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Lonely Planet – Best in Travel 2021: Community winner is Istria, Croatia

If you’re heading to Croatia, there are few undiscovered secrets left along the Istrian coast, the western landmass that plunges into the Adriatic like a protective heraldic shield. From pastel-powdered houses with envious sea views in Rovinj to a carefully-preserved Roman amphitheater in Pula, the region’s aesthetic appeal could feed the Instagram furnace for weeks on its own, but many of Istria’s true joys are found beyond the frame.

The readers who nominated it for the community prize alerted us to the rich experiences found inland, particularly homestays on farms and the laid-back local atmosphere of tiny hilltop villages. “The people living here are genuine and welcoming,” one reader told us. “Istria offers authentic and unforgettable experiences… each of which gives back to the local communities,” explained another. We also had one message from a reader unable to stop thinking about the coastal town of Novigrad, plus plenty of others fawning over the good wine, hearty food and a welcome lack of crowds.

A woman pours wine in a glass at an outside table of an agroturismo
Istria has incredible wineries, olive oil producers and farmstays, all contributing to their local communities © Daniel Alford / Lonely Planet

Tastings at artisan producers are among the most authentic, local experiences a traveler can have here: a small number of family farms have built tasting rooms so visitors can try silky golden olive oils, pungent truffles or crisp award-winning wines.

“Istria realised many years ago what a goldmine it was sitting on, and developed an excellent infrastructure for active and gourmet holidays,” says travel writer Mary Novakovich. “You’ll find routes throughout the peninsula for walking and cycling that take in the region’s wineries, olive oil producers and some friendly farmstays — known as agroturizam.”

Novakovich recommends travelers check out Motovun, where an old railway track has become a panoramic trail. “The small towns and villages around here, including the artists‘ colony of Grožnjan and Buzet, are part of a network of agroturizam where you can try local truffles, white malvasija wine, red teran wine and the Croatian version of prosciutto, pršut,” she says.

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