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When in Istria, charming hilltop towns are a must see. Pick your favorite one!

When in Istria, charming hilltop towns are a must see. Pick your favorite one!

Don´t miss out to experience the real Istria

Driving through the beautiful Istrian landscape will delight you: the views of surrounding pine forests, fertile valleys, olive groves, green, truffle-rich woods, the Mirna valley with thermal water, vineyards, and on top of all - charming little old towns nestled on hills.

Even though some of the most prominent names of Istria and wider, of Croatia, are located on the coast of this peninsula, like Rovinj, Pula, and Porec; but better connoisseurs of Istria know that the “real Istria” is hidden in its inland. And the inland is most recognizable by its green hills, cypress trees, and narrow streets leading to magical medieval hilltop towns and villages that will make you feel like you just traveled back to another time.

If you are spending your holiday in one of our villas in Istria, regardless of whether it is in Central Istria or on the coast, it would be a pity not to explore the real hidden gems of this region. While Croatia's coastal towns are fully-loaded with tourists from all over the world, you will notice how, even during high season, most of these hilltop places are still retaining their calm, authentic spirit, where you can just relax and enjoy the sights, culture and everything that Istria has to offer (and that might be black and white truffles, top-rated olive oil, and award-winning wines for example :).

There are dozens of such hilltop places in Istria, some are almost-abandoned villages, while some are vibrant towns that host international festivals. Most of them are located in the central and northern parts of Istria, and all are easily reachable using local roads. If you are not traveling by car, it might be a little difficult to reach them, as the inland is not that well connected by local bus lines. A solid bike ride is also a great option. However, this article will present you just a few of them, hoping it will encourage you to use the opportunity and visit at least one of the hilltop towns that you might see from far away while visiting Istria.

One of the most famous medieval hilltop towns in Istria is Motovun. Arriving there requires leaving your car on the parking space at the bottom and taking a walk up to the town. It was built on the top of a steep hill and is enclosed by walls. You can take a walk on the city walls for which it is required to pay a ticket, but the incredible views of the valley of the Mirna river are worth it. For a more romantic atmosphere take a walk during the sunset hours. According to a famous Croatian tale, Motovun was the hometown of a giant named Veli Joze.

Motovun, city on top of a 277m high hill with a breathtaking view

Momjan and its surrounding area are all about wine. Once you come here, you will know why.
Take a picture next to the ruins of the Momjan castle from the 12th century, located on the top of the hill, but also, don´t forget to discover the surrounding, as Momjan is quite dispersed. If you are a wine lover, you should visit this small hilltop town and enjoy the views with a glass of a local variety.

Groznjan is generally not very well known, but maybe that is among the reasons why this cute little town is on the list of Istrian favorites of many people, once they discover it. It is known as the town of artists, which is clear once you see all the galleries, unique souvenir shops and feel the creativity that is fulfilling the atmosphere of this laid-back town. Groznjan was under the Venetians in the mid 14th century, when it was an important defense fort, which explains the medieval city walls. The renaissance loggia and the chapel of Cosmas and Damian are some of the highlights.

Well-connected and easily reachable, Buzet is a typical example of an acropolis type of town. The town center is on the hilltop, while the new parts developed at the foot of the hill. It is small, cozy, historical, and cat-filled. To discover the area from a different angle, try paragliding or hand gliding!

Tranquil and picturesque town Buzet in the heart of the Mirna valley

During the time of the Parenzana railway in the early 20th century, Oprtalj was a perspective, vibrant town. Today it looks quite abandoned, but this is something that gives a special charm to it. A winded road is leading to this hilltop town with less than 80 inhabitants. The first building you will see is the loggia from the 16th century. Just as the rest of the town, it is marked by Venetian architecture. From next to the loggia, a marvelous panoramic view is waiting for you. Not a lot of time is required to see the whole town, which is why you will have more time to just relax, have a break and enjoy the peace of this historical place. Tuberfest, a festival of truffles, olive oil, cheese, and other local delicacies is held each year, while an antiquity fair is held every 2nd Sunday each month.

Zavrsje is a small place on a hill between Oprtalj and Groznjan with a turbulent history. Austrians, Venetians, Napoleon, Italians…all were ruling and taking over this little place one after another. Today, a 15th-century chalice from the church of St. Mary from Zavrsje belongs to the Louvre Museum and is witness of the chaotic history, just as everything you will see here. After the 2nd world war, Zavrsje became again part of Croatia and is today inhabited by barely 50 inhabitants, and it really is a “hidden” jewel among Istria´s hilltop towns and definitely worth visiting if you happen to be around this area.

Buje is divided into several parts, but the hilltop is set on 222 m height on the western part of Istria and is a great excursion destination for all those who want to explore a little bit of the history and treat themselves with gastronomic delicacies in the surroundings. Bike enthusiasts are welcome throughout the year. In the spring visit the olive oil fair.
The romantic streets of Buje overlooking the church of St. Servul

On the western part of the peninsula, but much more to the south and closer to the sea, the beautiful hilltop town of Bale is welcoming you. With its charming bell tower, you will fall in love with this little place. Visit the medieval castle of the Soardo-Bembo family from the 15th century, eye catching with its gothic-renaissance facades, and pick one of many restaurants here to enjoy the local specialties and the calmness of the town.

Located in the very heart of the peninsula, Zminj is waiting for you. Different events and festivities are held in the period from May to October. The highlights of Zminj are the 15th century castle, as well as three beautiful medieval churches. Close to Zminj, you can visit a cave. Not a bad idea to cool down for a while on a hot summer day.

Once upon a time, the area of Labin was famous for coal mines. Today, coal is not exploited anymore. Labin is now mostly known as a place for history and art enthusiasts. The steep narrow streets of the old town lead to well-preserved historical palaces, few art ateliers, galleries, studios and host several music festivals during the summer months. Here you will find some great seafood restaurants, as well as many cosy cafes, ideal for soaking up the relaxed and artistic atmosphere.

The historic hill town of Labin with a view of Rabac and the sea

If you are passing the western side of Istria, small hilltop villages like Boljun and Gracisce are worth a stop.

Svetvincenat lies in the heart of rural Istria, halfway between Pazin and Pula. The symbol of the town is the well-preserved medieval Morosini-Grimani Castle, which dominates the main square. During the summer and autumn months it becomes a stage for different music, art and ethno festivals. Charming cafes, shops and cozy restaurants contribute to the relaxed atmosphere. A simple walk through the winding streets will soon put you in touch with the town's long history.

The hilltop towns of Istria attract mostly culture and gastronomy-motivated tourists. Panoramic views, great cuisine, and the charm of uncrowded places full of history will surely enrich your holiday in one of our luxury villas with the authentic feeling of Istria. Go ahead, visit at least the closest one!

Mateja Barisic

+385 1 222 70 50