The best things to do in Croatia
Thanks to the winds that blow around Croatia, two particular spots down the coast lend themselves to the sports of windsurfing and kitesurfing: the southern tip of Istria around Premantura; and Viganj on the Pelješac peninsula. In Istria, a cluster of ten windsurfing centres within 20km of each other around Premantura offer activity breaks. For beginners, the Bjeca bay has shallow water and a sandy bottom. Meanwhile Viganj is a serious windsurfing scene, within easy reach by boat from Korčula. Kitesurfing is also popular here, with international championships taking place. To combine a regular holiday with some outdoor fun, Bol on Brač has a number of clubs to help with tuition and equipment. Yellow Cat (www.zutimacak.hr/kite) is a good option.
Sea kayaking is one of Croatia’s fastest growing pursuits. In Istria, Adistra Kayak Tours offer day trips around Red Island off Rovinj, plus week-long tours of some of Istria’s most celebrated scenery, including Brijuni and the Limski kanal. In Dubrovnik, you should try Adriatic Kayak Tours. Unlike diving or other water sports, beginners only need turn up, go through a few paddling techniques in shallow protected waters, don a lifejacket and, in the case of Dubrovnik, glide to nearby Lokrum island for lunch. Local companies who provide kayaking services include Adistra Kayak Tours (www.adistra.hr) and Adriatic Kayak Tours (www.adriatickayaktours.com).
Barban is a village that’s famous for its medieval horse-riding competitions. Knights joust a tiny target called a prstenac – you’ll find a restaurant of the same name right on the main square within the city walls. Dating back 400 years, the event draws 8,000 visitors for the third weekend in August. For the rest of the year, local ranch Barba Tone (Manjadvorci 60, 052 580 446, 098 701 377) offers guided tours on horseback. One is a ride to the sea – once riders reach Blaz bay, and aided by their guides, they swim with their horses.
Učka, between Istria and Kvarner, is an ideal hiking destination. The eastern slopes, facing the Kvarner Bay, are covered with dense forest and many trails reach the summit, Vojak, from all sides. Vojak is 1,394 metres high, and has a panorama with all the islands in the bay spread out before you – on a clear day you can see the Alps and the Apennines. On Učka’s inner side, just below the summit are the villages of Učka and Mala Učka, while down on Boljunsko polje are few more abandoned settlements. Signposted routes run from sea level or just higher, from tourist spots in Kvarner – from Lovran you can reach Vojak in just over four hours via the Lovranski canyon, the Medveja and the Mošćenička canyon.
Big game guides around Croatia have fast and well-equipped boats, know about fishing zones and have a fishing permit so you don’t have to buy one. They will teach you all about fish species and hunting techniques. The first rule: the fish you catch belongs to the captain – but usually you’ll be treated to a piece of the prey. Recommended firms include Split Adria (split-adria.com), Kaptain Antun Roca (www.game-fishing-adriatic.com) and Kaptain Šime Ukas (www.jezeratours.com).
Istria is all about truffles: sourced by highly trained truffle hounds in the Motovun Forest at night, bought at outrageous prices (up to €3,000 per kilo for white truffles) and served in cunning combinations with pasta, rice, scrambled eggs and steak. You’ll also find truffles in more unexpected places, like liqueurs, biscuits, honey and even ice-cream. Make sure to look out for restaurants with the ‘tartufo vero’ sign, which means they’ve met Istria’s high standards for handling and serving the delicacy. In Livade, weekends in October see the judging of the best truffle, cookery classes and truffle auctions.
The Istrian Tourist Board (www.istra.hr) has set up the Olive Oil Routes of Istria map, to make it easier for visitors to sample the region’s superb oils for themselves. The map lists centres sited mainly around Buje and Oprtalj and there is a second, smaller cluster, further south, around Vodnjan, where the Romans based their production. You’ll need a car – the map will lead you to tiny villages and hamlets, many set in spectacular landscapes. If you just want to buy a bottle, feel free to turn up but if you’d like to sample a few first, it’s best to phone ahead.
