We absolutely adore Croatia but if we were going to be picky we'd have to say that the food is only so-so. Getting better all the time, mind, but still not the main reason to visit. That is, of course, unless you look beyond the classic destinations of the Dalmatian Coast and Dubrovnik and head north towards the border with Italy, for a holiday in Istria. As purveyors of the best (discuss) food in the world, it's no surprise that some of Italy's culinary prowess has shaved off, like so much creamy parmesan, onto what is now - for the most part - the Croatian peninsula of Istria.
Of course this being Europe, continent of ever fluid borders, Istria was once part of Italy (1919-1947) and still has a sizeable minority of Italian speakers, particularly in the coastal and northern regions.
Enough exposition - what to see? Rovinj is one of Istria's star attractions and a major draw card for visitors to the region. This coastal town has followed in Italy's footsteps with delicious food and wine, and it is also one of the Mediterranean's last true fishing ports.
Away from the coast, there are also some quintessentially Italian pastimes to enjoy in the beautiful and bucolic interior such as truffle-hunting and wine-making, all while staying in and visiting hilltop villages that look distinctly Tuscan. Buzet is the truffle capital of Istria, and its nearby forests boast three types of black truffle as well as the much sought after white truffle. The beautiful oak forests of Motovun, however, hold the title of the largest ever white truffle discovered, weighing in at a gargantuan 1.31 kgs. The hilltop town itself was fortified by the Venetians in the 14th century, and Romanesque and Gothic buildings line the cobbled streets within the walls.
Other towns of note off the tourist trail include Svetvinčenat to the south, an enchanting town where the order of the day is wandering; Gračišće, a sleepy medieval town that is often overlooked, surrounded by rolling hills and ancient buildings; and Porec, which is home to one of the most important Western Byzantine churches outside of Italy.
Even better, the coastline is every bit as beautiful as that further south in Croatia, so it's very much the best of both worlds here. Which only leaves us pondering one thing. Why on earth don't more people go on holiday to Istria?