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Wednesday, 02 July 2014 14:00


Written by  Cheryl-Anne Millsap

I was standing on the edge of the medieval hilltop village of Motovun, deep in the Istrian peninsula of Croatia, looking out on the beautiful countryside dotted with stone farmhouses, old olive groves and vineyards.

It was spring and everything was fresh and beautiful. Beside me, there were two American women, part of a tour that had arrived the night before, who were looking out in the same direction and they were trying to remember which movie star they’d read had purchased a house in the area a few years ago. They argued back and forth, discarding names, and finally decided it might be Anthony Hopkins.


Whoever it was, I could certainly see the appeal. Movie star or not, I can’t imagine a better or more beautiful place to hide away from the real world.

Istria, the peninsula of land on the northwest side of the Croatia adjacent to Slovenia and sharing a maritime border with Italy (you can row to Venice!) is a most spectacularly beautiful place. And when you move inland it is still possible to feel as though you are a million miles from anywhere you don’t want to be.

Istria’s appeal
Often compared to Tuscany–the way Tuscany used to be before the busses and long lines of tourists came to jostle elbow-to-elbow through the winding, narrow, streets of the small villages, of course–the Istrian peninsula is coming into its own as a travel destination these days. An abundance of excellent wine, variety of good local food to eat and the wealth of material for history lovers is all luring greater numbers to the region of Istria each year, pulling them away from the more well-known cruise port cities of Dubrovnik and Split.

Truffles, olives and world-class wines
Istria’s distinctive climate, geology and geography have gifted it with fertile soil that is perfect for growing grapes to produce an array of regional wines that get high marks from wine experts around the world. Best known of Istria’s wines are the crisp white Malvasia and the robust and robust red Teran.

It’s an acquired taste but one shouldn’t miss a chance to at least try biska, the aromatic mistletoe brandy from the region near Hum, a picturesque village advertised as the world’s smallest town. Another uniquely Istrian spirit is supa: a savory wine mulled with sugar, local olive oil and pepper and served with a slice of fried bread for dipping.

Istria’s groves produce exceptional olives and olive oil and the interior forests are where some of the world’s best white and black truffles can be found. In the region near the town of Buzet there are farms where it is possible to join the farmer and a specially trained dog on a truffle hunt and feast on a simple but delicious meal of truffle omelet and outstanding local wine.

With it’s proximity to the sea, fresh seafood and shellfish are plentiful and are on most menus. A true Istrian treat, reflecting the Italian heritage that runs so deeply in the region, is platters of pasta– and the lean, delicious, Istrian version of prosciutto, or hearty pork loin. A visit in the spring offers the opportunity to feast on delicate
wild asparagus.

Picturing the Past and Looking Ahead
Croatia’s network of modern highways and bustling ports speak of the present and hint at a robust future, but Istria’s ancient past is not hard to find. The well-preserved Roman amphitheater at Pula is one of the most notable. The complex political history of the small fishing village of Rovinj–an island until the channel was filled in the 1700’s--perfectly reflects Croatia’s sometimes turbulent past. Part of Venice in the 13th Century, the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early 19th Century, Italy after World War I and Yugoslavia after WWII, Rovinj joined Croatia when it became an independent country in 1991.

Croatia’s tourism star has been rising for the last decade. While the cruise industry introduced the country to most American tourists, the charms and rich culture of Istria have begun to attract more attention to the beauty of the peninsula.

Oh, and as for the celebrity who moved to the Istrian countryside a few years ago, I couldn’t resist looking it up. The ladies were right. Somewhere in all that pretty Tuscany-like countryside, somewhere under the Istrian sun, Sir Anthony Hopkins has a secret hideaway.

For more information about Istria, visit

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