A detailed itinerary for exploring Croatia’s under-the-radar peninsula.
Time loses all meaning in Istria, the heart-shaped peninsula in Croatiaoverlooking the Adriatic Sea. While it’s small enough to drive across in a couple of hours, it’s easy to spend a few days getting (purposefully) lost in Istria’s charming towns, hillside vineyards, and fairy-tale ports.
With origins dating to the Roman Empire, Istria is packed with history: After World War I, the then Austro-Hungarian peninsula became part of Italy – many of its residents still speak Italian today. After World War II, the region joined the former Yugoslavia until 1991, when it pledged its allegiance to the Republic of Croatia. Those centuries of influence anchor Istria’s abiding appeal – it’s a place where history meets luxury and surf marries turf. Travelers can spend a day inland, exploring ancient villages where olive-tree-clad hills give way to truffle-laden oak forests, and the next day lounge on a sunny beach, staring out at the azure-colored sea.
Whether you visit for a long-weekend getaway or as part of a larger, country-hopping European adventure, here’s how to spend three dreamy days in Istria.
Day 1: Revisit Roman History
Located on the peninsula’s southern tip, Pula is Istria’s largest city and home to its only airport, making it an ideal starting point for adventure. Get acquainted with the region’s history at the Pula Arena: The first-century AD structure is one of Croatia’s best-preserved ancient monuments and the sixth-largest Roman amphitheater in the world. Stand beneath its colonnades and imagine that, once upon a time, the arena held 20,000 spectators cheering at gladiator contests. “Pula has a vibrant cultural scene, with many festivals, concerts, and exhibitions held throughout the year, including several at the arena,” says Virtuoso advisor Meaghan Clawsie.
Keep the time travel going at the 2,000-year-old Temple of Augustus and Arch of the Sergii, both just a ten-minute walk away from the Pula Arena. When it’s time for a break from Roman history, travelers are steps from a great Istrian meal. Consider grabbing a table at Sophia, an elegant, seafront restaurant that specializes in fine cuts of meat, including Istrian boskarin(cattle).
Chiavalon Estate in Vodnjan distributes its flavorful olive oils all over the world.
Istria Tourist Board
Be sure to leave room for an olive-oil tasting. Drive 15 minutes north of Pula to the medieval village of Vodnjan, home to the acclaimed Chiavalonolive oil farm. The family-run operation tends to 9,000 olive trees and produces high-quality extra-virgin olive oil. Complimentary tastings give visitors a chance to sample the herbal, grassy notes distinct to Istrian olive oil.
After an afternoon strolling through Chiavalon’s olive groves and roaming around Vodnjan, drive 30 minutes northwest to Rovinj, a fishing port on Istria’s west coast, for the evening. For dinner, settle into the Michelin-starred Agli Amici at the 209-room Grand Park Hotel Rovinj for a proper tasting-menu spectacle, or head to the Wine Vault in the 113-room Hotel Monte Mulini for exquisitely executed dishes such as oxtail ravioli and rosemary-tinged roasted wild tuna, paired with Croatian wine from the restaurant’s vast cellar.
Rovinj, a port city best viewed from a yacht.
Istria Tourist Board
Day 2: Spend Time by the Sea
You can’t leave Istria without getting on a yacht – sorry, we don’t make the rules. Virtuoso advisors can charter one from Rovinj, so travelers can spy Old Town’s pastel-colored buildings from a different perspective, get an up-close look at the coastline's offshore islands, and explore the secret cliffs and romantic bays of Cape Kamenjak.
Back in Rovinj, explore Old Town’s maze of cobblestoned streets, ending a stroll at the campanile-towered, hilltop Church of Saint Euphemia. The eighteenth-century baroque building is named for a fourth-century saint who was thrown to the lions in what is now northern Turkey. Her relics are inside the church. Afterwards, find bubbly predinner cocktails at Valentino, a Champagne bar that pairs sparkling wine with waterfront views – its cliffside, auditorium-style seating gives travelers a front-row seat for the sunset. Stroll back up the street to Monte, Croatia’s first Michelin-starred restaurant and the home of chef Danijel Dekic, or head to Cap Aureo on the fifth floor of the Grand Park Hotel, where chef Jeffrey Vella transforms local, seasonal vegetables into savory, sustainable plates.
Luciano in Buje was featured in Croatia’s 2023 Michelin Guide.
Istria Tourist Board
Day 3: Hunt for Truffles and Toast to Travels
Its olive oil may be world famous, but Istria is also known for its wild truffles, which grow throughout the region’s oak forests. In Motovun, about an hour’s drive northeast from Rovinj, several truffle-hunting families, such as Pietro & Pietro, Prodan Tartufi, and Karlic Tartufi, lead travelers into the woods in search of the aromatic fungi. Get digging, then enjoy the bounty at a posthunt lunch of pasta with grated truffles and cheese.
Hop over to the hill town of Groznjan, ten miles west across the Mirna River Valley, to pop into the many art galleries and craft shops in this quaint village of artists. “Groznjan’s combination of artistic energy, historic charm, and scenic beauty makes it my top recommendation for a visit to Istria,” says Virtuoso advisor Valentina O’Kane.
For dinner, drive ten minutes up the road to Luciano, in the village of Buje. The restaurant, located in an old stone villa and recognized in Croatia’s 2023 Michelin Guide, features dishes that put a modern twist on traditional Istrian cuisine, such as pork cheek croquettes and scallops in a smoked crab broth. End the evening – and say cheers to an exhilarating, three-day adventure – with a bottle of local wine from the restaurant’s walk-in cellar.