Tommy & Karen

“We had never been to Croatia before, but are well travelled, so had a lot to compare it to. We absolutely loved it.

Istria is beautiful, authentic, unspoilt and very picturesque, from the coast to stunning landscapes in the hills. It feels very natural, not developed, perhaps like other parts of Europe were 30-40 years ago.

We loved the peaceful remoteness of Pete and Helen’s village, a true place to decompress. It is in the hills, which gives it a spectacular panorama, though the country is not huge so it is still driveable to bigger places. The house is very traditional looking, set back from the quiet road. Inside Pete and Helen have transformed it with their fantastic taste and interior design skills. We loved sitting out on the terrace eating great local food and I will never forget lying flat on the sun bed looking at the vast display of stars in the night sky. While there we also went to the accordion festival in the village, with music and dancing, local wine and friendly local characters!

The food was fantastic, all local and we ate at great little restaurants that felt like home cooking at its best, and Croatian wine has much to recommend it.

Pete and Helen are fantastic hosts and we were delighted to see them so happy and settled in Istria. They have quickly established themselves and learnt so much about moving and setting up in a new beautiful part of the world, with a lot of great stories from some challenging experiences. I was impressed how well they had integrated into the community with a lot of valuable contacts. Their experience will be of great value to others looking to do the same.

While we were there Pete and Helen helped us explore Istria. We loved Rijeka and the east coast, with some lovely towns and villages with classic architecture. The west coast is also beautiful though felt different, capped with the stunning town of Rovinj. Pula is beautiful and great to explore and there are plenty of picturesque towns close by. Overall fantastic, we will be back.”

Kaiti & David

“Pete and Helen picked us up and took us to their beautiful home, late in the evening, when the sun was gone. We were unaware of the beauty that surrounded us. We awoke to the most beautiful countryside lined with vineyards, olive trees and limestone found between each village. Monuments dedicated to a historical or biblical figure are scattered alongside the roads, adding to what we now know as Istrian character. 

As we set off to explore the coast, we were completely overwhelmed with the mountains and valleys near Oprtalj. We had to pull over and soak in the magnificent beauty that was this land. To describe the impact that it had is so difficult, not even the photos we took have done it justice. We felt this overwhelming sense of peace and excitement all at once. We were surround by wildflowers, valleys of pine, brush and succulents, with charming villages popping up around every corner. We know it is a special place and in our travels we haven’t experienced anything quite like it.

One of our favorite things about Istria is the harmonious fusion of nature, history and modern society. Istria feels like Italy with its cobblestone villages. Many of the coastal towns have pathways leading right to the Adriatic Sea, with the most beautiful and crystal-clear water. On many occasions I had to resist the urge to dive right in. The Istrian coastline has so many ladders that lead right to the ocean, therefore encouraging people to experience, rather than restrict or privatize it. The whole vibe is to relax, experience and enjoy what surrounds you. The well preserved monuments, frescoes and architecture are endless, and again, the people are not interested in restricting the public, but rather encourage them enjoy it. Croatians have a respect for the land, and it seems like there is this unspoken rule about how important it is to maintain culture and preserve the magic of what is already there.

Each village seems to have a church, or tower in the center and life is popping up all around it, giving you a sense that there is a community within. Biking through the small villages on our way to the chestnut festival in Oprtalj was a highlight for us. As we whizzed passed fields, churches and villages we hooped and hollered because it was so surreal! Biking with the electric bikes that Pete and Helen lent to us is a 10/10 experience you need to have. You are able to see so much more detail along the roads and you can pull over when the view is just too tempting to ride by.

The festival itself pulled us back to a sense of nostalgia. People were being transported in by what looked like an old amusement park train. Chestnuts were popping as the vendors ducked out of the way. Live music filled the square and locals danced and laughed with Ozujsko (local beer) spilling from their hands. As we ate our Croatian sausage and sampled the local wines we sighed with content and ventured into the past.

We can’t go without mentioning the last night in Istria and the magical date David and I had in Moscenicka Draga. A mere 20 minute ride from the more popular, and up-market Opatija, we ventured down to have a bite to eat and enjoy a sunset walk on the famous pebble beach.  Being that it was mid-October, the tourists had gone, and we practically had the whole place to ourselves. We absolutely rave about the restaurant Zijavica. The service was incredible, the prosciutto was the best I have ever had in my entire life. And the local wine was full of flavors that I have never tasted before. It was the perfect way to wrap-up our time in Croatia.

All of this couldn’t have been possible without the help of our dear friends, Pete and Helen who provided us an insider trip of a lifetime. Local tips that really showed us the treasures that surround them. We love and adore our amazing hosts, their incredibly stylish home and the sensational country that they live in.”

