Well, that's contentious, but first of all, where is it? Here's the map.
We travelled right across Slovenia in less than 3 hours, from Bled in the northwest, down to the border, crossing into Croatia near the Adriatic Sea. On the way we came very close to Trieste, which is in Italy, skimmed right by Slovenia's tiny 29-mile coast, and bang, we were in Istria! It's that wedge-shaped peninsula dangling off the north-western corner of Croatia.
Istria is to Croatia what Tuscany is to Italy! Colourful coastal towns, rocky interior sporting fortified hill towns surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, and forests where trained dogs sniff out truffles for local markets!
And what was that about Italy and Austria? Well, it's entirely possible that in Istria you might meet someone whose ancestors lived in Venice, whose great-grandfather lived in Austria, whose grandfather lived in Italy and whose father lived in Yugoslavia, and they all lived in the same town! Istria has changed hands so many times it makes your head ache just trying to grasp the history!
In a nutshell, in medieval times it was part of Venice. Before WWI it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After WWI, while the rest of Croatia became part of Yugoslavia, little Istria was claimed by Italy. Italian language and culture took over so that when it became part of Yugoslavia after WWII its population underwent a bit of an identity crisis, with many Italians relocating to Italy. Today all signs and place names are bilingual, as are the people. Both languages are taught in school, Italian is an official language along with Croatian, and not too long ago Italy's then prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, declared that he wanted Istria back! Too late, he's no longer in office!
Our base in Istria was the coastal town of Rovinj (Ro-veen) or Rovigno if you're speaking Italian! And a great choice that proved to be! What a gem...... just look at how massive the church is, sitting on top of the hill like a hen on a nest!
Since the peninsula of the medieval town centre is traffic free, we stayed in a guest house on the "mainland", 10 mins walk from the nearest beach and 15 from the old harbour - it was ideal!
It felt like we had stumbled into a completely different land! Which we had! Our early mornings and evenings in Bled definitely had a autumnal nip about them, but on the Adriatic coast it was balmy. There were palm trees, grape vines, fig and cypress trees in our neighbourhood, bougainvillea and exotic looking flowering shrubs everywhere. The first thing I did was dash down to the nearest beach for a swim .....aaaah! The water was so warm it didn't even make me gasp! There were sun-worshippers all over the place!
Here's The harbour in the evening light.
Exploring Rovinj the next morning we were pleased that the local band was there to welcome us, along with the high-school majorettes! Senior and junior...... the seniors are the ones with hats and lipstick!
The town band is for all ages! Behind them you can see an ad for boat trips to Venice, it's that close! Oh, and here's the youngest member strutting his stuff!
We watched for about 20 minutes, sitting on the edge of this fountain, which commemorates the arrival of running water in the old town in 1959! Notice the winged lion of Venice on the pink building behind, we saw it on many official buildings from medieval times.
Rovinj's harbour is crammed with fishing boats.
Visiting yachts are confined to a marina further south, near where I had my swim.........apart from this monster from the Bahamas which had its own spot just north of town!
Next stop, the market, which seemed to specialize in peppers and truffles at this time of year!
Nearby is the only modern structure anywhere near the old town. Celebrating the victory of Tito's partisans over the Nazis, this typical Yugoslav structure might look impressive in a modern city centre, but is a little out of place against the backdrop of a perfectly preserved medieval town!
Heading into the maze of narrow streets leading up to the massive Baroque church, we passed through the square where everyone came for water before 1959!
Wandering up this tight little "main street" was full of interesting sights and smells.
Yes, there were touristy shops selling no end of artsy bits and pieces, but real life actually happens here too, check out the laundry!
In medieval towns it's always worth poking your head under archways to find tiny courtyards, or glancing down alleys - in Rovinj most of them end up in the sea!
Although Rovinj is touristy, it also feels remarkably like a real town where real people go about their daily life oblivious of tourism.
At the top of the hill sits the basilica, watched over by its belltower, a replica of the one in Venice. We tackled the 192 ancient wooden steps to gaze at the view from the top, not quite clear enough to see Venice today, but WOW, what a view!!
On top of the belltower stands St Euphemia who has special powers! No need to consult the weather channel here! When St Euphemia looks out to sea the weather will be fair, when she looks inland......watch out! See? It works! She's looking out to sea, and we had a perfect day!
The story of how this church became the resting place of St Euphemia's remains is curious. Here's the painting from inside the church telling the story.
See that huge stone sarcophagus? Well, it floated from its resting place in Constantinople and came ashore at Rovinj! Amazing! But it gets better..... the local fishermen couldn't shift it from the beach, but a young boy and his bullocks succeeded in taking it up the hill to where it rests today!
Every September 16th it is opened to reveal the small withered remains of Rovinj's favourite saint.
Trudging down the neatly-paved streets, we found ourselves back at the harbour.
Our afternoon was spent just down the path from our guest house where we had this little cove all to ourselves!
Rovinj is the ideal Istrian destination. We had an excellent dinner down by the harbour, with delicious pizza, serenaded by a sax player who played non-stop and was really good! The perfect end to a perfect day!
Next stop, inland to Croatia's first national park. Stay tuned!