Holidays & Travel

Why a trip through Istria is a feast for foodies and history buffs

Emerging from the shadows of its Italian neighbour, this Croatian peninsula deserves to shine, says Kirsty Masterman.

This Croatian region has endless delights in store
Motovun in Istria This Croatian region has endless delights in store

A mosaic of attractive truffle forests, hilltop towns, olive groves and vineyards, it’s easy to fall in love with Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. Lying across the water from Venice, it’s a secret paradise for foodies and history buffs alike.

I arrive on a fresh spring morning for a whistle-stop tour of the region’s most popular towns – Pula, Rovinj and Motovan. My lodgings for the duration are at the contemporary Lone Hotel by Maistra Collection in Rovinj on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula, surrounded by the lush Golden Cape forest park and overlooking the turquoise Lone Bay.

The Lone Hotel
The Lone Hotel

I start my adventure in Pula, a seafront city and Istria’s largest. At 3000 years old, it is one of the oldest urban areas in Croatia and has been occupied and destroyed many times, making it a city with plenty of stories to tell.

Just outside the city walls, the 2000-year-old Pula Arena dominates the landscape. The sixth largest remaining Roman amphitheatre in the world, it’s thought to have held around 23,000 at its peak. I stand in the centre of the arena, gazing upwards and picturing everything from boat fights, hunting spectacles and gladiator battles to modern-day concerts (Dua Lipa is one of the many singers scheduled to play here this summer).

Pula Arena (Danijela Krekovic)
Pula Arena (Danijela Krekovic)

As I leave the arena behind and head to Pula’s main square, evidence of the many different rulers this city has come under are plain to see, with Venetian, Italian, Austrian and Albanian architectural influences all sitting side by side.

Later in the evening, I head to dinner in Rovinj at Puntulina (, a family-owned restaurant hidden away down the cobbled streets in the heart of the old town and overlooking the water’s edge. Tables are staggered along the cliffside, ensuring everyone has a picture perfect sunset view.

The next morning, I am whisked away to Lim Bay on Istria’s west coast. At almost 13km long, this canyon-like estuary is home to some of the country’s finest oyster farms and a great place to experience the region’s farm to plate ethos.

Following a peaceful cruise along the bay to observe the oyster farms, I head to Tony’s Oyster shack, a tiny ramshackle hut on the edge of Lim Bay, where tourists can sample oysters straight from red cages underneath the pontoon. Best enjoyed in spring, I am perfectly timed for my initiation to this delicacy. Drizzled with a healthy dose of lemon juice, I scoop out the mollusc and swallow it whole. The salty freshness makes me an instant convert.


Following a hearty lunch of seafood delicacies, it’s time to see what the charming coastal town of Rovinj has to offer. Surrounded by lush green landscapes and crystal clear waters, the bustling town harbour is packed with local batana fishing boats and twisting, cobblestone lanes.

I enter the old town via the 17th century arching Balbi town gate, one of the most iconic landmarks in Rovinj. I wander around the narrow, winding alleys, stumbling across some of the country’s finest seafood restaurants sandwiched between tightly clustered multi-coloured houses. The harbourside and open-air cafes may be busy but there is no sense of overcrowding.

Motovun (Igor Popovic)
Motovun (Igor Popovic)

Motovun – meaning ‘a town in the hills’ – is an ancient walled city perched high on the hillside, only accessible by foot. The area itself is renowned for truffle hunting and wine.

Just an hour’s drive from Rovinj, the hilltop town of Buzet is home to the family-owned business Prodan Tartufi (, which exports truffles to 35 countries and countless restaurants.

When I arrive, owner Ben has just returned from a hunt with a healthy haul and the dogs are beyond excited, eager to be the next to head out. He selects his next two hunters – Trophy the Dalmatian and Lila the Labrador. I jump into the van and we head to the Kontija forest to begin our scavenging.

Within 15 minutes, Lila starts frantically digging and Ben has to be quick to retrieve the ‘gold’ from her jaws. She is rewarded with treats, but I somehow suspect she would have rather had the truffle. Before long we have a worthy haul and head back to  base, where Ben gets the scales out to put a true value on our finds. I am rewarded generously with freshly prepared and deliciously creamy scramble eggs infused with truffles, accompanied by a board of truffle cheeses and meats. A rich treat if ever there was one, with spectacular views to boot.

Truffle hunting
Truffle hunting

Continuing with the truffle theme, I dine at Michelin-starred Zigante (, known for its truffle-infused cuisine and owned by a Guinness World Record holder. Back in 1999, Giancario Zigante and his dog Diana found a white truffle weighing in at 1.31kg in the Motovun forest near Livade. At the time, rather than selling the truffle, which could have made him a cool million euros, he instead chose to serve it to guests at a special dinner so that everybody could enjoy it.

This gesture put Livade on the map as a world centre for white truffles. Nowadays, Zigante makes multiple dishes inspired by different types of truffles, the most unusual being black truffle ice cream.

His zest for culinary experimentation doesn’t surprise me. In Istria, every town is infused with history and the chefs embrace their local delicacies with passion. With its captivating scenery and exceptional wines to boot, this region has certainly left a lasting taste in my mouth and a thirst to return.

How to plan your trip

Doubles at Hotel Lone Rovinj start from £146 (€170) per night, including breakfast. Visit