Julie & David

“Me and my hubby have visited Dubrovnik & Split before, which we loved, but I have always wanted to visit Istria, one of the reasons being, it looked gorgeous and because it didn’t seem a place that ‘most’ English people went to, if that makes sense. It’s great to go to new places to explore. Well, Istria did not disappoint. We stayed In Rovinj, which is such a beautiful town. Swimming in the sea, with Rovinj as a backdrop, isn’t too bad at all! I honestly fell in love with Rovinj. It is very lively in the evening, with many bars and restaurants and a super cute harbour and the food is incredible! Its also quite young and vibrant.

We visited quite a few towns on the way to visit Helen & Pete, including Novigrad, with its beautiful little harbour, where we had the best truffle past ever! So good in fact, we are still dreaming of it now. We also visited Grožnjan, which is an absolutely gorgeous cobbled town, up in the hills, and it was great to spend the day, strolling through the streets.

As we got nearer to Helen & Pete’s house, we stopped off at Motovun to get some wine for dinner. Here we stumbled across a beautiful hotel called Roxanich Wine & Heritage Hotel. This is a super cool hotel, with an amazing infinity pool, which we are definitely going to stay at when we return to Istria. Inside the hotel is the Roxanich Wine Shop, with a fantastic selection of wine, which we had to sample … of course.

As we drove to Helen & Pete’s house, the scenery was absolutely breath-taking. Rolling hills and vineyards for miles. The house is absolutely gorgeous and we had a fantastic stay. It was so inspiring to listen to everything that Helen & Pete have done, to get their stone house to look like it does now. Every inch of the house has been thought through in terms of creative design. They both have a good eye for design detail. The house is a beautiful traditional Istrian stone house with a lovely outside space, for eating & relaxing. Internally, it is very contemporary. 

We loved Istria so much that we have already booked our next trip and are already so looking forward to our next holiday in this amazing part of northern Croatia.”

Claire & Alan

“Writing about visiting Istria gives me something of a dilemma. On the one hand I feel a kind of missionary zeal to share the good news about this beautiful region of Croatia and on the other hand I want to keep it a secret. However, I have agreed to spill the beans.

My experience of Croatia, and Istria in particular, is that it is an area of outstanding beauty. The landscapes remind me of the magical illustrations in books of fairy-tales of my childhood with tall conical mountains that have picturesque villages perched on top.

Most people planning to visit Croatia will be thinking of going to Dubrovnik or Split but Istria is most definitely worth visiting. Apart from the amazing landscapes, the seaside towns are equally gorgeous. Opatija in nearby Kvarner could rival Monaco for the beauty of its buildings, albeit a little faded. Having said that, it is clearly up-and-coming or at least having something of a revival with a selection of top-class hotels that are super stylish. You will also find stylish hotels and apartments in harbour towns like Rovinj. Incidentally, should you wish to travel to Venice, you can pick up a hydrofoil and be there in a couple of hours, which makes a day-trip to Venice a viable option. 

Istria is a good base from which to visit a number of other countries. Ljubljana in Slovenia, Venice and Trieste in Italy are all easily accessible on fairly empty roads. Do beware, however, Istrian drivers. Perhaps they are over-confident because they don’t expect to meet other drivers but you are likely to meet a local driver coming towards you in the middle of the road and probably texting a friend as they drive along! 

Luckily for me, my brother and his partner have made Istria their home so I have a very good reason to make frequent visits!”

Keith

“Every year my two brothers and I have a week away from our wives and family to have “brother time”. Despite being from Liverpool, none of us have ever sailed at all. However, deep down there is a seafarer instinct within us. As our wives suffer from seasickness, it’s something none of us have ever tried.

Last year’s idea was a learn to sail holiday off the coastline of Croatia. And as Pete & Helen, very old friends of mine (Pete I have known since I was 11), have moved there to live it gave me the perfect opportunity to spend some time with them in their newly chosen homeland. Picking me up from the harbour just outside Split, we spent the next six hours driving through the most spectacular scenery you could imagine. We took the coast road and saw turquoise waters, rugged outcrops and beautiful forests. For most of the journey we hardly encountered any traffic and stopped at numerous scenic views. With Pete’s accomplished and smooth driving it was a lovely experience.

Over the next week we visited Zrenj, Oprtalj, Rovinj – all seeming short distances from their house. Beautiful places, beautiful weather, all with a calm, serene atmosphere. Certainly not overpopulated, or with a loss of identity due to tourism, there is plenty to see and do here. Istria is a very stylish place without any pretentiousness. At times I felt I was on a film set.

