The landscape that presented itself first in Slovenia – fertile valleys, rich Mediterranean scenery, and hills crowned by picturesque little villages – continues in Croatian Istria and is enriched by the many sights to be seen in its wonderful coastal towns.
The charming and quiet inland region offers a pleasant contrast to the hustle and bustle of the coast, especially during the peak season (from April to September). Sleepy medieval places such as Motovun, Groznjan, Roc and Hum, among others, have been able to maintain their charm over the centuries.
The proximity of the peninsula to Austria, Italy and southern Germany – Munich, for example, is only eight hours by car from Porec – resulted in the past in huge floods of visitors, especially in the summer. In 1990, the number of overnight stays was a very impressive 16.2 million. When the Yugoslav conflict started the following year with the breaking away of Croatia (Hrvatska) from the republic, this number suddenly shrank to a mere 3.8 million.
The great potential of Istria as a tourist magnet was recognized early on. The Yugoslav state supported the development of the infrastructure there beginning in the 1960s. Today, the peninsula has the largest capacity for accommodations on the entire Adriatic coast. On the other hand, the local economy became heavily dependent on tourism (which can be quite fickle). Most jobs are related in some way to the industry. Even the processing of some local raw materials (mineral coal and quartz sand for Murano glass, for instance) cannot relieve the lopsided job situation of the 200,000 inhabitants of the peninsula.
Istria isn’t one of those Mediterranean holiday resorts likely to attract visitors all year round. Despite its Mediterranean climate, the winter can be pretty depressing because of the constant rain. In inland areas and in the Ucka Mountains, temperatures at times fall below freezing, though it can also be cold on the southern and western coasts. In spring, when temperatures reach 15° to 22° C, the peninsula is transformed into a colorful sea of flowers. The rich greens of the meadows and fields don’t hint at the barren karstic soil beneath. Everything that the earth seems to give to people here has been painstakingly wrought from it by generations of farmers. As opposed to the Dalmatian region in the south, summers in Istria are not very hot; with an average of 26° C and a fresh breeze, a stay on one of the pretty bays or on one of the islands is a very pleasant experience.
In autumn, it gradually becomes quieter and the region reverts again to the locals – an ideal time of year for those who would like to spend their holiday away from the masses. The sea is still pleasantly warm for swimming, and prices tend to start dropping.
It is advisable to visit in September and October at grape harvesting time; investigate one of the vineyards and try the powerful Teran or Merlot, together with the excellent Istrian ham (prsut) and fresh olives. But beware: the traffic police know what kind of effect the local wines can have, and they ruthlessly confiscate the driver’s license of anyone driving over the legal limit.