Story by Valentina Phillips Photographs courtesy of Vinistra
In the northern part of Croatia lies a heart-shaped peninsula where medieval charm meets the Adriatic Sea, unveiling a hidden paradise for food and wine enthusiasts. Istria's captivating landscapes feature lavish vineyards, medieval castles, olive groves, and secret truffle forests. Istrian cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean and Central European influences, resulting in a unique gastronomic experience that cannot be found elsewhere. So, let's embark on a culinary journey through the flavors of Istria, discovering the undiscovered treasures of this enchanting destination.
Istria's exceptional culinary identity is shaped by fresh Adriatic seafood, handmade pasta, artisanal cheeses, and world-class olive oils, yet the true culinary treasures of Istria lie beneath the surface. Known as the "diamonds of Istrian cuisine," truffles are prized delicacies thriving in local forests, elevating a range of traditional dishes. Iconic Istrian culinary creations involve pairing truffles with handmade pasta known as fuži, beefsteak, or lamb chops. And chocolate soufflé with white truffle is a must when it comes to desserts.
Many restaurants in the towns and villages of Istria's truffle region offer truffle-themed menus and wine pairings. One of the more popular ones is Restaurant Zigante, located in Livade. The restaurant is known for its truffle-based dishes and an extensive wine list featuring local wines. Another good choice is San Rocco, situated in the village of Brtonigla. This restaurant offers a fine dining experience emphasizing local ingredients, including truffles and wine.
Highly sought-after for their unique flavor and aroma, Istrian truffles perfectly complement the region's fresh, fruity wines. Despite being a relatively small wine region, Istria remains an important wine destination, boasting numerous wine cellars throughout the peninsula. The 40 most prominent cellars receive over 335,000 visitors annually, a remarkable figure considering Istria's population of just over 195,000. Today, the region leads the way in Croatia's wine quality revolution. Istria's wine scene is a perfect combination of century-old experience and modern expertise, with a focus on indigenous grape varieties that fascinate wine enthusiasts worldwide.
Currently, Istria features 3,200 hectares of vineyards, yielding approximately 10 million bottles annually, with the Malvasia grape, the region's standout indigenous white variety, dominating production. Malvasia Istriana is the flagship grape variety of the area and a must-try for everyone who visits the peninsula. Making up over two-thirds of Istria's wine production, Malvasia is the region's most well-known grape variety and Croatia's second most planted grape. Malvasia produces refreshing, pale, straw-yellow wines with green hints and aromas of acacia blossoms, green apples, and almonds. They pair perfectly with seafood dishes, grilled fish, fresh oysters, risotto, and pasta topped with the local white truffles.
Red wine lovers should try the iconic Teran wines. The variety is native to the region and can be found only on the Istrian peninsula. Teran wines are known for their rich aromas of black and red fruits, such as sweet and sour cherries and blackberries. Teran shows the best results when aged in wood for at least three years, although it has a much longer aging potential. Because it has naturally high acidity, it pairs well with fattier meat dishes and well-aged cheeses.
Istria's wineries offer a modern and inviting experience, often seamlessly integrated with hotels. Notable destinations include the Relais & Châteaux Meneghetti Wine Hotel & Winery, Kozlović Winery, Roxanich Winery, Cattunar Wine Residence, Benvenuti Winery, and Matošević Winery.
Visit some of Istria's iconic towns to infuse your journey with culture and history. Each offers a unique blend of heritage, architecture, and local charm. Rovinj's charming "old town" and Venetian-inspired architecture invite visitors to wander its cobbled streets and enjoy breathtaking coastal views. Pula, known for its well-preserved Roman amphitheater, showcases a rich history and vibrant cultural scene. Poreč, with its UNESCO-listed Euphrasian Basilica and scenic waterfront, provides a blend of ancient charm and modern allure.
The captivating Istrain scenery, delectable truffle-infused cuisine, and exceptional wines will leave a lasting impression, encouraging you to revisit and revel in this hidden treasure of the Adriatic.