Alarge, triangular peninsula pointing down into the northern Adriatic, Istria (in Croatian, Istra) represents Croatian tourism at its most developed. In recent decades the region's proximity to Western Europe has ensured an annual influx of sun-seeking package tourists,

with Italians, Germans, Austrians and what seems like the entire population of Slovenia flocking to the mega-hotel developments that dot the coast. Istrian beaches –often rocky areas that have been concreted over to provide sunbathers with a level surface on which to sprawl – do tend to lack the charm of the out-of-the-way coves that you'll find further south in Dalmatia or the Adriatic islands, yet the modern hotel complexes and sprawling campsites have done little to detract fromthe region's essential charm: development has left many of the Italianate coastal towns relatively unspoiled, while the interior, with its hilltop settlements pitched high in the mountains, is still amazingly unexplored. Istria draws on a rich cultural legacy. A borderland where Italian, Slovene and Croatian cultures meet, Istria endured over four hundred years of Venetian rule before its incorporation into first the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then Fascist Italy, the Yugoslav Federation, and finally independent Croatia.

Historically, an Italian-speaking population lived in the towns (most of which still Italian names – or at least Croatianized versions thereof), while Croatian-speakers occupied the rural areas. Despite post-World War II expulsions, there's still a fair-sized Italian community, Italian is very much the peninsula's second language, and the local dialect of Istria's Croats contains a liberal sprinkling of Italian words. Nowhere is the region's complex identity better expressed than in its cuisine, where the seafood of the Adriatic meets the hearty meat-based fare of central Europe and the pasta dishes of Italy. Fuzi (pasta twists) and njoki (gnocchi) are very much local staples; local delicacies include oysters (ostrige) from the Limski kanal, cured ham (pršut), wild asparagus (sparoga) and truffles (tartufi from the hills inland. Istrian meats, such as kobasice (big, spicy sausages) and ombolo (lean pork loin chops), are often cooked on the kamin or open hearth, or braised slowly in a padela or čriptija – clay pots covered in embers.

The latter method is the ideal way to prepare janje (lamb) or diced jaric (kid goat). Young donkey (pulić was a local speciality until recently, when the beasts were made the subject of animal protection orders. One dish very much still on the menu is Istrian supa, red wine heated with sugar, olive oil and pepper then served in an earthenware jug (bukaleta), into which a slice of toasted bread is dipped. With its amphitheatre and other Roman relics, the port of Pula at the southern tip of the peninsula is Istria's largest city and a rewarding place to spend a couple of days – rooms are relatively easy to come by and many of Istria's most interesting spots are only a short bus ride away. On the western side of theIstrian penisula are pretty resort towns like Rovinj and Novigrad, with their cobbled piazzas, shuttered houses and back alleys laden with laundry. Poised midway between the two, the mammoth resort of Poreč has much less in the way od authentic Mediterranean charm, but offers everything in the way of tourist falitities. Inland Istria couldn't be more different – historic hilltop towns like Motovun, Grožnjan, Roč and Hum look like leftovers from another century, hajf – absndoned accretions of ancient stone poised high above rich green pastures and forest.

Regular buses connect Pula with zagreb; overwise, the city of Rijeka is the most convinient gateway to the region. There are also buses from Pula and Poreč to the Italian city of Trieste; and the Slovenian resort od Portorož and Piran on the north side of the peninsula. Trains from Slovene capital Ljubljana to Pula are another way of reaching the area, ehile ferries connect Pula with Lošinj and Zadar.


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