Istria: affordable corner of Croatia could be the new Tuscany

Glittering islands, bays and the ancient town of Rovinj combine to offer a perfect late summer holiday

The best way to approach Rovinj, in the Croatian region of Istria, is by boat: the church looms into sight and the cobbled town falls away steeply below. Cars are banned, the streets too narrow and stones too polished, so we catch a golf buggy from the port up through the ice-cream shops and then up again. From the top of the hill, where cats sprawl like shadows in the sunlight, we choose which islands to visit that afternoon, pointing down dizzily.

Ferries depart hourly, stacked with people better prepared than us with our bottle of water and lone film of sunblock. One day we choose Veliki Brijun with its Roman remains, modest safari park and newly hatched elephant. The next day we disembark at the Red Island, where a yellow bouncy castle floats in the sea and families mark out their territory with towels. Over the course of a hot afternoon, regular shrieks from the water alert us to another foot sliced on a sharp rock as it fights back against the tourists. We return to our B&B bleeding but delighted. And that is how the days go – a swim, an ice-cream, a forest, a fish. A jaunt to an island, some homemade pasta, a brief argument about the heat. Could this be the perfect holiday destination?

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