In recent years, Istria has shown its might as a tourist destination, defying the surreal circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic by being easily reached by land from other European countries. But Istria is not at all a consolation prize for its proximity, quite the opposite. The largest peninsula in the Adriatic is home to spectacular towns, world-renowned wines and olive oils, unique cuisine, numerous beaches, five-star hotels, and a wealth of culture and history.
But not everyone comes up with an idea of this region beyond the sea, the islands, and the beaches, something that happens similarly in Dalmatia. Some forget that much of Istria’s magic lies (not so) far from the coast. With this in mind, here we show you some of the best destinations you can visit in Central Istria. Warning: Not to be confused with Central Istria as a public administration, since it only covers some districts. In this article, we will mention destinations on the Istrian peninsula that are not located by the sea.
Located right in the heart of Istria, Pazin is known for medieval Pazin Castle, the former residence of the Istrian margraves. The intensity of life here is pretty much the same in winter and summer, with the monthly exception of every first Tuesday, when a flood of curious buyers from all over Istria runs into the town to visit the traditional Pazin Market. Pazin is very rich in culture and history due to the presence of different civilizations, empires, and governments throughout time. Be sure to visit the Pazin castle, the Pazin abyss, the Franciscan monastery, the Memorial Center of Union and Freedom, the state archives, and more. Learn more about Pazin here.
Image: Tourist Board of Central Istria/Official Website
Motovun sits on top of a hill towering over the valley of Mirna, the biggest Istrian river. The location was settled since Celtic times, but the town we know today was mostly built under Venetian rule in the Middle Ages. Its centuries-old walls and buildings are the best preserved in Istria, giving the place a unique charm. Yet Motovun is more than its quaint architecture and breathtaking view. It is the Croatian capital of truffles and hosts a famous film festival, which will take place from July 26 to 30 this year. Learn more about Motovun here.
Photo: Mario Romulić
Often referred to as the smallest town in the world, Hum is a town situated on a hilltop above the source of the Mirna River. It is located in the vicinity of Buzet and Roč. The towns of Roč and Hum have been connected through a shared history and culture since ancient times, and are now also connected by the famous Glagolitic Alley. Hum has just 20 inhabitants, and therefore its well-known name as the smallest town in the world. Learn more from Hum here.
Labin is the biggest town in the otherwise not-so-populated and not-so-popular eastern Istria. In the past, the town was known for its coal mines. Nowadays, all the mines have been closed, and there are no more miners. The community is turning more and more towards tourism – but is far from being overwhelmed by it. Its old town, sitting on top of a hill, is among the most beautiful ones on the peninsula. Although it’s not located by the sea, and exactly because of that, Labin has a stunning view of Kvarner bay. Learn more about Labin here.
Image: Labin-Rabac Tourist Board/Official website
Vodnjan is situated near Pula, where excellent olive oil is produced, and its surroundings have the largest number of kažun houses, dry-stone houses in the Mediterranean. The largest church in Istria –Parish Church of St Blase was built at the end of the 18th century, with the 63-meter-high bell tower. The church holds a valuable collection of sacral art and preserved bodies of saints, the so-called Vodnjan mummies, due to which it is visited by around 16000 people a year. Learn more from Vodnjan here.
The area of the town of Buje is located in the northwestern part of the Istrian peninsula. Approximately 5,300 inhabitants live in an area of 103.40 km2. The town of Buje is located between the rivers Mirna and Dragonja. In the north, there are the hills of the Upper Buje, and in the south the Adriatic Sea in Kanegra and the Piran Bay. It is a rolling and hilly area covered with vineyards, olive groves, and arable land dotted with oak, cherry, and pine forests, a karst belt full of interesting geological phenomena, and meadows of Mediterranean vegetation, among which thyme and spruce predominate. Learn more about Buje here.
The nearby Motovun might be the quintessential Istrian hilltop town, but Grožnjan is also well worth visiting. As is the case with many Istrian towns, it was settled during the Roman times, built under Venetian rule in Middle Ages, and well preserved up to today. The place was almost deserted after World War II, but in 1965 a group of artists decided to turn the town into an art colony, which remains up to the present. It’s a great accommodation spot for those who don’t need the sea, and it makes for a good base for exploring the hilly part of Istria. Learn more about Grožnjan here.
Photo: Mario Romulić
Sometimes it is not easy to follow the traces of Pićan in historical sources because it hides under various names. The origin of the name Petina is attributed by some to the assumption that the Diocese of Pićan was the fifth in the world, with the word five (pet, in Croatian) having Celtic roots. Pićan is certainly inhabited in distant prehistory. The oldest parts of the Istrian hillfort were located on the hill of Calvary, north of today’s settlement, and then it is assumed that the Celtic tribe Secusa lived there. In Roman times, probably in the same strategically well-chosen place, there was a military stronghold and the settlement of Petina. Learn more about Pićan here.
Image: Pićan municipality/Official website
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