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Located in the northwest corner of Croatia, the Istrian Peninsula is a fairytale-like region with a strong Italian heritage. It is rapidly becoming one of Croatia’s most popular vacation spots, but there is still much it has to offer in terms of off-the-beaten-path experiences. If you want to explore this region of Croatia, you’ll want to know which are the best towns in Istria to visit.
You’re in luck because I’ve extensively traveled the Istrian peninsula in search of Croatia’s hidden gems and undiscovered villages. Although I live in Zagreb, I make a point to go to Istria every year (sometimes multiple times) because I simply can’t get enough of it.
While the Istrian coast is lined with your typical tourist resorts, the real magic lies in the heart of the region. When exploring Istria’s interior, many visitors limit themselves to Motovun, the most photographed hilltop town in the area. Although magnificent, the Istrian hinterland offers a wealth of medieval villages and sleepy hamlets beyond Motovun. Many of these towns, mostly untouched by tourism, are home to ancient ruins, churches, and fortresses offering a richer and more authentic Croatian experience.
So if you want to get off the beaten path and discover the true essence of this underrated region, then start with this list of the best places in Istria. I promise you won’t regret it!
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.
Best Towns in Istria Croatia
With only 30 inhabitants, Hum in Istria is formally recognized as the smallest town in the world. This tiny village is only 100 meters long and 30 meters wide, but holds an incredible amount of history.
Legend has it that this miniature town was created by accident! The giants that built Istria happened to have a few stones left over, and decided to use them to build Hum!
Hum is the perfect place for admiring Istrian cultural heritage, with its stone streets, squares, church, and beautifully preserved fortress walls. The area surrounding Hum, and nearby villages, are heaven for explorers and nature lovers as well.
Perched on top of a 151 meter-high-hill, the tranquil village of Buzet is widely known as the Town of Truffles. This crown jewel of Istria overlooks the Mirna River and sloping green valleys dotted with traditional stone homes.
While there isn’t usually much going on in the sleepy town of Buzet, the biggest celebration takes place in September in honor of the Virgin Mary’s birthday. The townspeople pay tribute to the saint by making a massive truffle-filled omelet in the middle of the town square.
The best time to visit Buzet is in the fall when truffle season is in full force. Also, one of the best things to do in Istria is truffle hunting with a local, which you can do at the nearby Prodan Tartufi.
Resting on a hilltop above a former fishing village, Labin is a gorgeous stop for enjoying an espresso on an Italian-style terrace. The labyrinth of winding cobblestone streets captivate visitors with each footstep. Tiny twisting alleyways lined with colorful houses will lead you past countless galleries and workshops of local artists.
Just 5km southeast of the town, the small coastal town of Rabac is also worth stopping by. Situated on a beautiful pebbled cove lined with expanding upscale resorts, this destination-on-the-rise has some of the best swimming spots in the area.
The sweet town of Bale Istria (or Valle, in Italian) lies halfway between Rovinj and Pula. Like many towns in Istria Croatia that were, at one time, under the influence of Italy, Bale officially has two languages: Croatian and Italian.
This historic village is located at 140m above sea level on a hill surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. The narrow and cobbled streets of the town wind around a 15th-century castle, once owned by the Bembo Family.
Peer around nearly any picturesque corner in this town, and you’ll find ateliers selling beautifully handcrafted wares. You will also stumble upon a shop or two offering locally made olive oil, and you might even score a tasting!
In addition to olive oil, the region of Istria also produces some of the best wine in Croatia! No trip to the Istrian peninsula is complete without sampling the local wine. There are two Croatian wineries near Bale that are definitely worth checking out: San Tomasso Winery and Meneghetti Winery.
A mysterious and medieval town, Momjan enchants visitors with its rich history.
Evidence of this Istrian village dates all the way back to 1035! In the 13th century, Momjan Castle was constructed, complete with four towers and a drawbridge. Only one of the towers remains intact today, together with the town walls.
In addition to its incredible past, Momjan is also an important location on the maps of wine connoisseurs. The area’s climate is especially ideal for the cultivation of grapes and has even been dubbed the Empire of Muskat (Moscato) wine. The local vineyards and winegrowers proudly produce this liquid gold that is well-known and appreciated in both Italy and Austria. Perhaps the most famous winery in Istria, and producer of Muskat Wine, is Kozlovic Winery.