You’ll find superb cheese on sale in large open-air produce markets in every main town in Croatia. Creamy, home-made soft cheeses vary from region to region: in Zagreb’s landmark Dolac by the main square, each regular shopper has their favourite kumica, cream-cheese vendor, a good-natured lady of a certain age from, probably, Zagorje, who dispenses hand-made sir i vrhnje from plastic bags and bowls. When accompanied with local cornbread, kukuruzni kruh, locals consider this a delicacy beyond equal. Make sure not to miss out on some Pag cheese either, paški sir, made from sheeps’ milk and among the most renowned in Croatia.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Vis. This remote island, which has more sandy beaches than most islands in the country, was off-limits to foreigners for decades (it used to be an army base) before opening for business, meaning it has managed to sidestep tourism and retain its traditional charms. This is the place for simple, age-old pleasures, particularly gourmet ones. Try freshly caught grilled sardines with ice cold beers at Restoran Stončica, a pretty old house in a sandy bay; enjoy local wines the dry white Vugava and the full-flavoured red Plavac; and be entertained in the renowned Pojoda or Konoba Roki’s.
Out in the Adriatic halfway to Italy, Lastovo (www.lastovo-tz.net) is served by a single daily ferry from Split. It’s a holdover outpost of the Mediterranean as it used to be: sparse, barren and decidedly untouristy. Its unforgiving isolation, which protected it from pirates, offers the same respite from the mad march of tourist development sweeping Croatia’s coast. Declared a nature park in 2006, it welcomes tourists with open arms and a glass of travarica spirit – think Robinson Crusoe only with fine wine, seafood risotto and maybe a rented moped.
The Adriatic coastline is scattered with caves; some even have bars in them. Modrič is one of the biggest, and most stunning of all, left just as it was discovered in 1985, without man-made additions such as paths or lights. Lying 28km west of Zadar and 12km east of the Paklenica National Park, near the small village of Rovanjska, the cave is 829 metres long and 30 metres above sea level. Zara Adventures has the exclusive concession to organise tours of the cave, and supply all the equipment you need. It’s not necessary to be super fit, and you’ll be assisted all the way by an experienced guide who will explain the formations, the history of the cave, some of the archaeological delights it contains (yet to be fully researched). For more details, see Zara Adventures (www.zara-adventure.hr) and Secret Dalmatia (www.secretdalmatia.com).
Known by locals as the fifth season after spring, summer, autumn and winter, Rijeka’s own version of Mardi Gras is bigger than ever. Each year in January and February the town’s streets are inundated with hundreds of locals in weird costumes – and 100,000 visitors from all over Croatia and Europe. The Queen’s Pageant takes place on the third Friday in January, followed by the Zvončari Parade the next day, which sees bell-ringers clang and move in steps according to their village of origin. Around two weeks before Shrove Tuesday, on the Saturday lunchtime, a Children’s Parade runs through the streets of town. The big event is the International Carnival Parade, which starts at noon the following Sunday. It takes the afternoon for floats to pass down the main streets before the celebrations that go on well into the night at stalls and tents set up around the canal. See www.rijecki-karneval.hr/en.
The beauty of Love International is that it’s small compared to other festivals, fewer than 3,000 people, making it easy to manoeuvre back and forth between stages, the beach, your apartment and the boat parties. The festival is encased in a cove-like atmosphere, caressing the music into a cozy shindig, with a forest to shade you from the sweltering Mediterranean sunshine. Within 15 minutes’ walk is the fishing village of Tisno, where you can enjoy fresh seafood and sizzling steaks.
If there’s one concept that stands out in Croatia, it’s the opportunity to order your food over an aperitif, strip off, dive into crystal clear waters, swim, climb out, towel down, and have a plate of top-notch seafood and fresh salad waiting for you as you sling on your T-shirt and shorts. Some venues are gastronomic temples in themselves – Gverović-Orsan in Zaton Mali, north-west of Dubrovnik, is one such spot. This converted boating house has its own beach and shower – although it’s best known for its classic black risotto Orsan, four kinds of shellfish and shrimps sautéed in wine and lemon, and mixed with rice soaked in black squid ink. Blu in Rovinj, Istria, offers quality fish-and seafood-based fare, ranging from a simple seafood spaghetti through to scallops with truffles and polenta, or sea bass with caviar and saffron. As you contemplate your first swim, peruse the menu over home-made pizza-style foccaccia bread with rosemary, sea salt and award-winning olive oil produced nearby. Prices are lower than you’d imagine, considering the quality and view over the sea to Rovinj’s Old Town. For secluded swimming and dining, Robinson is a 45-minute trek from Hvar town toward Milna on a sea path. Without electricity or water - hence the name - this unique venue sits on its own bay prized by sailboats. If you would prefer not to walk, call owner-chef Domagoj and he will set you up with a boat. After you place your order, take a swim in water even bluer than usual because the beach stones are bleached white.
