You don’t need to travel away from the sea for long before the hotels and flash apartments give way to rustic villages of heavy grey-brown stone, many of them perched high on hillsides, a legacy of the times when a settlement’s defensive position was more important than its access to cultivable land. The landscape is varied, with fields and vineyards squeezed between pine forests, orchards of oranges and olive groves. It’s especially attractive in autumn, when the hillsides turn a dappled green and auburn, and the hill villages appear to hover eerily above the early morning mists.

Istria’s hilltop settlements owe their appearance to the region’s borderland status. Occupied since Neolithic times, they were fortified and refortified by successive generations, serving as strongholds on the shifting frontier between Venice and Hungary, or Christendom and the Ottoman Turks. They suffered serious depopulation in the last century, first as local Italians emigrated in the 1940s and 1950s, then as the rush for jobs on the coast began in the 1960s. Empty houses in these half-abandoned towns have been offered to painters, sculptors and musicians in an attempt to keep life going on the hilltops and stimulate tourism at the same time – hence the reinvention of Motovun and Grožnjan in particular as cultural centres.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Croatia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Video: a 1 minute guide to Croatia

Video: a 1 minute guide to Croatia

Croatia is one of Europe's most popular summer destinations, thanks to its superb food, fun festivals and string of beautiful islands. Whether it's beaches, nat…

12 May 2017 • Rough Guides Editors videocam Video
Split or Dubrovnik: where should you go first?

Split or Dubrovnik: where should you go first?

Split and Dubrovnik are the stars of Croatian tourism. Both have an ancient core historic enough to be listed by UNESCO yet vibrant enough to remain home to a s…

17 Apr 2017 • Helen Ochyra insert_drive_file Article
The best places to go in spring

The best places to go in spring

Springtime is beautiful, with its big blue skies and flowers in bloom, so there may be no better time to travel. If you're thinking about getting away, here are…

14 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month