Istria is the triangular peninsula pointing south from the top of Croatia, near the Italian border. At its tip is Pula, the region's capital, which boasts a Roman amphitheatre, a vibrant summer festival, and seasonal direct flights from the UK. Lining the west coast is a string of pretty resort towns, including Novigrad, Poreč and much-photographed Rovinj, a seafront of pastel houses (former summer homes for wealthy Austro-Hungarians), backed by cobbled piazzas and laundry-laden alleys more reminiscent of Ancona. There are beaches, but they are not Croatia's best: largely rocky, lined with huge hotels, and packed with central European tourists in summer (some stretches are concreted over to increase lounging space).
But it's Istria's earthy, food-rich, rolling, verdant interior that is the star. Medieval hilltop villages of warm ancient stone, of which Motovun and Grožnjan are highlights, hover above the morning mist. Serre'd vineyards, which Oz Clarke called the 'new Tuscany' (almost certainly not the first to make this comparison), burst with Malvasia and Merlot. There are autumn truffles and winter olive harvests; fresh seafood and wild asparagus in spring; forest hikes and glorious cycle routes, including the disused 'Parenzana' railway line which originally ran from Poreč to Trieste.
To the east of Istria lies the Gulf of Kvarner, with the city of Rijeka - Croatia's third largest - at its head. Some of Croatia's largest islands lie within its enclosed waters. Krk , connected to the mainland by a bridge and the first port of call for many sea-seeking Germans and Austrians, is somewhat low on island charm. Lošinj, Cres and Rab, accessible only by ferry, have remote coves for superb swimming and atsmopheric old port towns. Also connected by bridge, but hiding an eerily lunar beauty, is Pag, full of rugged inlets and mountains; there are 3 Blue Flag beaches at Novalja, a miniature Renaissance settlement with a fine 15th-century church at Pag Town, and a botanical reserve of 80,000 olive trees at Lun.
Kvarner's mainland, too, hides some of the region's best secrets: the genteel Habsburg-era towns of Opatija and Lovran, the majestic and stark Velebit range, and the Gorski Kotar mountains, where waymarked trails connect 6 specatular sea-view belvederes.