Scampi found in the Kvarner Bay are considered to be the best in Croatia. Although available all year round, they are said to be finest when fished between May and July, at night during a full moon, when this member of the lobster family leaves its silt in search of food. In restaurants – in Istria as well as Kvarner – you’ll find it boiled, grilled, prepared in sauce, marinated, breaded, wrapped in Istrian ham, spit-roasted and even raw, embellished by a few drops of first-class Istrian olive oil. Croatian oysters have a more intense taste than their Atlantic counterpart. The most renowned varieties come from Ston on Pelješac, Dalmatia, and the Limski kanal in Istria. Ston oysters, served at the most prestigious tables of Dubrovnik, are best enjoyed straight from the sea at Mali Ston or at the Oyster Festival held for the Feast of St Joseph every March. They are also sold by the side of the road. In Istria, seek out Emil Sošič’s hut at the mouth of the Limski kanal, site of his Istrida oyster farm. Dentex, known as zubatac to Croatians, is not a fish that’s familiar to British dining tables – although it can be found in the waters of the Eastern Atlantic, as well as the Black Sea. Their exquisite taste means that they are a popular choice in Croatian restaurants. Look out too for red mullet, trilje, considered perfect for grilling highly prized by Ancient Greek and Roman alike.
A clear grappa-like fruit brandy, rakija comes in a baffling range of styles. Quality rakijais usually 40 percent proof, but can be anything up to 80 per cent. The most typical base ingredients are plums and grapes, although you'll come across grappas made from apples, peaches, pears, cherries and figs too. Also popular are honey-based medica, orahovica from walnuts and biska from mistletoe leaves (not its poisonous berries)
The best way to get acquainted with the wine culture of Slavonia is by visiting the small town of Kutjevo. Beside the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a former Cistercian Monastery, is the region’s largest wine producer, also called Kutjevo. Entry to the cellars includes a guided tour and a memento glass in which to taste their six varieties of wine, with a plateful of cheese thrown in for good measure.
Although the Kutjevo cellars can organise tours of up to three days, with degustation interspersed by nature trailing, bike rides and live tamburica music, continuing independently allows you to visit other wine growers in the vicinity. Vlado Krauthaker (www.krauthaker.hr) produces perhaps the best Graševina in town. Meanwhile, The Enjingi family (www.enjingi.hr) has a solid, century-old reputation, and all their grapes, Graševina, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, are grown organically. The friendliest winery belongs to the Mihalj family (www.vino-mihalj.hr), five-and-a-half hectares tended by ex-dentist Branko.
Jutting out just to the north west of Dubrovnik, the Pelješac peninsula is slim – so you’re never far from a sea view – and studded with vineyards and winemakers. Some areas, like Dingač, are so steep that vines are planted on 60/degree slopes, and grape pickers have to harness themselves on to ropes and effectively abseil down to gather the crop. You can either drive around the peninsula yourself and stop in at wineries on spec, or organise a tailor-made wine-lovers’ tour through 1001 Delicija. It’s worth factoring in some time on the island of Korčula too, which lies off the tip of the peninsula, and is home to a beautiful, ancient main town and some great restaurants and wines. Two wineries stand out. The first is Frano Miloš, just outside Ston, one of the few Croatian winemakers to have gained an international reputation. As soon as Croatia gained its independence and private enterprise was allowed, he bought some land from the collectivised state wineries and started making his delicious ‘Stagnum’ range of wines, which you can sip over a laidback afternoon in his sunlit tasting room built into a rocky mountain side.
Meanwhile, Frano Milina Bire (098 344 712) on the island of Korčula is a winery where you get to snack on crumbly ewe’s cheese with capers, toasted almonds and slivers of pršut ham washed down with balloon-sized glasses of punchy plavac mali red (like pošip, a grape variety native to Croatia). A typical main course is delicious goat risotto, first created a lifetime ago by the owner’s grandfather to celebrate Tito’s visit to the island.
Set on the east coast of Vis, the Blue Cave (Modra šplija) is accessible by sea from Komiža. Boats leave Komiža harbour at 9am, as the time to arrive is from about 11am. With the sun gaining height, it shines through the waters of a submerged side entrance and the cave is bathed in a fabulous blue light. At this point, many dive in, although the high volume can make this tricky in July or August. Agencies in Komiza arrange day tours, at around 90kn per head, including lunch and an afternoon at a beach near Biševo.