Moscenicka Draga, a small coastal town near Opatija, is like Croatia’s very own miniature Italian Riviera.
This lovable beach town features a gorgeous pebbly beach and a romantic promenade. Sitting just above the popular beach is the breathtaking hilltop village of Mošćenice.
The fortified old town is like a gateway into the past, where visitors can discover how people lived in this area hundreds of years ago. While Mošćenice is pretty quiet, it is lovely to explore while enjoying the gorgeous birds-eye-view of the sea.
Fažana is a scenic fishing village near the town of Pula and is often frequented by tourists passing through to catch the ferry to the Brijuni Islands. However, this pretty seaside town is deserving of a visit even if it is only to savor the local dishes!
Fažana is particularly well-known for its sardines. So much so, that there is even a festival dedicated to them every August. For a true taste of this favorite local delicacy, head to Konoba Batana right on the waterfront and order them the traditional way – grilled and doused in olive oil.
Not far from the center of town is Alla Beccaccia, a rustic restaurant where you won’t find a menu. Rather, the owner of the tavern joins guests at their table and tells them what they’re serving on that particular day. At Alla Beccaccia, you can expect extraordinary Istrian cuisine including local specialties like Fiorentina steak, homemade pasta with truffle oil, and divine prosciutto and cheeses.
Also near Fazana is Mon Perin, one of the best spots for luxury camping in Croatia!
Situated near the town of Hum lies Kotle, a tiny village that has maintained its present-day appearance since the 18th century.
Complete with 15 houses and a stunning backdrop, Kotle is an absolute must-see on any journey through Istria. The River Rečina tumbles through the village, creating an incredible series of waterfalls and forming hollow pools in the ground. These significant pools are actually how the village got its name – Kotle means hollow.
The best time to visit Kotle is in the autumn, or after it rains, when the pools fill with water. When the weather permits, guests can take a plunge and bask in a truly extraordinary swimming experience.
When it comes to the best towns in Istria, this dreamy hilltop village tops the list every time.
Fortified in the 14th century by the Venetians, the Motovun’s medieval walls encompass a pathway that allows you to stroll along the perimeter of the town. From the walkway, you can spot rolling vineyards and the Mirna River, as well as the dense forests that produce Istria’s award-winning truffles.
For those wishing to sample the region’s gourmet gem, head to Konoba Mondo. According to the New York Times, “It is what eating in the Old World should feel like.” Even the great Anthony Bourdain once paid a visit to this Istrian treasure to taste the black diamond of Istria for himself!
The ambiance at Konoba Mondo is spectacular. Imagine sitting on a shaded terrace on a warm summer day with a glass of the most delectable wine in hand while the heavenly scent of truffles fills the air.
This is definitely not a place to pass up!
The sweet town of Groznjan, or as the Italians like to call it Grisignana, is quite the showstopper. Don’t let its size fool you – this tiny hilltop colony is a haven for artists from all over the region. In the 1950s, many artists were attracted to Groznjan’s medieval appeal and began opening up ateliers in the town’s abandoned buildings.
From that point on, Groznjan became known as the town of artists. Grožnjan comes to life during the summer when it opens its doors to young talent and creativity. Music academies, dance classes and creative drama workshops draw in blossoming artists who get a chance to learn from renowned professionals.
Thanks to its strong artistic roots, Groznjan a great place to find local pieces of art and handicrafts that make perfect gifts or souvenirs.
Nestled atop a 240-meter-high hill in the northwest of Istria lies an architectural masterpiece named Završje. Constructed from wood and stone, the destination is far off the beaten path and rarely visited by tourists.
Although tiny in size, Završje boasts a remarkable history, having been a strategic fort in the Roman Empire for years. The entire place was, at one time, protected by a double ring of walls, which are still visible in places today. There are a number of attractions worth checking out in the town including the Churches of St. Mary and St. Rocco, as well as the Završje Castle.
Visiting this quaint, abandoned town is like taking a step into the past. With lush vegetation covering its buildings and practically no tourists in sight, it provides an excellent opportunity for some great photo ops.
