Istria for wine lovers


The industrial port city of Pula, founded by the Romans, sits on Istria’s southern tip, while the cheerful seaside resorts of Rovinj and Pore? lie on the west coast. Inland you’ll find undulating hills supporting vineyards, olive groves and oak forests (concealing pungent truffles), overlooked by medieval-walled hill-towns such as Motovun and Grožnjan.

Culturally, the Illyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Austro-Hungarians have all left their marks here. Much of Istria came under Venice from the 13th century till 1798, and the Italian influence is apparent in the centuries-old fortifications, churches and loggias, in the local cuisine (lots of pasta, gnocchi and risotto dishes, plus fresh Adriatic seafood) and the dialect (Italian is the second language here). Tourism developed under Yugoslavia in the 20th century, when modern resorts were built along the coast. Since then niche markets have flourished: cycling, hiking and agrotourism inland, and sailing, sea-kayaking and scuba-diving on the Adriatic.

Winemaking here dates from Roman times – hordes of amphorae have been found on the sea bed. Red Teran and white Malvasia prevail, and both are very versatile. The Romans probably brought Teran here, while Istrian Malvasia is said to have arrived from Monemvasia in Greece aboard Venetian ships some 600 years ago. And there’s Muscat too. There are two main types of soil: red soil, containing a lot of iron, which tends to produce fruity wine; and white soil, which gives forth aromatic wine with notable minerality. Many wineries are organic and the grapes hand-picked. All those listed here are open for tasting by appointment.


The amphitheatre in Pula. Credit: Ve?ra Kailova? / Alamy Stock Photo

Pula‘s skyline is dominated by an impressive Roman amphitheatre, while the site of the Forum is now the main square, overlooked by the proud Temple of Augustus. Roman relics are displayed in the Archaeological Museum, reopening in summer 2023 following renovation. Each morning, Pula’s covered market puts on a show of fresh fruit and vegetables and Adriatic seafood displayed on crushed ice. Come sunset, the industrial port zone lights up, as eight giant cranes are illuminated by multicoloured lighting.

On the edge of town, sisters Katarina and Ana run the welcoming Benazi? winery with a cellar carved out of the rocks below the family house, and a slick tasting room of polished concrete. The standard tasting offers six wines and a platter with carefully prepared snacks – the stand out wine is the aromatic Katarina Malvazija Istarska 2020, awarded a Silver medal at Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) 2022.


Rovinj. Credit: Nino Marcutti / Alamy Stock Photo

For many people, Rovinj is Istria’s loveliest seaside town. Built around a sheltered fishing harbour and overlooked by a hilltop church with an elegant bell tower, you can clearly see Venetian influence in Rovinj’s pastel-coloured facades. With two Michelin-star restaurants and a handful of big modern 5-star waterside hotels (one a member of Design Hotels), Rovinj is Croatia’s second most luxurious destination after Dubrovnik. It lies 36km northwest of Pula.

You’ll find two wineries open for tasting in a residential neighbourhood of Rovinj. Dobravac, where you should try the Sonata Riserva 2020 and orange Simfonija, both from Malvasia; and Vivoda, best known for its fruity St Euphemia 2018, made from Malvasia and aged 16 months in oak, which won a Gold at DWWA 2022.

On a carefully-cultivated hillside southeast of town, Stancija Collis produces good Malvasia and Teran, as well as award-winning olive oil. The winery also keeps donkeys and sells donkey milk.


Motovun and nearby vineyards. Credit: V?ra Kailová / Alamy Stock Photo

In inland Istria, 68km north of Pula, the medieval-walled hilltown of Motovun is central Istria’s most popular destination. From the fortifications, you have spectacular views over the Mirna Valley, with its…

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Istria for wine lovers  
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