A rarity among tourist attractions, the Brijuni islands are ideal for kids and adults alike. Grown-ups can enjoy the 5,000 years of history and bizarre aspect of Brijuni being Tito’s retreat, an island getaway where he feted many a post-war celebrity and non-aligned world leader. Kids will enjoy the tourist train, the exotic animals and the dinosaur footprints. It’s all an easy hop over from Pula via Fažana.
Near the confluence of the Drava and Danube rivers, Kopački rit nature reserve is one of the biggest areas of wetland in Europe. Visitors arriving by panoramic boat, horse or shank’s pony can see nearly 300 varieties of nesting birds, including white-tailed eagles, black storks and green woodpeckers. The lakes also support a large population of carp, pike, catfish and perch – in certain areas, hunting and fishing are permitted. Woodland mammals include wild boar, pine martens and otters.
Open evenings only, from 5pm, the outstanding Batelina in Banjole, south of Pula, is considered the finest fish restaurant in Istria. It’s owned by fisherman David Skoko, whose father Danilo is also considered an expert with the net. Whatever they and their friends catch that morning you’ll find on the menu that evening. David’s mother helps out in the kitchen, and between them the family produce exquisite seafood drizzled with the finest olive oil, and sprinkled with lemon. Some of their most renowned creations are marinaded – their sardines, for good example. The best way to sample their fare is to order the mixed marinaded fish as a starter, small portions of half-a-dozen types, crab, sardines and tuna. Always book ahead, even days ahead – this is a small venue, only 26 covers inside, with 40 seats outside in the summer. In quieter periods, try your luck and turn up at 5pm on the dot.
The Konoba Morgan outside Brtonigla provides the quintessential Istrian dining experience. It’s not well signposted - to reach it, take the main road out of Buje, then a track on the left-hand side about 1km before Brtonigla. Morgan produces excellent but simple dishes based on authentic Istrian recipes. The top-quality ingredients are all sourced locally and attention to detail predominates. Specialities include home made polenta with game, pasta stuffed with chestnut purée and red pasta filled with white cockerel meat (krestine).
With its own substantial art collection and a strong commitment to innovative exhibition programming, the Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art in Rijeka is a force to be reckoned with. It has at its disposal the energy of Rijeka’s lively art scene, with local art spaces such as OK Galerija enjoying a cult status for its semi-underground programme of shows and performances. Since 2005 the museum has also upped its international profile by organising a quirky regional biennial, the Quadrilateral, which involves curators and artists from Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and Italy, and plays to the historical legacy of Rijeka as a maritime melting pot.
The Neretva Delta is synonymous with tangerine orchards, picturesque spots by the river – and frogs’ legs and eels. Most restaurants and taverns by the river offer frog’s legs and eel dishes but the one most known is the Neretva frog-and-eel stew. It’s renowned for its strong taste and red pepper that, together with Mediterranean herbs and bay leaves, give the dish its recognisable colour and characteristic flavour. You should also try grilled eels or eel kebab and frogs’ legs wrapped in Dalmatian prosciutto ham. Popular restaurants such as the Villa Neretva in Metković also number wild water hen, fresh scampi in spicy sauce, kale with eels, shellfish and the renowned local frog risotto among its specialities.
Slavonian fish soup, fiš paprikaš, is a mix of freshwater fish, onion, garlic, hot peppers, tomato paste and red paprika. To try it at its very best, head to eastern Slavonia, and the Danube Csarda on the sandy-beached fisherman’s paradise of Zeleni Otok in the river Danube near Batina. Another option is the Fišiarda festival in the village of Kopačevo in the Kopački Rit nature reserve, which is held every September and brings together several dozen amateur chefs in a fish soup cooking contest, with live folk music and stalls of traditional fishing equipment.
For first-hand experience of Istria’s lifestyle and culture, Agrotourism is the way to go, with small-scale inexpensive restaurants and lodgings. To be denominated as an Agrotourist establishment, owners must sell solely home-grown food and wines. One excellent example is found in Karoca in the village of Sovinjak, between Buzet and Istarske Toplice. Everything on the menu, including the bread, is made on the premises. The garden surveys rolling hills, dotted with other vineyards and tiny villages. There’s another stunning view from the big table at Stefanić (www.agroturizam-stefanic.hr), at Kaldir, near Motovun – plus outstanding veal.
