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The secret heart-shaped European peninsula perfect for a foodie holiday

Simon Calder’s Travel

A mosaic of attractive truffle forests, hilltop towns, olive groves and vineyards, it’s easy to fall in love with Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. Lying across the water from Venice, it’s a secret paradise for food lovers and history buffs alike.

I arrive on a fresh spring morning for a whistle-stop tour of the region’s most popular towns – Pula, Rovinj and Motovan. My lodgings for the duration are at the contemporary Lone Hotel by Maistra Collection in Rovinj on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula, surrounded by the lush Golden Cape forest park and overlooking the turquoise Lone Bay.

I start my adventure in Pula, a seafront city and Istria’s largest. At 3,000 years old, it is one of the oldest urban areas in Croatia and has been occupied and destroyed many times, making it a city with plenty of stories to tell.

Just outside the city walls, the 2,000-year-old Pula Arena dominates the landscape. The sixth largest remaining Roman amphitheatre in the world, it’s thought to have held around 23,000 at its peak. I stand in the centre of the arena, gazing upwards and picturing everything from boat fights, hunting spectacles and gladiator battles to modern-day concerts (Dua Lipa is one of the many singers scheduled to play here this summer).

As I leave the arena behind and head to Pula’s main square, evidence of the many different rulers this city has come under are plain to see, with Venetian, Italian, Austrian and Albanian architectural influences all sitting side by side.

Rovinj, with its old town on the headland
Rovinj, with its old town on the headland (Maistra Collection/PA)

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Later in the evening, I head to dinner in Rovinj at Puntulina, a family-owned restaurant hidden away down the cobbled streets in the heart of the old town and overlooking the water’s edge. Tables are staggered along the cliffside, ensuring everyone has a picture perfect sunset view.

The next morning, I am whisked away to Lim Bay on Istria’s west coast. At almost 13km long, this canyon-like estuary is home to some of the country’s finest oyster farms and a great place to experience the region’s farm to plate ethos.

Following a peaceful cruise along the bay to observe the oyster farms, I head to Tony’s Oyster shack, a tiny ramshackle hut on the edge of Lim Bay, where tourists can sample oysters straight from red cages underneath the…

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