Inland Istria: Green & Pleasant Land of Croatia

by Judith Burns

There's much more to Istria than the Adriatic: shimmering blue seas, gleaming yachts and glitzy hotels. Look inland to uncover Green Istria, away from the tourist traps, crowds and campsites.

If you want to steer away from the crowded coastal towns of the Adriatic, head inland to Green Istria.  Here are a few lesser known towns and villages that still give you a taste of this gastronomic and cultural paradise.

Buzet is around 55 km inland of the Adriatic, near to the Croatian border with Slovenia. It's a typical medieval hilltop village with a fascinating history, cobbled streets and museums. Beautiful walks, delicious wines and grappa, this village is located in the heart of Istria's white truffle countryside, but not as well known as villages such as Motovun or Livade, where Zigante's often-written-about truffle restaurant is located. For a truffle stuffing in a typical konoba, try instead Restaurant Vrh in the tiny hilltop village of Vrh after a morning of truffle hunting with dogs in the Mirna Valley. If you're there in early September enjoy Subotina (Buzet's own one-day holiday to celebrate Our Lady's birthday), watch demonstrations of oldentimes crafts and enjoy eating part of the enormous truffle omelette prepared by chefs in the main square.

For a novel afternoon, visit the winery of Piquentum (the Latin name for Buzet), an ex-military water tank cut into a hill near the Favorit Beer factory, run by half-French half-Croatian talented winemaker Dimitri Brečević. Stay at the dramatically different Vela Vrata Hotel in Buzet, or the intriguing Istarske Toplice resort that's located on the meandering road from Buje to Buzet, where you can enjoy the wellness centre and relaxing thermal waters of the mineral spring Sv. Stjepan.

Travel from Buzet to Pazin and stop off at the smallest town in the world - Hum - just because it's famous as the smallest town in the world and it is also famous for making great domestic grappa!

At Pazin you are in the most central part of inland Istria. To us this feels and looks like a working town, and that's because it is.  Off the tourist track, but there is still plenty for the tourist to see and do including the Castle Montecuccoli, now a museum.  Of course, don't miss "Pazin's Pit", the natural abyss that Jules Verne made famous in his novel Mathias Sandorf, when his hero plummets into the Pazinčica River and is swept towards the Lim Canal near Rovinj.  Don't forget to shop in the local openair market, buy Pazin honey, locally produced and if you like classical literature then time your visit for "Jules Verne Day", every 26 June when the town celebrates one of its most famous visitors.

Motovun is one of the most widely visited typical inland fortified towns, with hordes of tourists descending from coaches daily during the summer to walk its cobbled streets. Instead, try Grožnjan. 228 metres above sea level, with beautiful views out towards the Adriatic and the Mirna valley, this is one of the prettiest medieval villages that became an artists' colony in the 1960s. Walk around the centre looking at the art galleries and find presents to take home made by local artists, jewellers, glass blowers and ceramicists. If you're in Istria in the Summer, make sure you check the local tourist board for details of wine tasting events sometimes held in the Venetian loggia, or check the dates of the jazz festival, founded by Croatian jazz musician Boško Petrović, and held every summer, that has enticed blues and jazz musicians such as Georgie Fame and Jools Holland to play in the open air square under the stars. Grožnjan also houses the International Cultural Centre of Young Musicians so there's a regular programme of music events to cover all tastes. Sit outside under the big oak trees and soak up the atmosphere of the local konoba with carafes of local wine and bowls of home-made pasta . Sometimes in the distance you'll be treated to an electric storm over the Adriatic. Be thankful: this will cool down the heat and clear the air, ready for tomorrow, another day in paradise.