From Trogir you could almost swim to the Konoba Krknjaši on the island of Drvenik Veliki. Set in a lovely garden, the stone house provides a restaurant and rooms beside the clearest waters in Krknjaši Bay. The small pier is for shallow-bottom boats only. On the north side of Brač, Pipo in the Bay of Luke between Pučišča and Povlja, offers home-produced mussels, deserted beaches, a pier for yachts and jetties for smaller boats. To the north, the deserted wilderness of the Kornati Islands hides many a lunchtime treat, with some on Kornat island itself. Baked scorpionfish is the speciality in Opat in the bay of the same name; work off lunch with a panoramic hill stroll. Darko’s in Strižnja Bay and Ante’s in Vrulje Bay are two others. Mare on Katina hosted the first nautical tourists in the 1960s while Piccolo on Smokvica Vela serves fine Kornati fish soup.
Ispod peke (‘under the bell’) is a classic feature on Dalmatian menus. It’s not a dish, it’s a method of cooking involving slow-cooking under a dome-shaped lid. Everyone has their own tips and ingredients. Traditional clay pekas have been replaced by iron ones these days – the distinctive succulent meat, delicious potatoes and all-round juicy flavours are unique, but no two peka produce the same result and it is the custom for diners to order it at least one day in advance. Try it at Konavoski Komin in Velji dol near Cavtat and Konoba Roki’s on Vis.
Up by the Slovenian border, and perched on a small hill fronted by a picture-perfect lake, Trakoščan Castle is a 19th-century neo-Gothic version of the medieval original, complete with turrets, a drawbridge and a landscaped park. The living quarters of its last owners, Count Drašković and his family, are open as a museum, with furniture from different periods (baroque, rococo and Biedemeier), a series of family portraits and antique weapons dating as far back as the 15th century.
Slavonian kulen sausage is made by hand from special cuts of top-quality pork sourced from mature pigs, and takes nine months to cure naturally. It’s dry, spicy and when sliced has the same saturated colour and distinctive texture throughout – the only additives are salt, garlic and red paprika. At summer’s kulen festivals, kulenijada, notably at Požega and Vinkovci, the previous year’s batch reaches perfection.
To try real Croatian prosciutto ham in its home setting, head to Konavle in Dalmatia and the traditional pršut-producing village of Duba, where the deserted karst hills and the dry winter Bura wind create the perfect conditions for production. The finest hams come from small family estates and cost between 100kn and 140kn a kilo. Only certain restaurants serve them, such as the recommended Konavoski Komin in Velji dol near Cavtat, where portions runs to 100kn. Try it with semi-hard cheese and preserved cherries, a combination inherited from the Ragusa days.
The flavours of the Pag dinner table are influenced by the arid, saline environment – don’t hesitate to pull off the road anywhere you see a restaurant sign next to a lamb spinning on a spit. Inhabited by more sheep than humans, Pag produces lamb deeply flavoured with the aromatic herbs sheep consume, as is the trademark Pag cheese. Accompanied by local Sutica dry white wine and a digestif of travarica herb brandy, the Pag culinary experience is complete.
If you’re looking for complete peace free of traffic and (mainly) tourists, Mljet is for you. A verdant island an easy boat hop from Dubrovnik, Mljet is one-third national park and two-thirds practically untouched nature, a 37-km long idyll decked in pine forest with one solitary road running down it. You can wander around for a morning and see few signs of life but the odd mongoose, creatures which roam free on Mljet after being brought in to rid it of snakes. In the western third, halfway between the modest hubs of Polace and Pomena, is Govedjari and the main ticket office for the National Park. Within it are two saltwater lakes, Veliko and Malo Jezero, with the Church of St Mary and a 12th-century monastery on an islet in the middle.
Located in Gorski kotar, Risnjak is known as Croatia’s Great Green Heart because of its untouched nature and old mountain forests, and is known as a place for hill walking. As experienced hiker and mountaineer Tea Djurek says, 'The main peaks are Veliki Risnjak (1,528 metres), and, slightly lower, Južni mali Risnjak, Sjeverni mali Risnjak, Snježnik and Guslica. It’s warm in summer, rainy in spring and autumn, but very cold in winter. The snow can lie for five months a year, and falls up to four metres deep at Sclosserov dom, one of the most beautiful mountain huts in Croatia. Although people climb here all year round, for this reason only experienced climbers should set off in winter. Heading from Rijeka to the Gornje Jelenje pass, from the forest road there are four entrances to the western part of the National Park: Vilje; Cajtige; Lazac and Segina. Climbing here is not difficult, the routes are well signposted and visitors will be rewarded with wonderful views. There’s a 40kn fee to enter. The greatest attraction is the Leska trail, 4.2km long, set at 700 metres above sea level. Those with moderate physical training can climb it - allow just under two hours. If you’re after something higher, then the peak of Veliki Risnjak above Sclosserov dom is accessible from several departure points.
