće to Pićan and back. Each hilltop is marked with a (ruin) hundreds year old stone chapel or leftover of the village once inhabited by local sheep farmers. At the bottom of Gračišće, is a hidden village of Sopot with a wonderful waterfall worth a visit. You will notice big EU-sign half way between the house and Gračišće marking the beginning of this road – we strongly recommend following that path as the views are breath-taking.
Our friend Isabel who lives in the village with her partner Samy runs a nice blog where you can read about Gračišće and Istria and see a few photos of these walking paths as well.
Food and wine
On the way to Gračišće are our neighbours Bažon (first house on the right on the main road), one of the most hospitable family wine makers in Central Istria. Pepo, the owner, and his son Matej speak fluent English and will be able to welcome you and introduce you to their products (red merlot is great, white malvazija is good). It is worth getting your weekly wine supplies from Bažon, but not only from them!
We also have a French/Chilean/Croatian family in the village that started producing some of the best wines that Istria offers, as well as champagne! Jackie and Olivier are good friends, so please simply knock on their doors (beautiful house next to the main church in Gračišće), or call them in order to arrange for some Koquelicot wine tasting in their cellar.
Our friend Andrea is running organic/Demeter farm few kilometres from our house which is worth a visit (Andrea is quite something!).
Cheese and skuta (local ricotta style cheese), as well as fresh fish is sold every morning on Pazin farmer’s market. Farmer’s market (covered building off the main ’70s piazza in Pazin) is worth a visit – this is where you get best gossip and super tasty sheep cheese. Try to go before midday – ladies are selling fresh produce from their gardens and eggs at extremely affordable prices, while in the right-hand corner is small cheese producer with fantastic selection of local cows’ and sheep cheeses, yogurt and milk.
Festivals and other events
There are a number of top festivals in towns and villages around us – the best festivals are in the second half of July. Film festival in Motovun, dance and non-verbal theatre festival in Savičenta (Svetvinčenat) and jazz festival in Grožnjan are a must. Please visit official Istrian tourist board website where you can browse more about these and other festivals and events taking place in Istria.
Closest town to Grašišće/us (8km) is Pazin (Mittlestadt during Austro-Hungary), the ‘administrative’ centre of Istria, so as a consequence it ended up becoming an industrial hub in the ‘70s with wonderful mix of traditional Istrian architecture and nostalgic Yugoslav heritage that makes the fabric of the city, as well as the DNA of its citizens. There are a few important highlights that are worth a visit:
- Kaštel (castle) in the centre of town is a must to see, as well as the abyss of Pazin river (Jules Verne wrote a book about Pazin Kastel and the abyss).
- Next to the Kaštel (but starting from motel Lovac on the other side of the abyss) is super cool zip line that became uber popular over the past couple of years. I tried it last year and loved it!
- Good coffee is served in Bunker cafe where you should inquire with the Farkaš brothers who run the café as a musical venue as well, about the upcoming events (Farkas bros play in Veja and usually have a friendly bands from Estonia, Bulgaria, Columbia,… passing through Istria and jamming in the cafe that evening.
- Good pizza and lunch is served in Motel Lovac (disaster of a motel, but great terrace and a decent kitchen).
Elsewhere in Istria
On the other side of Pazin is the village of Beram (3km away towards Poreč) with a fantastic Konoba eatery Vela Vrata. Beram is worth a visit for its world renown wooden church near the graveyard. Please ask in Vela Vrata for the key of the church before walking towards the cemetery where there chapel is based.
Mountain Učka, 15 miles drive from Gračišće towards the town of Rijeka is most impressive observatory offering views to as far as Trieste and Piran. Locals say that on a clear day one can see the bells of St Marco’s cathedral in Venice. Not sure about that one, but the view of islands and Istria from the top are spectacular. The best way to get there is to drive to the tunnel Učka (marked well along the main road) and turn just before the tunnel towards ‘Učka’. You will arrive to the bottom of the mountain where you can leave the car next to one the restaurants and continue on foot. Fresh soup and pasta fuži with truffles are highly recommended in the restaurant on the way back. Well-deserved after 3 hours walk as well!
Opatija – Austro-Hungarian Monte Carlo with charm, is a must during the stay in Istria. The best way is to drive to from Gračičće towards Pićan and then further down towards Labin. At the bottom of the hill, in Vozilići, turn left towards Lovran and Opatija. It will take you 40 minutes from there to Opatija, but you will be driving through a spectacular, Amalfi-like scenary with a couple of compulsory stopovers – one is ‘Vidikovac’ – a restaurant/café at one of the tips of Istrian peninsula, 10 minutes after Vozilići; Lovran is a seaside village before Opatija with great coffee, while Opatija itself offers wonderful art nouveau architecture and great cakes in Hotel Kvarner. From Opatija to Volosko there is a most wonderful walk by the sea which was there since 1880s and is still considered as one of the most beautiful walks in Croatia. When in Volosko, it is must to visit fish restaurant Tramerka which serves fantastic delicacies (in the centre of the village, behind ‘Plavi Podrum’ restaurant) – hidden and humble, with fantastic and imaginative fresh seafood.
Closer, equally good restaurant is in Plomin Luka – just off Vozilici at the bottom of the hill as you drive down from Gračišće towards Labin and the coast. Plomin Luka has a nice beach as well with a view of the largest chimney in Istria. It feels weird and wonderful, almost apocalyptic swimming next to it. Restaurant Riva in the centre of Plomin Luka serves best fresh fish in the area and prices are not aimed at tourists, as that is the case in Rovinj and Poreč.
Another place to visit and to eat, as well as swim is Labin – Albona in Italian. This is the city of artists and Velo Kafe on the main piazza serves best squid you have ever tasted. It is worth spending few hours in Labin and its surroundings famous for its mixture of traditional Italian and Fascist architecture (check out the village of Raša, exemplary model of an Italian industrial fascist architecture built by Mussolini in early ’40s). Labin has Labin Art Republica festival throughout the summer, so it is worth checking in the Info desk what is on that evening.
Labin has also wonderful wild beaches – drive through the city in a direction of Sv Marina, turn left after the graveyard towards the village of Sv Marina. There are several bays on both sides of the peninsula that offer clean and undisturbed experience.
Rovinj is worth a day visit where one can combine culture, food and swimming at the bottom of Monte Mulini park, as well as good coffee in Monte Mulini hotel.
Poreč has a wonderful basilica and byzantine ruins and a great waterpark next door!
Kamenjak natural park is a must. Drive towards Pula and follow signs for Kamenjak. Car needs to be parked at the entrance, but the rocks and hidden bays are worth the effort.
More commercial beaches are within easy reach – from 25 minutes to 40 minutes drive away you can experience Poreč and combine it with the visit to Beradine Cave which is impressive.
Novigrad offers children-friendly surrounding and, extremely exciting waterpark Istralandia.
Choose your dates and book your fabulous Istrian holiday house today!