As our summer retreat is coming up, I thought I'd share with you a travel story of Istria, one of my favourite spots in Croatia and the site of our annual Croatia yoga retreat.
Istria is the largest peninsula of the Adriatic Sea and most of it is in Croatia. A small part of Northern Istria belongs to Slovenia and Italy. The peninsula, like much of Croatia, has a rich and quite interesting history. The first known inhabitants were Histri, Ilirian tribe Istria got its name from. Roman and Byzantine Empires ruled these lands as well Venetians, Napoleon, Austiran- Hungarian Empire and Italy. All have left evidence of their culture trough architecture, arts and language. Roman amphitheatre in Pula is one of the largest preserved amphitheatres in the world. Euphrasian Basilica in Porec is one of the best examples of early Byzantine architecture, and walking the streets of Rovinj you can see Venetian architecture everywhere. Italian legacy is still very present, many Italians still live here, all street names are in both languages and Italian words are used much in local dialect. Even though Croat and Slovenian tribes lived here since the 7th ct. BC, Istria became a part of Croatia only after the WWII.
The coast is filled with lagoons and mostly pebble beaches, clear blue waters and many islands. Picturesque coast towns like famous Rovinj and Porec are great to visit for a few days or more, even to spend a vacation in. There are many National parks to visit; most famous is Brijuni Islands National Park, an archipelago of 14 small islands closed for the public up until 20 years ago. There is much wildlife and a Safari park there. Cape Kamenjak is a beautiful place to visit, with natural stone terraces, cliffs and hidden beaches. Lim Fjord is another natural wonder of Istrian coast.
As beautiful as the coastline is, my favourite part of Istria is its countryside. And my favourite way to see the country side is on the motorbike or even a bicycle. I love to drive around without a map and get lost on white roads, discover hidden villages, visit hilltop towns like medieval Motovun or artist colony of Groznjan. There are many wine roads and Istria has really great wine produced by small family wineries. No big vineyards here. Nothing is big in Croatia. So, anything produced here is in small quantities, quite exclusive and of really good quality. Famous white wine sort Malvazia is said to be over two thousand years old brought from Greece to Istria by the Venetian merchants. Istria has, in my humble opinion, best olive oil in the world, especially if you like strong and spicy olive oil taste.
Woods surrounding medieval town of Motovun are one of the few places in the world where truffles can be found. The largest white truffle in the world was found in these forests. Food is seasonal, organic and fresh, on the coast you will find predominantly Mediterranean cuisine with fish, salads and vegetables while the country side is famous for the truffles, wild asparagus, fresh made home pasta with funny names like fuzi and pljukanci,. I love Istrian sweet ravioli served as a desert filled with fresh goat cheese, walnuts and raisins.
When in Istria I usually spend my time hanging out with my friends in Rovinj, taking trips to the country side and sailing blue Adriatic waters. There is a church I make my pilgrimage to any time I can. It is a special site for me. But, not only for me, people from all over that come to pray here, mostly for the health of their loved ones as it is believed prayers have been answered for many. I love going to Bale, a small town close to Rovinj, or drive the white road to Groznjan for a jazz festival.
Istrians are kind people and general feel here is that of lightness. Time slows down for me when in Istria, and I believe a special energy resides here. One that is grounding, calming and joyful. This is why I always choose Istria for my summer retreat in Croatia, even though there are many wonderful places in Croatia. And keep coming back any time I can.