Move away from the beaches and head inland to find the soul of Istria. These countryside retreats offer a relaxed rustic vibe and a taste of the Istrian way of life.
Set on the edge of the tiny rural village of Lovrinići near Pazin in central Istria, Pruga is a quiet escape offering B&B-style accommodation. A reconstructed stone house is divided into two split-level apartments with interiors done up in a chic contemporary style, with rustic furniture to add a touch of country glam. Kids love to splash around in the infinity-style pool overlooking the gardens or explore the neighbouring woods. A buffet breakfast served in the shade of a pergola gets rave reviews and includes freshly baked cakes, homemade jams and locally produced foods like honey and sheep cheese. Alternative diets are gladly catered for with advance notice and the friendly hosts are happy to share restaurant recommendations and tips on things to see and do in the region. Ask nicely and they may even share the location of their favourite secluded beach. Lovrinići 14, Pazin
Named after its address, this lovingly restored 250-year-old stone farmhouse near the hilltop town of Grožnjan plays host to those looking for a countryside break. There's the option to stay in the individual rooms in the main house of rustic stone walls and wooden beams, or the attached two-storey maisonette which includes a kitchen and is perfect for families. Bolara 60 is the labour of love of a culinary anthropologist, so not surprisingly, food is a big part of the experience here. Served on a communal oak table, the fabulous home-cooked breakfasts include delights such as freshly baked sourdough bread, homemade jams, yoghurt and granola, eggs from the resident hens and fruit from the garden's trees. Communal Mediterranean-style gourmet dinners are also cooked up twice weekly on prior request. Food lovers looking for a culinary adventure can join one of the many food-focused activities on offer: helping out in the vegetable garden, picking fruit from the many trees, foraging for wild mushrooms in springtime, taking part in a grape or olive harvest in the autumn or joining a seasonal cooking class. Bolara 60, Grožnjan
Family-run Agroturizam Ograde in Katun Lindarski just south of Pazin in central Istria is a veritable rural hideaway. This flower-filled property spanning 1.8 hectares is home to a mini menagerie of horses, ducks, goats, hens, pigeons, dogs and cats. Two rustic stone farmhouses (one with modern interiors) welcome guests, each with its own swimming pool and private garden to relax in at the end of the day. Hearty home-cooked meals of local specialities like pršut (cured ham), handmade pasta and homemade sausages are served up in a charming tavern-like dining room of stone walls with a traditional open fireplace as its centrepiece. Occasional culinary workshops hosted here offer the chance to learn how to prepare local delights like pazinski cukerančići (sugar-coated biscuits). Lindarski Katun 60, Pazin
La Casa di Matiki
The delightful La Casa di Matiki takes its name after the village it’s in, just outside Žminj in central Istria, a convenient base for exploring the peninsula. At its centre is a lovely farmhouse made up of three studio apartments while two separate units set in the leafy garden open onto private terraces to make the most of the starry nights. The more intrepid will love the tiny cottage with an outdoor kitchen and a loft of hay on the upper floor where guests are invited to tuck in for the night (there's a real bed too!). There's also a pool to cool off in and kids love frolicking with the dogs, sheep, donkeys and chickens. Guests wax lyrical about the slow breakfasts of pancakes, homemade jam, freshly baked cakes and made-to-order farmhouse eggs. Climb up to the treehouse to catch a glimpse of the sea. Matiki 14, Žminj
San Canzian Village & Hotel
One of Istria’s most beloved rural hideaways, this upscale diffused hotel occupies a tiny hamlet on the road to Buje in north-western Istria. Behind the high-end gastronomic restaurant is the team from Michelin-starred Noel in Zagreb, making this a destination for lovers of good food and drink. Seasonal ingredients are sourced from the resort's herb and vegetable garden or foraged from the land, while natural spring water is used for coffee and olive oil pressed from the fruits of the trees growing here. The elegant guest rooms done up in a stylish contemporary style are packed with creature comforts; think floor heating, Smeg fridges filled with wine, champagne and craft beer, and Nespresso machines. Other reasons to stay at San Canzian are the bucolic views from the infinity pool and the chance to choose from a curated list of gastronomic experiences that include truffle hunting, wine and olive oil tastings, and cooking classes with the chefs. Mužolini Donji 7, Buje
Meneghetti Wine Hotel & Winery
In a secluded location surrounded by vast vineyards, a short drive from Bale and the sea, the upscale countryside retreat of Meneghetti is one of only five Relais & Chateaux properties in Croatia. Lavish rooms and two-storey apartments with country-glam interiors and a full spectrum of plush perks make for an ultra-cosy stay, while the two-bedroom residences and a three-bedroom villa have another boon: a private swimming pool. Everything you need for a spot of R&R is here: indoor and outdoor pools, a sauna and fitness room, an 'energy clinic' with a menu of massage and beauty treatments and a dedicated beach area nearby. Epicureans will delight in the fine-dining restaurant and the chance to sample the estate's award-winning wines and olive oils in the on-site tasting room. For a special occasion, book a candlelit dinner served alfresco on the stone-floor terrace. Stancija Meneghetti 1, Bale
This article is sponsored by the Istrian Tourism Board.