by Judith Burns

Croatia is a new hotspot for holidaymakers, and Istria one of its highlights. Try flying into Trieste, Italy and enjoy 4 countries in 1 day on your trip into Croatia!

Croatia is a hotspot these days for holidaymakers. Flying into Trieste in north-east Italy is one of the easiest and most fascinating routes into Istria, northern Croatia. If you have time on your journey, avoid the motorway and take the SS14, known as the "Strada Costiera" that takes you through the centre of Trieste, then follow the route along the top of the northern Adriatic, through Slovenia and into Croatia. You'll see and experience a flavour of the whole region in just one day!

Flying into Trieste from the UK also allows you to enjoy food and drink in four different countries all in one day! Starting off from the UK grab breakfast at the airport. Arrive in time for mid-morning coffee in Italy, then lunch in Slovenia and dinner in Croatia. 4 countries in just 1 day. It's an exciting start to a holiday.
Touch down at the tiny ex-military airport of Trieste, and head towards the naval town of Monfalcone and on to the coast road. If you have time stop at pretty villages on the way such as Duino with its castle or Sistiana with its splendid bay and marina.
As you drive up on to the main road, stop and admire the spectacular view east towards Miramare Castle on the Gulf of Trieste, then Slovenia and in the far distance, Croatia. Go through the tunnel cut into the rock and head for Trieste's extensive seafront. Park on the front opposite Piazza Unità (free at weekends) and walk into the older part of the city to sit in one of the elegant Austro-Hungarian turn-of-the-century cafes. Try an espresso or cappuccino from famous coffee producer Illy, the former mayor of Trieste, with a custard or apricot jam filled croissant or pastry. Before you leave, make sure you see the full-size statue of James Joyce, who wrote part of Ulysses in the city, as he walks across the grand canal.
Back in the car head for signs to Capo d'Istria past the substantial docks, and you'll see the red bands of the Illy coffee logo on the tower at their factory on your right - book in for a tour and see where and how the coffee is made if you have time.
Next stop Muggia - a Roman town and the only town of Istria still remaining in Italy, now a chic little summer resort with stylish yacht marinas, cobbled street centre and picturesque views. From Muggia, drive along the coastal road where in sunshine at weekends you'll see locals sunbathing on concrete groins along the sea, and fishermen in boats exploring the Adriatic depths with nets and rods as giant tankers and container ships sail past out of Trieste's docks. Drive through the remnants left of border control between Italy and Slovenia and up the hill through lush Slovene vineyards.
There are only four towns on the 43 kilometre stretch of Slovenian coast - Koper, Izola, Piran and Portorož.
Pick at a hearty salad sitting outside at one of the trendy Portorož seaside restaurants or bars, as you mingle with the wealthy Casino gamblers and wellness centre lovers in this upmarket thermal spa resort. Or park up and walk into the old part of central Koper, visit the cathedral, walk up to the top of the Bell Tower and reward yourself for having done so by lunching in or around the main square, perhaps at a typical Pizzerija like Atrij.
Remember to avoid the motorways in Slovenia, unless you've pre-paid for a toll vignette. Check your hire car when you pick it up at the airport, you may be lucky enough to have picked up a car that has already had a vignette paid for the month! If you haven't purchased one (available at garages and shops all round Slovenia where you see the vignette sign, cost around 15 euros for a week) don't risk getting caught, there are hefty fines if you're caught without one. We advise you take your Sat Nav from home - update it to include Slovenia and Croatia before you leave - and let it guide you away from the pay parts of the motorway through the tiny villages and roads that run alongside the main motorway around Koper.
And so to Istria, the northernmost tip of Croatia, for the fourth country in your day. As you drive along the coast you'll find yourselves passing the Nature Park of Sečovlje Salina -several kilometres of salt flats and now the largest coastal marsh wetlands; we see white herons as they strut around the park. There's also a museum that shows traditional methods for salt production and a traditional saltmaker's house. It's worth the stop off for an insight into the region and its culture. And you can still purchase Slovenian salt, to us as good as any sea salt we've found!
Remember to have your passports handy as you drive from Slovenia into Croatia; although it is now in the EU there is still a border control. Once through the border head to your chosen town - perhaps Umag for one of its numerous hotels (http://www.istraturist.com/en/hotels/sol-umag/overview), Savudrija for caravaning (http://www.istracamping.com/en/camping/pineta), or Alberi for the luxury Skiper resort and private apartments; check into your hotel, arrive at your campsite or pick up the keys to your rented apartment, and then head out for a leisurely dinner.

Depending on what you've already sampled in the 3 other countries you've visited on your journey, try a seafood platter or King Prawn risotto at Savudrija, a Pizza Istriana at Brtonigla, or a fillet steak grilled on an open fire at Petrovija. Wash it all down with jugs of frothy, fresh Malvazija (white) or Teran (red), the local grape varieties. Watch the sun sink into the Adriatic and marvel at your first day of country hopping.

Bon Appetit ... Dobar tek!