THE Istrian Peninsula in the north of Croatia is almost a country in its own right.

The Austro-Hungarians, French and Italians have all occupied the region over the years and the cosmopolitan influence remains. Today it offers visitors historic towns and harbours, Venetian-style architecture and a rocky green interior.

So how could you spend seven days in Istria? Emily Bamber finds out.

Day one: At port

Rovinj is one of Istria’s main resort towns, but don’t let that put you off.

This ancient fishing harbour is a great place to while away a day just wandering through the cobbled streets, visiting artists’ shops or watching boats come and go in the harbour.

The Italian influence is particularly strong here – look out for the Venetian-style homes and grand buildings that cling to the rock face.

Best bits: Italian ice cream, the view from St Euphemia’s Cathedral, sitting on the rocks for a sundowner at Valentino’s Bar (up the hill from Veli Joze).

Staying for longer? Take a boat trip from the harbour to one of the outlaying islands. These range from 90-minute chugs around the coast to day-long fish picnics.

Day two: Beach day

Beaches in Istria are clean but stoney – not too comfortable to lounge on, but at least after a day on the beach you won’t find sand in your ears, in your book, bag, bikini…

Some areas have been concreted to allow a direct drop into the water which, wherever in Istria you choose to bathe, is uniformly crystal-clear.

Pick up some cheap jelly shoes before heading into the water – rocks can be sharp and sea urchins lurk in the shallows at less-popular swimming areas.

Try the coast south of Rovinj for pretty bays fringed with woods or take a boat to outlying Red Island.

Best bits: Snorkelling in gin-clear water and the close proximity of beach bars.

Staying for longer? Head to Marlera beach on the southeast tip of Istria, south of Liznjan.

Day three: Back in time

The Romans knocked about in these parts and left plenty for modern visitors to admire.

A must-see is the amphitheatre in Pul. It’s one of the largest in the world and it’s surprisingly well maintained. The 30BC Triumphal Arch of the Sergi, Temple of Augustus and the small Roman theatre are all a stroll away.

The town of Porec has one of the most magnificent Byzantium churches in Europe – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. Highlights include the 4th century mosaics flagging the entrance.

Best bits: climbing the bell tower in Porec, stopping between Pula and Porec at Lim Fjord for lunch at one of the seafood restaurants.

Staying for longer? Take in a few museums – try the Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula, the Ethnographic Museum in Buje, or the Town Museum in Rovinj.

Day four: Village life

If you can tear yourself away from the sunny coast, Istria’s interior has rolling green hills, vineyards and pretty towns that are easy to navigate.

Tour operators offer day trips but rural roads are well signposted and traffic-free.

Motovun is an old fortified town clinging to a slab of rock 280 metres above the surrounding river valley, 45 minutes’ drive from Rovinj.

Park up and climb the hill – you’ll pass artists’ studios on the way – and you can reward yourself with lunch in the dappled shade outside St Steven’s Church.

Best bits: driving through lush river valleys, navigating mountain roads and deciding where to stop for lunch.

Staying for longer? If you can bear the smell of sulphur, spend an afternoon in the natural spa waters at Istarske Toplice near Motovun.

Day five: Vineyard tours

Istria produces popular white wines. Light and fresh, they make an excellent accompaniment to the seafood hauled in daily from the Adriatic.

Local specials Muscatel or Malvazija are available in most restaurants but expect to pay from £14 a bottle.

The largest wine-growing region straddles Porec, Buje, Pula and Rovinj and the tourist board has produced a handy leaflet entitled ‘Guide to the wine roads of Istria’.

Tour operators run excursions from the resorts – Holiday Options has a day tour for £22 per person. If you are going solo don’t forget to phone ahead.

Best bits: getting lost – rural Istria is a maze of lanes and hamlets, but wherever you go there’s a friendly bar with good wine for the non-driver.

Staying for longer? Heading further inland, more rural vineyards around Gracisce or Pican still use traditional vintage methods.

Day six: To Venice

If the Venetian-style architecture and Italian ice cream still aren’t enough, take a day trip to Venice.

The romantic Italian city is only two hours away by boat and most tour operators offer excursions for around £50 per person. Alternatively, pick your boat from the tour ships leaving Rovinj harbour every morning for about the same price.

Most excursions include a six-hour sightseeing tour of the city and lunch, and allow free time for gondola or taxi boat rides. Don’t forget your passport!

Best bits: admiring St Mark’s Cathedral or the Rialto Bridge, watching the chaos on the water of the Grand Canal.

Staying for longer? Continue your cross-boarder antics with a day trip to the castles and lakes of neighbouring Slovenia – ask your tour operator for details.

Day seven: And relax…

The promenade at Opatija, Istria, a popular spa townThe old village and harbour of Rabac on the east coast of Istria is the ideal place to while away your final day.

Small, relaxed and pretty, it is just big enough to have everything you need. Restaurants and bars tumble down the hill to the small village beach and line the walkway that fringes the bay.

Watch the harbour come to life over a coffee before heading to the beach, or join the locals and set your towel up on the rocks.

As dusk falls, choose your table at one of the seafood bars along the promenade. Order local mussels and a bottle of wine and watch the sun slide behind the hills.

Best bits: diving from the rocks, fresh seafood, hiring a boat to explore neighbouring coves.

Staying for longer? Stroll along the promenade at the fashionable spa town of Opatija (30 minutes’ drive from Rabac) before lunching at nearby Volosko.

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