There are many ways to explore a country. My first exposure to Croatia came as the result of a port call on a cruise ship. My guess is that this is how most travelers from Canada and the USA first learn about Croatia. A stop in Dubrovnik and maybe Split is the normal experience with just a few hours to visit. Cruising is a fantastic way of developing a list of places to "revisit" and my cruise experience had reinforced my desire to explore Croatia in much greater depth.
Our group decided that a cycling tour through the Istria region would allow us to enjoy the food, wine, people, and stunning scenery that this region has to offer. Istria is in the north/west area of Croatia and borders Italy and Slovenia. The Italian influence runs deep in both the food and even the language of the area. While Croatian is the language spoken by most, some towns still have large numbers of italian speaking citizens. English is spoken by most of the locals making a visit by us english speakers easier.
During our tour we had several opportunities to try the local wines. You might wonder about Croatian wines, how good can they be? You've likely never even tried one as the vast majority of the production gets consumed domestically. Even the largest producers are small by global standards and very few produce enough to warrant marketing them in North America. You could argue that the Croatians just want to keep these fine wines for themselves.
How about the food? Well take a look at a map of Croatia and you will see lots of coastline making fresh seafood a dietary staple. Every night of the tour had us enjoying wonderful freshly caught fish and sometimes beef from the inland farms. We never had a meal that wasn't spectacular. I'm sure they must have a few sub standard restaurants but we never found one.
Cheese, olive oil, wine, honey, truffles, pasta, prosciutto, and fish are all part of our Istria experience. This region really is a foodies paradise. Pair them with the above noted wines and you may never want to go home.
Our tour started in Poreč where we met our tour guides and picked-up our bikes. Our tour continued to Rovinj and concluded in Pula. We cycled, ate, and drank for 6 days and wished we had planned a longer visit. We will be back to explore their national parks and the southern coast on our next visit.