Blanketed in olive groves and vineyards, and boasting some of Croatia’s most captivating hilltop towns, it’s easy for inland Istria to dominate holiday itineraries. The rugged Istrian coast is peppered with charming fishing towns and elegant Italianesque ports boasting some of the country’s best cuisine. Look closer, and you’ll discover this Adriatic gem is home to a huge variety of beaches. From family-friendly shallows and nature-ravaged peninsulas to secret island hideaways, Istria’s coastline has the perfect beach for every occasion. Here are just a few of the best beaches in Istria.
Surround yourself with nature on Cape Kamenjak
Stretching out from Istria’s southernmost point, this verdant cape, carpeted in mature pine trees, shrubs and orchids, is the ultimate beach spot for nature-lovers. Strewn with beautiful wild flowers, we think it’s most special in spring. Take comfy shoes so you can skim the coast and choose your favourite beach from the plentiful bays, coves and inlets on offer. Active types can hire a bike and explore the forest paths, while children will enjoy the dinosaur trail! There are beach bars as well as lots of shady picnic spots. Popular with locals, Kamenjak is best visited midweek or out of season.
Family fun at Bijeca
Located down south in the family-friendly resort of Medulin, this popular spot is home to one of the region’s few sandy beaches. Stretching over 1km, Bijeca has gently sloping shallows, which are ideal for paddling. It’s also well-serviced with local cafes, bars and restaurants, and sun loungers and parasols are also available to hire. It has a pram-friendly promenade, easy seaside strolling and plenty of water sports on offer.
Head to the beach early to grab a good spot and then spend the afternoon checking out some of the local sights – Medulin is just a 15-minute drive from Pula. The buzzy city is scattered with well-preserved Roman remains, including a spectacular 2000-year-old amphitheatre.
Snorkel Girandella’s crystal clear waters
The region’s ‘wild’ east coast doesn’t get a look-in in most tourist guides. However, the charming fishing town of Rabac, locally known as The Pearl of Kvarner Bay, is home to one of the best beaches in Istria, Girandella. Famed for its clear waters, the pebble and rock coves here are brilliant for snorkelling. Get there early, especially at weekends, and you should be able to hire a lounger and parasol. To spare your blushes, be aware that there is a naturist section.
Leave some time to visit the medieval hilltop town of Labin, perched above Rabac it is one of the best towns in Istria. Once the region’s mining capital, at its heart is a picturesque old town littered with independent galleries and vibrant pavement cafes. Clamber to the town’s highest point for views of the island of Cres.
Hunt out an empty bay on Zlatni Rt
Also known as Golden Cape, this nature-rich peninsula features in many Istria travel guides. Just south of picturesque Rovinj, it’s cloaked in pines, cedars and cypress trees, which provide welcome shade and an abundance of wildlife. With winding forest paths, hiking and cycling are popular, but a former Venetian quarry is now also home to over 80 climbing routes. The cape offers countless beaches, from swanky private hotel setups and manned shores, to empty coves. The rocky terrain ensures good snorkelling, and you can often spot windsurfers off the coast.
Easy to reach and with relatively calm waters, Lone Bay is a good shout for families. While in the area, take advantage of the cape’s proximity to the former Venetian port of Rovinj. Probably the most photographed Istrian town, it’s just 1km away and is particularly scenic at sunset, when the light illuminates the pastel-hued harbour.
Happy paddling on Brulo Beach
An easy walk from touristic Poreč, Brulo Beach’s safe, plentiful natural shade and good facilities for paddling make it popular with young families. But with a mix of concrete sunbathing zones, grassy areas and Istria’s classic shingle, it has a spot for everyone. Or to escape the crowds, check out the empty bays between Materada Beach and Červar-Porat. There are no facilities on offer, but they are ideal for lone-rangers seeking a quick dip away from other tourists – this stretch is a hot spot for the camping community.
Games galore at Katoro Beach
Situated just north of historic Umag, Croatia’s ‘gateway to Europe’, busy Katoro Beach has everything from swimming pools and sandpits to giant chess and table tennis. Awarded with a prestigious Blue Flag, this beach is big, and appeals to families that appreciate lots of facilities and activities, rather than secluded shores.
While in the area, explore some of the region’s fascinating olive oil routes – you can download a map here. Finish your adventure within the historic town walls of Buje and check out the views from the top of the main square’s 15th-Century bell tower. The vineyards surrounding Buje also produce some of the best Istrian wines – check out our Istrian food and wineries guide for some of our favourite vineyards.