Their converted stone house in Zrenj is stunning. Helen has always had beautiful taste, style and finesse with interior design and their beautiful house does not disappoint. Situated beautifully set back from the road, peaceful, quiet and surrounded by rolling hills, they have really landed in a gorgeous part of the world.

When Pete phoned me a couple of years ago to tell me of their plans to move abroad, I was quite upset at the loss of a friend to another country but on visiting them, I no longer felt that loss, and now understand their reasons for moving.

The cost of flights and ease of transport to Croatia means I get to see Pete and Helen in a beautiful and stylish part of Europe, a far cry from the grey and wet of Manchester!”

Cat & Steve

“We visited Istria for the first time this September. Now we really do understand what it is about this beautiful place that Helen and Pete love so much. It’s green and lush with sweeping views across valleys and vineyards to hill top villages and mountains; a mix of unspoiled nature and wildlife within a modern lifestyle. There’s so much to do and see within easy access from the house and in just 4 days we visited so many beautiful villages and towns.

The village of Grožnjan was a definite highlight for us. All its character and original beauty have been maintained with just the right amount of sophisticated eateries and bars. Coffee and freshly made cakes served in unspoiled beauty is the best way to start a day of discovering the galleries and work of local artists together with gorgeous gift shops snuggled inside original Istrian houses.

I just loved the idea of doing the grocery shopping, no more than 40 minutes drive away from the house, followed by a cold beer, lunch or coffee in the groovy beach side Bar Barracuda only minutes behind the stores. We spent half a day there swimming and lounging in sea-hammocks, having eaten the best veggie burgers ever!

The house is set in the serenity of green fields, bird song and crops grown by locals so that you feel you’re in a place almost set back in time, yet access to bustling, modern towns is within easy reach by car.

Rovinj, with its beautiful cobbled streets, original Istrian houses and gently winding lanes that tumble down to crystal blue seas is stunning. We had lunch in a beautiful, modern hotel sitting in the sunshine with fantastic service, beautiful surrounds and great prices. We ate overlooking the sea and the ferry that in only 2 hours would take us to Venice. A brilliant way to end a day and all less than two hours from the house.

The Opatija Riviera, through the Učka Tunnel is definitely another drive well worth doing. We stopped off at a stunning hotel for coffee and then on to Volosko to a little harbour full of life and atmosphere yet totally unspoiled. On the evening drive home, as we neared the house we were lucky enough to see 6 little deer foraging along the roadside. A really special moment we won’t forget.

The house is truly stunning. It has all the style, feel and look of modern living whilst totally respecting the integrity of the original Istrian house. It’s warm, bright, comfortable and inviting. Sunlight fills the spacious living room from windows on both sides complementing the rich wall colours and views. A fascinating Well Room is a great dining area and the well itself, brilliantly restored and lit from beneath can be viewed through the reinforced glass cover.

The house is unbelievably spacious with 2 massive L shaped sofas in the living room with stairs leading down to a fantastic snug, beautifully decorated with warm tones and wood burning stove and loads of space to have another L shaped sofa and armchairs. A great place to house Pete’s extensive record selection and to have late night chats and drinks.

The overall feel of the house is that of stylish and practical living. The newly appointed kitchen is modern and chic with lovely under floor heating which is also in the new shower room.

We loved the house and all its comforts and only wish we had the same amount of design know how as Helen and Pete.”

Steve & Jacqui

“We didn’t know much about Istria before we came out to see it. We expected it to be green and full of wooded areas, with hills and small villages and a rugged coastline. It was. The countryside is stunning and there are lots of sleepy villages with ancient frescoes, quiet bars and cobbled streets.  But, to our delight, what we found was so much more than this. We also found fabulous Venetian/Italian architecture, sophisticated wineries and restaurants, beautiful towns and cities and a fabulous coastline that puts the Italian Riviera to shame. We have had two trips to Istria to see our friends and our highlights included:

Rovinj: A lovely town on the coast with beautiful views, great bars and restaurants and sophisticated hotels. We had an overnight stay at Hotel Adriatic on the harbour front.

Ljubljana: The capital of Slovenia is a beautiful old city on the river. It is a very buzzy place full of university students, market stalls, old buildings and street cafes. We loved it.

The medieval, fortified hill town of Motovun: This has all the beauty and quaintness of the best Italian hill towns but without as many tourists. We stayed, with our friends, at the fabulous Roxanich Wine and Heritage Hotel at the bottom of the hill with a great restaurant, a lovely swimming pool and magnificent views over the valleys below.

We had great food everywhere we went – really inexpensive compared to UK prices – and even the house wine in most restaurants is very more-ish. Truffles are plentiful, as is local prosciutto and various cheeses. The Italian influence on the food is very obvious, with plenty of great pasta dishes too.

