Istria and Kvarner Bay
Istria and Kvarner Bay are located in the north of the country along the largest peninsula in the Adriatic. This enchanting region of old Venetian ports, classical architecture, sun-drenched beaches, vineyards, olive groves, quaint stone houses, and old watermills are all components that make for a fantastic holiday experience.
As a young boy growing up in the 70’s I used to go on one of those magical summer family holidays by car with a caravan in tow from the UK all the way down to Istria and Kvarner Bay in the extreme northwest of Croatia. Once there I would enjoy the many wonderful towns and sights as well as the sun, the sea and as a young boy, the ice cream!
Best Time to Visit Istria and Kvarner Bay
The best time to visit is in what is called the shoulder season from May-June or September-October. During these days the weather is good, the waters are warm and there are not the huge crowds that fill the resorts in high summer. During the Autumn months, Istria also attracts those keen on cuisine with many food festivals showcasing their excellent wines, olives, oils and truffles all popular. In Winter you can even ski in the mountains of Gorski Kotar.
For me the beauty of Istria and Kvarner Bay lies in the off-the-beaten-track countryside, the pretty traditional towns and villages, the stunning architecture, and the spectacular coastline – surely the perfect blend for any holiday
Umag is located in the heart of a magnificent 20km riviera. The attractive main old town features pretty cobbled streets full of shops and bars or restaurants or Konoba as they are called in Croatia.
All around Umag are tourist accommodations making the town and area busy, particularly during the high season.
There is an abundance of large hotels catering to families seeking activities to keep the kids happy. There are also plenty of campsites offering great value for money.
The marina and tennis centre attract the sporty while the churches and museums will, in turn, attract those wanting history and culture.
Novigrad is a typical Adriatic fishing town with stunning architecture, city walls and a natural beauty all of its own. The town is also home to some of the finest seafood cuisines anywhere in Croatia accompanied of course by fine Istrian wine.
Sights to see aside from the city walls and gates include the St Pelagio and St. Maxim’s Parish Church bell tower, the Lapidarium Museum, the Navy Museum and Rigo Gallery.
Throughout the year there are many food and music festivals to attract visitors.
The town of Porec is probably the most popular resort in Istria with it positioned on a wooded peninsula amongst small bays and uninhabited islets. Its Venetian feel and Roman heritage are clear to see with churches, medieval walls, and towers plus as the town developed over the centuries there are beautiful Gothic and Baroque houses throughout.
My childhood memories of Porec are of an ice cream parlour that the family used to go to and on the ceiling were circles as the owner used to toss the balls of ice cream in the air (sometimes too far hence the marks) and catch them in the cornet before presenting it to this excited kid! I also remember he always used to talk about Kevin Keegan who in those halcyon late seventies days was a footballing icon all over the world. Great memories.
Porec now boasts not only those ice cream parlours but also a range of quality hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, cafes, and bars.
This is a great choice for a family holiday or as a base from which to go off and explore if you are a more adventurous type.
The hilltop fortress village of Vrsar is just 10 km from Porec. Aside from its fortifications, there are churches, town gates, and beautiful summer houses. Lim Fjord a protected nature park is just 3kms to the north of the town.
Every year one of the top annual attractions is the music festival that takes place in Montraker on the edge of the town.
Vrsar is also known to be the centre of Croatian naturism so if you fancy getting your kit off then Vrsar and the huge campsites that are in the immediate vicinity are for you!
The ancient fishing port of Rovinj is arguably the most breathtakingly beautiful resort in the whole Adriatic region. The town is dominated by the Cathedral of St Euphemia which towers over the town from up above. I remember walking up the cobbled streets to the top early evening to watch the sunset – the walk will make you puff but it’s worth it!
Before you embark on that walk up the hill you may get sidetracked and pulled into the legendary Valentino’s Cocktail Bar where you are taken through the bar to the rocks on the seafront on the other side….you are given a cushion to sit on, order a cocktail and watch the sunset for a moment you will cherish forever.
Rovinj is packed full of little side streets of restaurants shops and studios selling all sorts of art, souvenirs, and keepsakes. This town is a special place… it’s unspoiled… it’s clean…. it makes you feel that life ain’t so bad after all!
On the outskirts of Rovinj are large hotels catering to families. Those looking to stay in Rovinj will pay a premium in small boutique hotels often squeezed in on narrow streets…. it can be noisy but then that’s part of the appeal of being in the old town.
