The Istrian peninsula of Croatia is dotted with seaside towns, each with their own personality. While planning this trip, we weren’t sure exactly where we wanted to stay but reservations are necessary for the beach in July. Now that we’ve had a chance to check the area out, here’s my take on where you should stay.
Although there are several towns on the peninsula, most of the hotels are clustered seaside in Poreč, Rovinj, and Pula. Inland, Motovun is another popular option.
If you’ve spent any time on any coast in the world, you’ve essentially been to Porec. It simply didn’t feel like the city had any personality. Most streets were lined with small shops selling sunglasses and bathing suits along with gelato on every corner. The beaches are known for being quite average. However, tons of tourists stay here because there are many resorts to choose from (particularly through the Valamar group of hotels).
All of that said, even if you choose not to stay here, it’s worth a quick stop to step into the absolutely gorgeous Euphrasian Basilica.
Rovinj is touristy, no doubt about that. It is in a central location and can be a good option for anyone who doesn’t have a car. You’ll still find shops, overpriced restaurants, and tours being offered, but interspersed with an interesting Old Town to provide more flair. There are several beaches easily walked to from town, but I’d still commit them to the average category. At least you can rent a bike, take in some (laid-back) nightlife, and visit a few attractions like the church tower for views or one of the small museums.
Pula’s at the southern end of Istria, making it harder to day trip to places like Poreč or the hill towns, but easier to get to Kamenjak or the Brijuni Islands.
The town itself has more of a working port feel, even though first glance will make it look like just as much of a tourist hub. The Roman ruins in the Old Town are interesting even if you’re not a history buff, and there’s an archaeology museum as well (currently closed for renovations). Unfortunately, the beaches will require a short drive/bus ride. Yes, there are still busloads of tourists, but for good reason.
I’ve already described Motovun in detail, but I’ll just mention that for someone who doesn’t want to spend time at the beach, it might make a good base.
Plan on a daytrip along the coast, which will be a long day that hits all the highlights in one punch. I’d start in Poreč to see the basilica, drive south to Rovinj including a stop for a boat ride on the Lim Kanal, then walk the harbor and old town of Rovinj (don’t skip a seafood lunch), and spend the rest of the day in Pula to see the attractions, some of which are open late.
Planning a trip to Istria
If you’re headed to Istria, I think 3-4 days is about perfect: Spend one in the hill towns, one hopping between coastal towns, one at the beach, and one on the water (you’ll find tourist boats exploring the islands, docking for lunch, and time for swimming). Any of those days could be condensed to a half-day if you’re short on time.
We spent an unexpected night in Motovun, but used Rovinj as our base for two nights while exploring the Adriatic Sea. While there are some really nice hotels there, we chose instead a simple guesthouse at 50 euros per night. It was great for our needs, but someone looking for that umbrella by the pool may do better at a resort in Pula.
While the beaches farther south in Croatia are likely more beautiful, it was still a fun region to explore.