Holy crap, guys. Istria is the BOMB! It is the northwestern region of Croatia, heavily influenced by Italy, and home of the largest truffle ever discovered. We spent four nights there, and we were sad when we had to leave.
After a long day at Plitvice and driving, we arrived in Rovinj and settled into our apartment. Our host, Claudia, gave us a ton of restaurant suggestions, both local and throughout Istria. We told her we wanted to eat truffles and she gave us a huge list of the best places. While many places we’ve stayed have given terrible restaurant recommendations, Claudia did not lead us astray.
Claudia had recommended a local place called “Snack Bar Rio”. We were a bit put off by the name, “snack bar”, but she assured us it was one of the best places in town. We had the sea bass with black truffle and the homemade pasta with mushrooms. Both dishes were phenomenal and this place is pretty much the opposite of a “snack bar” – it’s an actual sit-down restaurant with a great (local) wine selection and beer on tap. Our server was one of the best we’ve had in Croatia – very attentive, friendly, and anticipating our needs before we have to flag him down.
The next day, we slept in and decided to explore Rovinj. We wandered around town, tried some pruscut (Croatian prosciutto), and headed to this regional park called Punta Corrente Forest Park. It’s a large park with beaches, paths, and forest. We had an awesome afternoon exploring the park and enjoying being in nature.
After a day staying local, the next morning we hopped in our car and decided to go exploring. Primarily, we wanted to eat truffles and see what Istria was all about. Claudia had recommended a place for truffles (her favorite) called Konoba Malo Selo. We decided to head there for lunch. We got the beef steak with black truffle and the homemade pasta with black truffle. This was the best meal of our time in Crotia, and one of our top meals of our entire journey. The food was so good that I am having a hard time trying to describe how delicious it was. The meat was cooked perfectly – over a fire right there in the dining room. The pasta (gnocchi) was a bunch of delicious little pillows of heaven. We were both so happy! And it is a family run business – basically we show up at their little compound (“Malo Selo” means “Little Village” – and it was four houses all together, away from the main road or a town) and they cook us a meal. It was a great experience.
That afternoon we explored some towns. We first went to Buje, but there wasn’t much going on there. Then we went to Motovun, which is the truffle center of Istria. There was a lot of “truffle tourism”, but the city itself was beautiful. It’s a walled city on top of a hill and there are beautiful views of the valleys surrounding. You can walk the walls to get a 360-degree view. Lots of olive farming and olive oil production happens in the area. We didn’t do any tastings because we were so full from lunch, but we did buy some truffle to use to make our dinner that night. If you go to Istria, definitely stop by Motovun for an afternoon.
The following day, we headed out to Pula to check out the Roman amphitheater and find more yummy food. The amphitheater is one of the best preserved of the Roman empire and we enjoyed wandering around. There is also an exhibition below that shows old fashioned olive oil production, along with dug up artifacts.
After the amphitheater, we knew we wanted to go to the southern peninsula, so we headed out of Pula. But first we stopped for lunch at Konoba Istriana, which is another family-run restaurant with a similar, though bigger feel to Malo Selo. We again got the steak with truffle and the homemade pasta with truffle. Not as good as Malo Selo, but definitely delicious.
We were heading towards the southernmost point of Istria, though we had no idea what was in store for us. Turns out this area is called Kamenjak and is a nature preserve, but I guess in summer you can also camp here and go swimming and drink at bars that are scattered throughout? It was so weird and we were saying, “how are we going to describe this place?” the entire time. In the summer you have to pay to enter, but it is free in winter, so lucky us! We drove as far south on the gravel roads as we could go before the road basically disappeared. Then we parked and started walking. There weren’t really “beaches”, but more like rocky parts where you could walk into the crystal-clear water. THE WATER IN CROATIA IS SO CLEAR! I don’t know how it got to be so clear. It is so beautiful!
So anyway, we wandered around and got to the southernmost point, where we found a nice ledge to lay on and soak in the sun. It was a bizarre place and no one was there, but we were happy to have some peace and quiet. I highly recommend this place if you are visiting Croatia and Istria, but beware of the high prices in July/August. And you might also have a crowd!
Overall, Istria was my favorite part of Croatia. It felt very authentic and it’s also beautiful. Plus the food was delicious! After four glorious days, we bid farewell to Istria and headed to Zagreb. More on that soon.