The port of Pula is located on the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula. This beautiful Istrian city offers a fascinating mix of Roman history and contemporary style and is the most important commercial and cultural centre of the region. The sea is crystal clear and the fishing superb plus there is excellent shopping, museums and art galleries and a friendly warm welcome from the locals.
The highlight of any trip to Pula is the Roman Amphitheatre. It is the only remaining amphitheatre to have four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved.
People do stay in Pula but I find it ideal for one or two nights before heading off to explore more!
Rabac is a pretty little town with picturesque brightly coloured houses overlooking a glorious bay. Girandella Beach is the best of a small choice of pebble beaches with plenty of establishments where the sunbathing is done for a spot of lunch or a cooling cocktail at day’s end.
The town is extremely popular and crowded in the summer months like many of Croatia’s most popular resorts so prepare yourselves if you are heading there in the heat of August!
Hum is by all accounts officially the smallest town in the world. Now whether that is true or not it’s wonderful and most definitely small and perfectly formed!
At only 100 meters long and 30 meters wide it hosts a wealth of interest for visitors such as the city walls, the watch tower, stone streets, and squares. The town is like many in the region known for its cuisine in particular its truffles. The town is also known as Biska which is a local brandy.
Groznjan, the village of artists, is the most charming of Istrian hidden gems that if you hire a car and get the chance, go and explore as it is also close to Motovun and Hum which are also full of character. This is the real Croatia!
The village also has a love of local music that you often hear as you wander through the narrow lanes of pretty little shops and studios selling arts and crafts plus there are a few little restaurants. You can feel its soul in those little cobbled streets and enjoy breathtaking views of the Adriatic Sea.
Remember to get a parking ticket for long enough to be distracted – it’s small but there are heaps to keep you interested.
Grosnjan is generally just for a visit as opposed to an overnight stop.
Motovun is only small and few people know about it before travelling to the region but once you are in Istria many will suggest you go and discover this pretty hilltop town in the heart of the Istrian countryside.
The first thing you will notice about Motovun is the town walls and gates which all originate in the 11th and 12th centuries. Then there is the main square containing the Church of St Stephen and the bell tower and from here a myriad of small cobbled lanes and streets housing rustic shops selling truffles, wine, oils, and other fresh local products. This little town is a delight to wander around and if you are a photographer then there are endless opportunities for some wonderful images.
Motovun is famous for its film festival every July when open-air viewings of independently made movies are showcased in magical settings. Accommodation is available either outside or inside the town although given its size this can be limited at peak times.
The charming and sophisticated resort of Opatija was created by the monarchs and aristocrats of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Today, the splendour of a bygone era of opulence and grandeur remains in the architectural style of many of the hotels.
My grandfather and grandmother used to waltz on the terrace of the Hotel Kvarner back in the fifties so this town has a special place in my heart although it’s not my favorite Croatian resort.
The gardens and parks of Opatija are a pleasant feature as is the main waterfront promenade which is lively in the summer months.
Opatija is definitely for the older market and those seeking a peaceful stay.
The stylish town of Lovran nestles at the base of Mount Ucka in a crystal-clear bay surrounded by pine trees. Immediately you will notice the Austro-Hungarian-influenced villas that give the town a real air of class and sophistication.
Many of these villas provide accommodation for tourists or you can stay at a good choice of hotels, B&Bs, and apartments. There are plenty of activities on offer in the town from water sports on the beach to mountain biking and hiking up in the hills of Ucka. Lovran is a lovely place for either a summer holiday or a short break in the Spring or Autumn.
One of the largest Central European ports and until recently a powerful industrial centre, Rijeka is a city of history, culture, fun and some pretty ugly residential tower blocks!
Walk the central town squares, Korzo, visit the Old Town, the Shrine to Majka Božja on Trsat, and in the evening, visit the theatre, stop in one of the many restaurants, walk on the waterfront and then finish the evening dancing to rhythms in one of the many clubs.
This city is famous for its many cultural and entertainment events such as the Rijeka Summer Nights, where musical-theatrical events are held throughout the city. Also, the Rijeka carnival is one of the five largest carnivals in the world, where the interesting combination of old Slavic traditions and the urban carnival is similar to that in Venice.
Again this is a city to visit rather than base yourself for any length of time.
Just 20 miles south of Rijeka is the pretty town and beach of Crikvenica. The town is popular for wellness tourism and particularly for those seeking to treat respiratory illnesses like asthma and bronchitis.
Frankopan Castle is the signature building and the top sightseeing choice in the town. There is also a museum and an aquarium however the pretty Riviera and promenade are what live longest in the memory.