A picturesque drive up the cypress-lined road will take you to Oprtalj, a stunning hilltop town with breathtaking views of Motovun and Istria’s rolling green hills. The town itself is full of antique stores, secluded courtyard gardens, and dilapidated stone homes, which makes it both exciting and mysterious to explore.
While in Oprtalj, be sure to stop in at the town’s main restaurant, Konoba Oprtalj, for a traditional Istrian meal. It is extra beautiful in the spring and fall when you can sit on their outdoor shaded terrace overlooking the valley below. I’d recommend their asparagus omelet or pasta with local truffles!
As you make your way out of Oprtalj, Ipši is a truly charming village to traverse. With only 17 people living there altogether, it’s one of the tiniest villages in all of Istria!
There is one house that stands out among the rest – its window decorated with care and boasts a sign reading “Antiques”. This humble abode belongs to a local who offers some of the most exquisite antiques in Istria! From this charming store, you can get your hands on traditional Istrian glass bottles used formerly for storing rakija, Croatia’s beloved brandy. Nowadays these large glass bottles are common sights all around Istria as decorations or souvenirs.
With colorful buildings and quaint charm, Vodnjan (or Digano in Italian) is a must-see destination located just 12km north of Pula. A hidden gem that often goes unnoticed, this is one of the most beautiful towns in Istria and should not be missed.
The charming, meandering alleyways of Vodnjan, coupled with its Venetian-style architecture and vivid street art make it the perfect addition to any Istrian itinerary. Given Vodnjan’s petite size, you will be able to unearth a myriad of intriguing sites in no time at all.
Apart from having the longest street in all of Istria, the town is brimming with historic palaces. A few worth checking out include the 14th-century Bettica Palace, the Neo-Gothic Town Palace, and the 17th-century Bradamante Palace.
A noteworthy and unexpected sight at the Church of St. Blaise, the largest church in Istria, is its collection of mummies! It houses a priceless collection of religious artifacts as well as preserved bodies from saints known to locals as the Vodnjan mummies.
Nestled in the northwest corner of Istria, Savudrija is a quaint fishing village with an extensive history. The first records indicating its existence date back to the 12th century and archaeological findings prove that this region has been inhabited since prehistoric times. If you are yearning for an active holiday full of excitement, then this might just be the place for you. From cycling amongst ancient Roman ruins to trekking and golfing – Savudrija boasts a wealth of activities just waiting to be discovered by adventurous travelers.
An accommodation I can wholeheartedly recommend in Savudrija is Kempinski Istria – one of the best hotels I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at. The property itself is beautiful, the rooms offer spectacular sea views, and the food is hands-down some of the most delicious I’ve ever had in Istria. Plus, my fellow dog lovers out there will be happy to know that it is pet friendly 😉
Novigrad is a lovely little town sandwiched between two the popular resort destinations of Umag and Poreč on the western coast of Istria.
A city steeped in antiquity, Novigrad was originally founded by Greek sailors and later developed into the Roman settlement of Civitas Nova (this is why you’ll often hear it called Cittanova). Throughout time, various rulers have left their mark on this town. As you wander through Novigrad today or explore its Lapidarium Museum, you will still be able to see these relics and monuments that stand as reminders of past empires.
For a truly unforgettable coastal experience without the hustle-bustle of most other Istrian resort towns, Novigrad is your ideal destination. Take delight in its quaint cobblestone lanes and explore an array of delightful cafes, eateries, galleries and boutiques. When you’re done discovering the charming old town, numerous beaches and tranquil bays can be found just a stone’s throw away.
Situated just northeast of Novigrad, Brtonigla’s rustic and poetic allure is what captivates travelers from around the world. The town is still very much a village and has been untouched by mass tourism, which is what makes it so special. Think winding alleyways, crumbling yet charming facades, and intimate taverns stuck in time. To truly experience its beauty, I recommend wandering through Brtonigla on foot or renting a bicycle which will allow you to visit the nearby Skarline Nature Park as well.
