Perfect 5 Day Itinerary for the Istria Peninsula, Croatia
While many people flock to the gorgeous coast line beaches and island hop around Croatia, there is a hidden gem that offers some of the best Croatia has to offer with much fewer tourists. I remember watching the Anthony Bourdain episode of his discovery of this country and adding it to our travel list. It reminded us of Italy – wine, truffles, great food – but with a more coastal and Mediterranean vibe.
The Istria Peninsula is located in the north west part of the country and the unique landscape provides some incredible destinations making a perfect itinerary with diverse experiences. You can get the outdoor adventure at a national park and kayaking in the Adriatic Sea, educate yourself with a brand new wine region, and have your bellies full eating truffles and fresh caught seafood. Istria has a little bit of everything!
Know before you go
- Getting to Croatia is very easy. We flew into Zagreb and rented a car which I would highly recommend to get around. It is about a three hour drive from Motovun to the Istria Peninsula.
- Unlike the rest of Europe, the public transit in Croatia is not great so make sure you have a car.
- As of January 2023, Croatia’s currency is now the euro. Make sure if you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fee – highly recommend getting one if not – that will be fine for your trip. You can also take out euros to use as you will find some places that are cash only, but almost everywhere accepts credit cards.
- The language situation here is super interesting. Since Croatia caters to tourism which is dominated by European travelers,very few people speak the Croatian language and in return, the common language among the locals and tourists is English since it is not practical for everyone to learn every European language. So as English speakers, we benefit from this arrangement greatly. We never had a problem with the language. In fact, every night at dinner we would be surrounded by tables speaking all sorts of languages – Italian, French, German – but then when speaking to the servers, everyone spoke English.
- Keep an eye out for festivals throughout the year in this reason – many food and wine festivals occur and festivals are a great way to experience a town.
- Starting in 2023, if you are traveling international to any country in the Schengan Zone, you will have to complete a form prior to arrival, including a 7 euro application fee, for the ETIAS – European Travel Information and Authorization System.
Where to stay?
We divided the trip into two areas and stayed in a part of the northern section of the peninsula and then the southern. We were glad we did this to limit too much long distance driving and spend more time in each location. We selected the towns of Motonvun and Rovinj to centralize ourselves for exploration of the areas. The had great Airbnbs in both locations – here they are for Motovun and Rovinj. If you are looking to splurge a bit, you can stay at one of the wineries near Motovun (such as Agorturizam Toncic) and at one of the beachside resorts in Rovinj.
What is there to do?
There are two main areas to focus on for this trip – the town of Motovun and the town of Rovinj. Motovun is located in the countryside where you will experience a more traditional European feel and some of the best wine and truffles in the region. Rovinj is a coastal town surrounded by the ocean and has the most incredible sunsets. Here seafood reigns supreme and it is easy to walk the streets aimlessly just taking everything in.
- Explore the town of Motovun – full of shops, restaurants, and incredible views of the region.
- Wine tasting – Croatia is home to a very established and fruitful wine region. The grape that runs the show here is Malvasija. Perfect for summer, this grape creates a light and refreshing wine that is very drinkable – dry, lower in alcohol content, and has sweet floral aromas without being sweet on on the palate. Even though it was by far the most common wine bottle, we found ourselves drinking this one a majority of the trip because we enjoyed it so much. The most common red grape varietal is Teran which has earthy characteristics and higher tannins. Wineries here are very open to visitors and many offer online booking to secure a tasting. We had some amazing experiences at some of these wineries – the hospitality is unbelievable!
- Truffle hunting – The position of the Istraia Peninsula on the map lines up to where the truffle regions of Europe – such as Italy and France – exist so Croatia has their own truffle population. Motovun is in the center of the truffle activity and there are a number of ways to experience truffles from dining in the restaurants to booking a truffle hunting experience with an expert.
- Hiking – The northern part of the Istria Peninsula has some mountainous areas conducive for hiking. Explore the Butori Waterfall, Pazin Cave, Sopot Waterfall, Ucka National Park.
- Explore the town of Rovinj which is right on the water. The narrow streets wind up and down with an occasional alley that dead ends with an incredible view of the ocean.
- Enjoy the beach or splurge on a luxury resort right on the water.
- Kayaking in the ocean or taking on the challenging Lim Bay Kayak.
- Visit Cape Kamenjak for more water activities and one of the best seafood experiences we have ever had (thank you Bourdain!)
- Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the icons of Croatia that people flock to and for good reason. We left insanely early from Rovinj to make it here for park open and it was worth the minimal sleep. The park features many lakes and waterfalls that are truly magical.
- Zagreb is often overlooked on Croatia itineraries but we had a great experience exploring the city. Especially if you flew into here, get back here ahead of your flight to experience this spot.
- Triste in Italy is a ferry ride away and we met many people who recommended this option. Unfortunately when we visited, COVID was still in high swing so the ferry was not operating – bookmark this for our next trip there.
It is also easy to extend this trip and explore the more popular areas of Croatia such as Dobruvink and Split.
Where to eat?
Various Wineries for lunches
Konoba Santa Terra
|Taverna De Amicis|
Snack Bar Rio
Tunaholic Fish Bar
|Day 0||Arrive in Motvun|
|Day 1||Wine tasting|
|Day 2||Truffle hunting or hiking|
|Day 3||Drive to Rovinj|
Kayak ocean or Lim Bay
|Day 4||Beach Day|
And depending on time of year,
drive to Cape Kamenjak
|Day 5||Day trip|