Istrian wine run
Time Out Croatia

Going green in Istria

Istria is upping its sustainable tourism credentials in an effort to preserve its rich biodiversity and natural environment

Written by
Isabel Putinja
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The effects of climate change are increasingly being felt in many parts of the world as changing weather patterns are more and more noticeable with each passing year. At the same time, global tourism numbers are rising and putting stress on natural resources.

As we enter a new decade and work toward the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming, it's increasingly clear that the future of travel has to be sustainable. With this in mind, local actors working in Istria's tourism industry have been exploring ways to preserve the environment and limit the negative impacts of tourism.

In recent years, Istria has been bolstering its green credentials as an eco-friendly destination thanks to a number of forward-thinking actions put in place to protect its green spaces and natural ecosystem. This is an urgent need, considering the Istrian peninsula is an agricultural region and one third of its area is covered in forest. Many areas already have protected status to ensure the preservation of the region's unique biodiversity. More than 60 such protected zones in Istria, covering an area close to 175,000 hectares, are part of the EU's Natura 2000 network, which aims to protect threatened species and their habitats.

Labin Rabac Trail
© Labin Rabac Tourist BoardLabin Rabac Trail

Great strides have been made to step up the eco-friendly ethos of hotels, tourist apartments and campsites by introducing sustainable practices. This is with an eye to not only save precious energy and resources, but also to reduce those harmful emissions, as well as energy consumption, water usage and waste. With this in mind, hotel managements have introduced a slew of measures, as have camping sites which make up a third of all tourist accommodation in Istria.

In the seaside towns of Rovinj, Poreč, Umag, Tar-Vabriga, Novigrad, Vrsar and Rabac, 25 hotels have been awarded the Travelife Gold Award certification, a global initiative promoting sustainability in the travel and tourism industry, proof that they're working towards sustainable practices and aiming to limit their social and environmental impact. Examples include installing eco-friendly heating and cooling systems, replacing old lighting fixtures with LED, using waste heat recovery technology and introducing systems for recycling and composting. Istria also has nine eco campsites.

Through the Eco Domus programme, an initiative by the Administrative Department for Tourism of the County of Istria, 45 family-run accommodation units have also put changes in place to comply with green standards. Those with the Eco Domus stamp of approval have successfully satisfied 50 basic criteria in 12 different categories and made the switch to sustainability by recycling waste, using eco-friendly washing and cleaning supplies and toiletries, as well as water and energy-saving technologies.

Other examples of green tourism initiatives across Istria:

In 2019, the Hotel Adriatic in Rovinj, part of the Maistra Collection brand, became the first hotel in Croatia to say goodbye to plastic for good. Through its 'Adriatic for Adriatic' initiative, the hotel management is doing its part to preserve marine biodiversity and keep plastic out of the sea. Paper straws had already long replaced plastic ones but staff were ready to go much further by reducing plastic use by 80 percent. This means single-use plastics such as cups, containers, bags and bottles have been eliminated, including those cute little bottles used for toiletries. Other Maistra hotels are now implementing the same eco-friendly policies. As Croatia's first hotel to take this step towards eliminating plastic use, it has set the bar for other hotel chains. Obala Pina Budicina 16, Rovinj

Bike-friendly perks

Istra Bike&Bed is an initiative specially designed for those who prefer to explore Istria's bucolic landscapes on two wheels. This handy directory lists tourist apartments and holiday homes as well as hotels that offer accommodation for cyclists, along with a range of bike-friendly services. These perks include secured storage, repair stations stocked with tools and spare parts, laundry facilities, maps and information on local services for cyclists – plus the possibility to book a meal or access a kitchen.

E-charging stations

The popularity of electric bicycles and vehicles is growing with each passing season. In response to this trend, the Istria Tourist Board has rolled out e-charging stations around the region. E-bike charging stations are now available in over 40 locations across the peninsula: the Istria Bike website lists them all. Poreč was the first city in Istria to have its own electric vehicle charging station – today there are 50 throughout the region. Look out for them in large car parks and at hotels, camping resorts, marinas, petrol stations and shopping centres.

Bike, bicikl, cycling, Istra, Istria
© Istria tourist boardCycling in Istria

Green beaches

Fifty beaches across Istria as well as six marinas in Umag, Poreč, Rovinj, Pula, Veruda and Pomer have Blue Flag status. This is an international certification for beaches that satisfy high standards which are re-evaluated annually, not only for water quality and cleanliness, but also environmental management and safety.

At the same time, three Istrian beaches have also been granted green beach status as part of an EU project which looks at 28 criteria under eight categories: bathing-water quality, beach quality, security, sustainability, beach accessibility, information and education, green amenities and environmental development, and beach management. Poreč City Beach, Karpinjan Beach in Novigrad and Girandella Beach in Rabac are the first of Istria's beaches to receive this green honour.

Yet another special status has been granted to the beach on Veruda island, also known as Frater island, a short boat ride from Pula. This is the only beach in Croatia to be recognised as an eco-beach because of its undeveloped (read: non-commercial) and untouched natural state, also acknowledging the efforts taken to preserve its surrounding environment and its plant, sea and animal life.

Eco-museums

Wondering what an eco-museum is? Inspired by the concept of eco-museology, the approach of an eco-museum is to showcase cultural heritage by involving the local community in how it is interpreted and managed. Istria's newest eco-museum is the Eco-museum Vlaški puti in Šušnjevica. It’s dedicated to Istro-Romanians, a Romanian-speaking community living in Istria. Housed in a renovated school, the museum showcases the language, history and culture of this unique community. The Batana Eco-museum celebrates Rovinj's humble fishing boat by telling the story of its historical, cultural and socio-economic importance through film, music and everyday objects, as well as walking and boat tours.

Pula's Olive Oil Museum (Istarska 30) provides an excellent introduction to Istria's olive-oil heritage and includes a tasting session of locally produced varieties. Another must-visit is the Istrian de Dignan Eco-museum on Narodni trg in Vodnjan, where visitors can get a glimpse of what rural life was like here 100 years ago.

Organic products

Take home a gastronomic memory in the form of an edible souvenir produced in an eco-friendly way. Choose between wine, craft beer and spirits, honey and olive oil. You can be sure that a drink or foodstuff produced in Istria with an official organic or ekološki label is of high quality and meets the requirements of the Ecological Production of Agricultural and Food Products Act.

This article is sponsored by the Istrian Tourism Board.

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