If you’re interested in staying in Brtognila, I recommend the heritage hotel San Rocco, a stunning refurbished farmhouse surrounded by an olive plantation. Even if you don’t plan to stay the night, you can stop in for a coffee or a Michelin-worthy meal in its effortlessly romantic garden.
For a truly memorable experience, be sure to visit Brtonigla in August and take part in the town’s annual summertime celebration of St. Roch’s Feast. This traditional feast day pays tribute to the town’s patron saint; often drawing a vibrant crowd from far and wide that come together to indulge in food, drinks, music and festivities late into the night!
Perched atop a 385-meter peak in the Istrian hinterland, you cannot miss Pićan’s iconic bell tower while driving down Pazin Road. With its roots steeped in Roman antiquity, this location was once the site of a fortified stronghold known as Petina.
Today, this quiet little village is bursting with charm. Every corner you turn reveals a unique view of the countryside, and several walking paths offer panoramic vistas of nearby villages and hillsides. Pićan is also blessed with an abundance of historical sites, including ruins from the Roman era, remnants of old defense towers, and an ornate town gate.
Every summer the town plays host to LegendFest, a vibrant festival that celebrates traditional Croatian heritage by bringing to life legends and mythical creatures from the region. It is a weekend filled with colorful costumes, music, and artisans, making it a fun getaway for the whole family.
Situated in the heart of the Mirna Valley, Livade is a hundred-year-old village that was built around “Parenzana”, an old railway line connecting Poreč and Trieste.
During the early 1900s, Livade was a bustling trade hub for wine, olive oil, and other agricultural goods. Upon discovering white truffles in the Mirna Valley during the 1920s however; it quickly became renowned as an epicenter of activity for collecting and distributing the elusive fungi. Since then, the village of Livade proudly holds the title “Capital of the Truffle World”.
Livade is now home to the famous Zigante Restaurant, an establishment completely dedicated to creating unique dishes using truffles. Although the restaurant may be slightly more expensive than other options in Croatia, their delicacies are simply extraordinary and well worth the extra cost.
The medieval hamlet of Svetvinčenat, located in the south of central Istria, is one of the region’s most treasured jewels. With a modest population of 2,000 inhabitants, Svetvinčenat can hardly be considered a town. Despite its small size, the history of Svetvinčenat dates back centuries and has some remarkable historic attractions to show for it.
The main symbol of the town is the Morosini-Grimini Castle, one of Istria’s most celebrated examples of Venetian architecture. It has been a gathering place for soldiers, merchants and travelers since the 13th century and stands proudly on the breathtaking Renaissance Square today. Other interesting artifacts worth checking out are the frescoes and relics found in St. Vincent Church near the city cemetery and at St Catherine.
Often overshadowed by the more popular seaside towns of Rovinj and Poreč, Vrsar is a romantic coastal town perched on a hill overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Located just a short drive away from the famous Lim Fjord, Vrsar makes for a fantastic road trip stop or day trip destination.
This small former fishing village has a lot to offer visitors. Its old town is full of winding streets and charming stone buildings, while its picturesque harbor is arguably one of the most beautiful in the region. It’s dotted with various viewpoints that were made for sunset-viewing and pretty cafes perfect for resting your legs after a long day of exploring. Moreover, the beautiful beaches nearby enchant visitors with turquoise waters and idyllic scenery.
Rumored to have been visited by the famous Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova, Vrsar celebrates its romantic past with the annual Casanova Fest held at the end of June each year.
What is the nicest area of Istria?
The nicest area of Istria is the colorful town of Rovinj, closely followed by Motovun and Groznjan.
Is it worth going to Istria Croatia?
100% YES! If you want to experience a side of Croatia that is still somewhat undiscovered yet breathtakingly beautiful, you should definitely visit Istria Croatia.
How many days do you need in Istria?
At least 5 days if you want to see the highlights of the region without feeling too rushed.
What is the main city in Istria?
The largest city in Istria is Pula, located at the southern tip of the peninsula.
Best Towns in Istria Wrap Up
That wraps up the best towns in Istria! Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach holiday or an adventure-filled exploration of Istria’s hidden gems, few places can match Istria’s beauty and charm. No matter which of these fairytale hilltop towns you choose to visit, they will surely make your Croatian vacation an unforgettable one.
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