Often referred to as “Terra Magica” and “The Little Tuscany,” the Istrian Peninsula is home to diverse landscape, long history, rich culture, and booming tourism industry that is putting Istria at the top of many travel lists. Get ready to be amazed by Istria’s stunning coastline, charming medieval towns and villages, ancient architecture, rolling vineyards and olive trees, exciting land and water adventures, delicious gourmet cuisine, and other unique experiences as you embark on your unforgettable visit to Istria.
This book covers only the administrative county of Istria in Croatia. It does not include other parts of Istrian peninsula that fall outside the Istria County, such as Opatija (part of Kvarner County of Croatia), Istrian towns in Slovenia (e.g., Piran, Koper, and Portoroz), and Muggia (part of Italy located on Istrian peninsula).
Google map of Istria with all recommendations from the book.
Download a detailed printable map from the Istria Tourist Board. You can also pick up a print copy of the Istria map at local tourist offices in Istria.
Brief Overview of Istria
Historically important and culturally rich, the Istrian peninsula is suspended like a jewel at the head of the Adriatic Sea and is shared by three countries: Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. About 90% of Istrian peninsula, or 3,160 square km (1,220 square miles), belongs to Croatia, and 2,820 square km (1,089 square miles) of that area belongs to Istria County, which is about 5 percent of the entire surface of Croatia. Istria has a population of about 250,000 people, nearly five percent of Croatia’s entire population. Over four million people visit Istria every year.
Istria is often called Terra Magica (magical land), as it was known to Romans. Istria is home to wineries dotting the magnificent hillsides, olive orchards edged with craggy coastlines, and historic villages tucked into the harbors, all surrounded by gorgeous blue waters full of marine life. With its pleasant Mediterranean climate, 539 km of intricate coastline adorned with islands and islets invites active exploration. Brijuni National Park’s 14 islands, Ucka Mountain and its surrounding hilltops, lush forests, and verdant agricultural fields make Istria a truly remarkable, magical vacation destination. Welcome to Istria, an incredibly beautiful part of Croatia.
Additional information about Istria is available at Istria Tourist Board.
Brief History of Istria
Istria has a long and rich history. The history of Istria reaches back to the age of the dinosaurs and beyond. Remains of those Mesozoic giants have been found throughout Istria, including at Brijuni National Park and near Bale. The oldest traces of prehistoric human life were discovered at the Sandalja site near Pula, dating back to the Paleolithic period about 800,000 years ago (Late Stone Age). Following the Ice Age, around 6,000 BC, the Neolithic era began (Early Stone Age) when ancient Istrians transitioned from nomads to settlers, building huts, the remnants of which can be found in south Istria to this day.
A mix of prehistoric tribes and clans inhabited Istria during the Bronze Age, throughout third and second Millenia BC, constructing hill-forts as dwellings. The Histrians, who gave rise to the name "Istria", were of Indo-European origin and inhabited Istria during the Iron Age. They were hunters and fishermen that raised goats and sheep, and traded with Greeks, as evidenced by traces of Greek pottery and culture found on the peninsula. Histrians also pirated in the northern Adriatic Sea, coming into conflict with the formidable Romans. Around 177 BC, the Romans arrived and took control of Istria, establishing major centers such as Pula, developing trade routes and roads, and architecture. The Roman era led to the development of culture, literacy, and art, with all inhabitants of Istria enjoying the same rights as Roman citizens. The Arena in Pula, the Arch of the Sergii, and the Temple of Augustus in Pula are some of the remnants from Roman times, paying homage to a peaceful, settled era through the fifth century.
In the second part of the fifth century, the Roman Empire fell under the rule of Ostrogoths. The Croats arrived at the end of sixth century and settled in Istria. The Byzantine Empire ruled Istria starting in sixth century for 250 years. The Euphrasian Basilica in Porec and Basilica of St. Mary Formoza in Pula are both from the Byzantine period. The Franks arrived in the 8th century and Istria became part of Charlemagne’s feudal state. Several centuries of turbulent history followed, with various German rulers controlling Istria until the 10th century when Istria became part of the Holy Roman Empire.
In 13th century, the Venetians took over the western part of the Istrian peninsula, continuing to rule until end of the 18th century. Many artists of that time visited Istria and left traces of their work. The inland region of Istria became part of the Habsburg Empire. The Habsburg Monarchy was formally unified as the Austrian Empire from 1804 to 1867 and as the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867 to 1918. In 1797, the Venetian part of the Istrian peninsula was taken by Austria which already controlled the remainder of Istria. From 1805 through 1813, Istria was under Napoleon's rule before it was handed back to Austria again.
With the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following World War I in 1918, Istria was given to Italy and remained part of Italy for 25 years until 1943. Thousands of Italians still live in Istria and most Istrians speak fluent Italian. After World War II, according to the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, the territory between Novigrad and Trieste became the independent Free Territory of Trieste, while other parts of Istria were incorporated into Yugoslavia. Then in 1975, under the Treaty of Osimo, the current Istria became part of Croatia. Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia June 25, 1991, but agreed on July 7 during the Brioni Agreement to postpone its independence to October 8, the date which is celebrated as Independence Day of Croatia. The agreement, however, didn't stop the war between Croatia and Serbia. The war ended on November 12, 1995, with Croatia emerging independent and preserving its current borders. Croatia and Istria could finally return to the peaceful places they once were, blessed with a gorgeous coastline, beautiful mountains, and warm, industrious people, ready to again enjoy all the wonders held therein. Two decades later, Croatia continues to maintain a stable government, nurturing a respectable economy, and welcoming visitors eager to enjoy this marvelous land and culture.
Additional information about the history of Istria is available at Istria Tourist Board.
Istria Tourist BoardThe Istria Tourist Board is a great resource for all types of information for travel in Istria. The helpful resources offered include calendar of events, brochures, and much more. You’ll find links to the Istria Tourist Board’s webpages with specific information on particular topics of interest throughout the book.
Go to the Best of Istria homepage to read other chapters of the book.