Paradise Found Host and Travel Guru Ashley Colburn raves about not only her second home but also her favorite country in the world — Croatia.
It’s where the rolling hills meet fairytale towns. It’s where the wine flows right up to the sea. It’s the one place in the world I can return to time and time again and get lost in the mystic vineyards, sparkling sea, and medieval towns. The Istrian Peninsula in the northwestern region of Croatia is like nowhere else in the world.
When it comes to my favorite cities in the world, Rovinj tops the list. Its charm, colors, seaside views, and overall atmosphere make it a special place. Once an island, it was later connected to the mainland by filling in a channel, and now it’s a cultural destination with medieval architecture and traditional shops. Stop by Grisia Street where you’ll find local ateliers with their handmade souvenirs or even get off the island with a boat trip to see views of the city from the Adriatic.
Related: Zagreb, Croatia – A European Delight
Istria’s gastronomy is some of the best in the world. Being one of three places where the mysterious truffle can be found, the region is also famous for having grown the largest truffle in the world! Guests can participate on a truffle hunt with the dogs and then enjoy the delicacy with a nice omelet or pasta dish. In Istria, you can find truffle on basically everything — beef, duck, cheese, honey, even ice cream. The flavors of Istria mix well together, whether you are eating their prosciutto, homemade cheese, olive oil or wine. One thing is for sure – you will never go hungry!
Many people think Dalmatia is where you need to go to find the islands. On the contrary, some of the most historical set, the Brijuni Islands, lie off the Istrian Peninsula. There aren’t many places in the world where you can walk on top of Roman ruins and have them all to yourself, but this is one of them. The best way to explore the main island (Brijuni) is on a private golf cart tour, but make sure to visit the safari park as the island was home to former Yugoslavian President Tito, who received animals as gifts from other world leaders, including an elephant, zebras, and ostriches. Discover the private bays, where you can swim in the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic. After all, Istria is a sun and sea destination whether Dalmatia wants to admit this or not!
The region of Istria is well worth a week or two if you want to be totally relaxed on your vacation. Inland Istria is the richest part of the region, from the soil to the delicacies that can be found deep within. Some of the region’s most prestigious winemakers have not only the best soil but also unique techniques that make their varietals of Malvazija and Teran some of the best wines I’ve ever had. Pairing these wines with other products of the region such as local cheese, olive oil, prosciutto, and truffles is an experience in itself.
The seaside town of Poreč is full of cobblestone streets that date back to Roman times as well as the most prized church in all of Croatia. The Euphrasian Basilica has stood through wars, fires, and earthquakes making it timeless and priceless. This church has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and some artifacts date back as early as the 4th century, including the original mosaic, which is still intact. The fish is the symbol of Poreč, so try some local fish dishes and enjoy the views of the Adriatic and authentic fishing boats. Poreč is also a great town to buy souvenirs.
Prized for its amphitheater, Pula Arena is one of the best-preserved amphitheaters in the world, constructed between 27 B.C. and 68 A.D. Of course the arena was used for gladiator fights, but it now holds several events today. Pula Film Festival, hockey matches, and Croatian stars 2Cellos have all filled the prized monument creating unforgettable sounds and memories. The city of Pula is the largest in the region, so while it is an industrial shipping port, you will find transportation connections for the rest of the country, great restaurants, shopping, and plenty of other original Roman ruins.
Where to Stay – Hotel Monte Mulini
Rovinj’s magic goes beyond its postcard view. You can make the dream come to life with a stay at Hotel Monte Mulini. This five-star, boutique gem seamlessly blends The Zlatni rt Park Forest with the beautiful Lone Bay to create a relaxing atmosphere for guests, and a short walk to historic Rovinj and the marina offers unparalleled elegance and convenience. Large balconies with panoramic views showcase the natural elements of Istria while fine dining at Mediterraneo offers scrumptious Mediterranean cuisine. Perfectly pair a drink with your meal at the Wine Vault, which serves exquisite French cuisine and has a wine list consisting of more than 550 Croatian and international labels.
Ashley Colburn is a two-time Emmy-winning TV producer and host who has traveled to more than 25 countries on six continents in two years. Follow Ashley’s adventures in Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, and Hawaii on GOGO Vacations’ webseries, Paradise Found!