“Tone Tuscany down a notch or two – thin the tourist hordes, lower the prices, sprinkle a little mystique – and you get Istria. Shaped like a heart, this Italian-flavoured peninsula of 3600 sq km is where continental Croatia meets the Adriatic. In summer months, the sun-and-sea set storms the resort-lined coast, or so-called ‘blue Istria’. For art, food, wine and an offbeat vibe, head to the interior, nicknamed ‘green Istria’ – a bucolic dream of rolling hills, hilltop villages, rural B&Bs and farmhouse restaurants.” Lonely Planet’s top 10 regions for 2011
Having many characteristics of Italy and south of France,great climate, fantastic food, beautiful architecture one would think Istria is expensive; but it isn’t. With a flight time of 1.45 min from the UK Istria is a perfect place for an inexpensive family holiday. As an Croatian mother in the UK, here are my tips on where to go & stay, things to do for kids and grown ups and importantly where to eat.
As a mother of a small baby I know that travelling with a baby or small kids can be daunting especially when packing all the necessary entertainment and gadgets. We found that staying in privately owned apartments or if you want to splash out villas, is the easiest way.
Some of the rental villas and apartments on www.Istrawiz.com have baby cots, high chairs, toys, and even playgrounds with swings.
In order to save money it’s better to book by weeks rather then days, booking in advance off course and travelling with another family can save you a lot of money.
The ideal location is the town of Porec or Parenzo. Porec offers enough entertainment for a week’s holiday itself, but it’s also a great hub in case you want to explore the rest of Istria.
The town itself is 2,000 years old with a 6th century basilica which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Porec is pedestrianised and safe for children.
The coastline around Porec is perfect for long walk with buggies, with plenty of great beach bars and facilities along the way. Our favourite is Tequila beach bar, with beautiful sea views and live bands playing. If you get tired of walking you can always hop on a beach train that takes you few kilometres around Porec town.
The beaches in Istria are all rocky therefore you’ll need plastic sandals. Some beaches such as Brulo have a human made sandy beach and tons of play equipement. Most of the beaches in and around Poreč have Blue Flags, which means that the sea is very clean.
Things to do
Grown ups will enjoy taking day trips to inland Istria to picturesque towns such as Groznjan, Motovun and Hum.
One can also visit Venice for a day trip as many ferries leave from/to Porec. It takes 2.30 hrs to travel for a cost of €121 for a adult return ticket and €76 for a child ticket.
A day trip to Brioni national park (an island) might excite children and grown ups alike. Bioni used to be a summer residence of president Tito of Yugoslavia. In its heyday, the island was filled with exotic animals such as giraffes, lions and tigers. These days, however the animals are fewer. You will find zebras,peacocks, goats (a symbol of Istria) and an Istrian Boskarin (Istrian ox). There’s also one elephant, who came as a gift from Indira Gandhi in the 1970s.
Many film starts such as Richards Burton,Elizabeth Taylor and Gina Lollobrigida visited the island. You can still see the 1950s Cadillac that transported heads of state round the island. Getting to Brioni is easy, just take a boat in Fazana (south form Porec). The tickets costs around €25 for adults and €15 for children.
Children might enjoy a day trip to Dino Park; a dinosaurs themed park whit giant T.rex replicas. Dino Park is situated in a small town south from Porec called Funtana. A magic show, children’s zoo and playground are all included in the entrance price.
One exciting new addition to Istria is three new aqua parks opening in Summer 2014. They will be the biggest water parks in South East Europe.
Similar to Italy, Istrians are very proud of its’ food and pay a lot of attention to seasonal fresh ingredients. One can sample delicious wine,truffles, olive oil and plenty of freshly grilled fish. The Italian influence means that there’s also a lot of food that kids like such as pasta, pizza and ice cream. Central Porec has plenty of ice cream shops guaranteed to keep children happy.
In central Porec we like the restaurant Istra. Istra is famous for its fresh fish, so please ask for the catch of the day when ordering. I particularly like the seafood platter as a starter with various types of pate’s, marinated fish,anchovies & fresh octopus salad.
In central Istria you’ll find plenty of ‘konoba’s’ a traditional and family owned restaurants that serve fresh and traditional dishes. You must try the Istrian ham & cheese for a starter!
If you decide to travel to Istria this summer you can get there with direct flights with Ryanair,Thomson,Jet2.com.
Don’t forget to pack your flip flops for a daytime relaxed look and some nice dresses for an evening look as Croats are pretty stylish when going out.