It seems to us to be a very safe region with friendly, helpful people who are pleased that you are there in their country. Trying to learn Croatian is tough, but thankfully, most people speak English. Being picked up at the airport by people who know Istria and then taken to all the lovely places was hugely important to us. Our friends know all the great locations, wonderful hotels and fabulous restaurants. No matter how much you research in advance, local knowledge makes all the difference.

Our friends’ house is a beautifully restored one near Oprtalj. It is an oasis of calm and tranquility. The house is chic but it still retains its Istrian character, with a mixture of stone, wood, glass and concrete. It is light but cool in summer and has a very relaxing outdoor area which nestles near an ancient wall covered in ivy and which is stunningly lit up at night. Designer fixtures and fittings combine with features such as an ancient, illuminated well (with reinforced glass over it!) as a centrepiece of the dining area. It has all mod cons including UK television channels and great WiFi.  We found it very relaxing.”

Steve & Julia

“It’s hard to remember now, but I think we imagined a rustic, slightly jaded (still recovering from communism and the 1990s wars) region of Croatia (lacking the investment of cruise ship destinations like Dubrovnik) and, indeed, Europe. And to some extent it is. Which is brilliant. Because it is in fact a beautiful, unspoilt region full of stunning landscapes filled with mountains, gorges and rolling hills topped by delightful hilltop towns. And that’s just the inland bits.

What we’d not appreciated before going there, was the Venetian influence on the region and all the benefits of Italian culture and cuisine. We really enjoyed this aspect when visiting the many charming and sophisticated harbours of Istria but it was not restricted to just the coastal towns, as we had some fine meals in local restaurants around Oprtalj. We thought it would be a typical Mediterranean climate – hot and balmy – which it is, but especially up in the hills, it can be a little chillier at night. What we loved though were the spectacular thunderstorms.

The house is a very traditional Istrian village building but has been cleverly renovated by Helen & Pete to bring it into the 21st century, whilst retaining the homely feel of the original dwelling. Great work guys.

It feels quite remote when you first visit, but we quickly came to realise that this was not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you want a little escape and peacefulness. And it’s very beautiful. Istria is not that big or crowded, so getting around is really easy, with great roads connecting all parts.”

Best bits

  • Pula – we loved staying in the heart of this small city, with its intact forum containing Roman temples and lively cafés and restaurants
  • Rovinj – an atmospheric old Venetian harbour town, with labyrinthine streets, full of character
  • Motovun – a stunning medieval, fortified hilltop town
  • Grožnjan – a great day out for lazy wandering, around the winding, old hilltop streets, filled with wonderful art shops and splendid cafés
  • Poreč – another lovely harbour town. Loved the boat trip out to the island where the main hotel is something of a tarted up communist concrete monstrosity. It somehow works though

Top tips

  • Stay with Pete and Helen, of course. They’re fabulous hosts
  • Try getting a cheap flight to Venice (we got one for £29) and combine a visit there before getting a ferry to Istria. Then fly back from Pula
  • Check out events at the fabulous Roman amphitheatre in Pula. It’s well worth going to see the gladiator re-enactments or a good band play there (we saw Kraftwerk). What a backdrop for any event

Paul & Melissa

“Having stayed in Istria, we now know why Pete and Helen love it so much. We had no real preconceptions about the area, but arriving in Rovinj on a ferry from Venice gave us the perfect introduction to this beautiful Italianate part of Croatia. Rovinj, with its red roofs and cobbled streets is that perfect amount of touristy – enough to provide busy bars and restaurants with ancient harbour views but uncrowded enough to get a seat in said bars.

And as you drive into the hill towns further inland, you come across what one might call secret Istria where that blend of feeling like you’re the first to discover a place, coupled with just the right smattering of great food and bars in stunning settings, makes it a wonderful place to be. If you want to be surrounded by fellow holiday makers and English voices, this is not the place for you, but if you want to blend into a place that feels a thousand years old (in a very good way!) then Istria has it all.

Our Istrian highlights: sitting outside in the evening with our wonderful friends enjoying warm (in every sense) hospitality; dinner on the terrace at Konoba in Oprtalj with fabulous food and views; going to the close-by water park Istralandia – perfect for our teenage boys (and for the grown-ups too, even if you just sunbathe by one of the many pools). Istria is also a fantastic base to see an amazing array of places – Venice, Trieste, Ljubljana are all within striking distance.

The house is stunning inside and out – it makes such a difference that coming ‘home’ every evening is something to look forward to as much as the delights of the day. The spot is undoubtedly quiet and out of the way, and so if it’s peace you want – and a million stars at night – it’s perfect. But of course, you can also be in Trieste in an hour and in Ljubljana in well under 2 hours, so you’re in no way cut off. What a place to live!”