The easiest and most popular itinerary for visitors to Dubrovnik is the stroll around its fortifications. It also should be the first, as it allows the newcomer to get their bearings and gain an appreciation of the scale of this intricate jewel, and the skill of those who designed and constructed it. You also get breathing space from the high-season masses below. This is an elevated promenade and history lesson in one.
As you arrive in the Old Town through the Pile Gate, the main entrance and ticket office to the City Walls is right there. You can set your own pace, take an hour or an afternoon. Audio-guides in English are sold at the main entrance but most visitors are perfectly content with random vistas of red-tiled roofs or, better still, the panoramic blue of the Adriatic, interspersed with pristine white stones jutting into it down below from varying angles. A couple of cafés provide pit stops at the harbour end, where there's also an open terrace for that eye-popping backdrop, ideal for holiday snaps.
About a million visitors a year make it to what is arguably Croatia’s great natural attraction, Plitvice – no small boast in a country blessed with an abundance of unspoilt beauty. And the Plitvice Lakes absorb such numbers without problems – there is so much to see that the occasional crowds crossing on the many bridges and walkways hardly matter. This natural wonder is just off the main highway between Zagreb and Split, within easy distance of Zadar. It is home to more than 1,000 species of plants, 140 types of birds and 40 mammals: lynx, wild cats, deer and brown bears among them. Most of all, though, people flock here for the series of 16 continually changing, cascading, crystal-clear lakes. Boardwalks follow the contours of and criss-cross over the beautiful turquoise water. Set among beech, spruce and fir forests, they give you a fish-eye view of the lakes and falls. Regular trams also travel the length of the most visited section of the park, from the 12 upper lakes to the four lower ones, and the Veliki slap, or Big Waterfall. If you start early you can easily see the main sights in a day.
The Diocletian’s Palace is the perfect backdrop for Croatia’s best bar crawl, a night of revelry in the secret alleyways and hidden corners of this atmospheric ruin overlooking the seafront. Certain bars stand out amid the blur – though whether you’ll be able to find them the next night is another matter. In fact, retracting your footsteps, or trying to, is half the fun. In any case, do look out for Charlie's Bar, Figa, Gaga, and the long-established Academia Ghetto Club. If you just want to sit down for ten minutes and observe, then the little hub on Majstora Jurja containing Na Kantunu should do nicely.
Kornati is simply unique. An archipelago of 140 islands and islets in an area only 35km wide and 14km long, it has an other-worldly quality like no other place in Croatia. There are restaurants here only accessible by boat, for example and with no ferry or public transport, getting around is far from straightforward. There are dozens of safe bays to drop anchor within a stretch of water naturally protected from the open sea, or you can arrange to go on on one of many tours from the nearby town of Murter.
Krka features the 800-metre-long waterfall of Skradinski buk, the main draw in this most interesting of Croatia’s eight national parks. The waterfall comprises a 17-step series of cascades but there’s much more to see than that. By the beautiful town of Skradin, near Šibenik in central Dalmatia, the Krka National Park is named after the 75-km long Krka river it practically encompasses. Krka is awash with natural beauty – just take the four-hour riverboat tour to the Roški slap waterfall, backdropped by three riverbank towns.
Travelling along Istria’s many cycle routes is an ideal way to get up close and personal to the peninsula. One trail stands out: the Parenzana. This follows the route of the railway that once connected Poreč and Trieste. The narrow-gauge was constructed in 1902 and dismantled in 1935. It runs for 61km over bridges and through old stone tunnels, linking Motovun, Oprtalj and Grožnjan, all worthwhile stops in the Istrian Interior. In the north, you can reach as far as the Slovene border, up to Buje and Savudrija. Nearly all the trail is tarmac. Today known as the ‘Route of Health & Friendship’, it can be biked – or, indeed, hiked – by families, with easy stop-off points en route.
To get away from it all, visit Gorski Kotar. Marked bike trails are set amid enchanting hills and mountains, dark green meadows, translucent lakes and springs. You can stop off at spots such as Fužine, with its small cosy hotel and local gastronomic specialities such as venison or frogs’ legs, finished off by the signature blueberry strudel. In nearby Lokve, a well organised local biking club (098 9554 384) can help you set up a tour. You can choose demanding trails, less intensive tarmac paths or ride from the mountains to the sea. Transport can be laid on back to Lokve.