Istria. Some have touted this vast and magical land of endless rolling green hills and sparkling clear waters as the Tuscany of Croatia. And it’s not hard to see why. With its renowned olive oil, truffles and wine, and a short two and a half hour drive from Venice, it’s a favourite local getaway. Regardless of comparisons, one thing is for certain about Istria, it is a prime destination to spoil yourself rotten without breaking the bank (forget the Euro, the Croatian Kuna is the currency of choice, so revel in dividing all the prices by 5.5!). Whether you dedicate your entire vacation to Croatia or include it as a stop in a grand European hop, take the time to experience these five things you must do to treat yourself in Istria.
1. Tap into your inner architecture nerd and check-in to stylish luxury
The Hotel Lone is a gorgeous 5-star design hotel right by the protected Zlatni Rt forest just ten minutes from Rovinj’s charming and romantic city centre. The combination of fascinating design meets spatial functionality extends into its 12 suites and 236 boutique rooms, which are all uniquely designed and include a spacious balcony. I stayed in one of the “Jazz Rooms” that overlooks onto an infinity pool view of Zlatni Rt park and Mulini beach. What’s that saying again, once you go infinity pool view, you never go back? Included in the accommodations is the use of the spa where visits to the Finnish, Aroma and Turkish saunas are definitely in order, as well as access to the indoor heated pool with hydro massage, gym and the Vitality health bar.
2. Lose hours by the Adriatic Sea
Every pit stop made along the coast in Istria will leave you completely awestruck by the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea. There’s something about being able to see right to the bottom of the sea that is so incredibly captivating. After walking along the seaside path (lungomare) in Rovinj, or nearby Pula, Poreč and Umag, you can easily arrange boat tours directly at the local ports, or by asking the reception at your hotel in advance. Make sure to include a stop at the stunning National Park in Brijuni Islands. The Brijuni Islands can be reached by boat departing daily from the Pula waterfront or from the nearby fishing village of Fazana. As the only national park in Istria, Brijuni and its 14 islands span an area of 736 square hectares covered in rare and rich flora, making Brijuni one the most beautiful archipelagos in the Mediterranean. Once on dry land, the aquatic affair continues on to the local cuisine with the freshest seafood—all the shrimp, octopus, anchovies, sardines, sea urchin and fish you can dream of.
3. Indulge in Truffles at Every Meal
The truffle is of huge pride in Croatia—the largest white truffle in the Guinness Book of Records was found in Buzet, Istria by Zigante Tartufi—and is abundantly offered and served in restaurants and konobas (taverns) across the country. Known to be quite the aphrodisiac, the Istrian truffle was considered a special culinary delight as early as Roman times. There is no better way to spoil your taste buds than having all that precious truffle goodness shaved onto every dish. From decadent soft scrambled eggs, fuzi pasta in the local sugo white sauce, ice cream (YES, ice cream), salumi, soft and hard cheeses, and various pâtés, truffles can be incorporated into any dish and pleasantly devoured meal after meal.
4. Taste all of the wines
For centuries, Istrians have been historically tied to its distinctive grapes and quality winemaking. You won’t find a single restaurant that doesn’t boast its excellent wine selection while lovingly encouraging you to try all their Malvasia (a fresh and crisp white), Teran (a rich and robust red with slightly higher acidity), Refosk (quite strong and tannic with a deep plum color) and Muscat (dry and sweet desert-like). To really get the full experience and deep histories of the wines in Istria, a visit (or two, or three) to a winery such as the stunning vineyards and cellars of Kozlovic, one of the oldest winemaking families in Istria and winners of the Royal Wine and International Wine challenges. Or stop by Degrassi where just a couple of hundred meters from the cellar stands the oldest lighthouse on the entire Adriatic, marking the most western point of Croatia.
5. Take a spa break
Nothing beats a rejuvenating and relaxing spa break—you are on vacation after all! If there’s one spa stop you make in Istria, make it the Energy Clinic’s Carolea Spa at the Kempinski Hotel Adriatic. Pampering bods for more than 15 years, the Carolea Spa includes treatments like the popular Energy Clinic Signature Massage, 30 minute Anti-Stress Body Scrub or the Royal Hammam in the all-marble Hammam suite, which combines both massage and thorough body scrub-down with the traditional bathing rituals from Turkey and the Middle East. The Hammam’s MO is to cleanse, relax and purify the body and skin. In true Treat Yourself form, the Royal Hammam finishes with a serving of champagne and fresh fruit at the end of the session in the relaxation area equipped with waterbeds and heated loungers. To take advantage of the amenities, try a 15-20 minute session in the dry saunas prior to the Hammam—either the Bio or Finnish sauna because their temperatures of 75C to 90C will give your body a really nice warm-up, and then a try at the ice cabin or Roman plunge pools post-Hammam relaxation. And if you want to go all out and really treat yourself (and not think about what your credit card bill will be like post-vacation) add an Esensa Mediterana Golden Life facial. A lifting and firming concoction that includes 24-carat gold leaves (!) that will improve your skin’s tone and glow by slowing down cell oxidation.