There’s nothing we love more than discovering a place that brings the pages from our favourite childhood fairy tale stories to life: a world with charming cobbled streets, picturesque vistas, sparkling waters, quaint villages, medieval charm, ancient ruins and nature at its most majestic.
You probably already think you know all of the European destinations that conjure up that romantic, fairy tale atmosphere, but we have a new one for you to discover: Croatia’s Istrian peninsula, which melds old-world charm with rustic beauty and modern-day comforts, making it ideal for a weekend couples’ getaway or a family trip with toddlers or teens.
For starters, getting to Istria is totally hassle-free: British Airways is launching a new direct flight service from London Heathrow to the coastal city of Pula, which gets you to your dream holiday in less than two-and-a-half hours. And with twice-weekly flights throughout the summer months, you can fly whenever is most convenient for you.
Whatever your fairy tale fantasy - coastal walks, glorious gastronomy, exploring ancient Roman wonders - the Istrian peninsula ticks every box when it comes to your ideal summer holiday. You can relax, sight-see, swim and explore to your heart’s delight.
Find out why Istria is one of Europe’s real-life fairy tale destinations. We’ve got 9 reasons for you below...
Remember Hansel and Gretel when they came upon the gastro-delight that was the witch's house in the forest? Yep, that's going to be you when you see the food offerings in Istria.
Istria has a well-earned reputation as a culinary capital: stroll through the pastoral countryside and you'll find off-the-beaten track vineyards, grove upon grove of olive trees, forest floors strewn with wild asparagus and truffles aplenty (Istrian forests are renowned for producing three types of black truffle, as well as the oversized - and highly prized - white truffle). Needless to say, when dining out, you'll find the truffle is a scrumptious accompaniment in risotto, pasta and meat dishes - as well as an unexpected finishing touch for dessert: black truffle ice cream is a must-try. If you're a fan, be sure to stop by Buzet, aka the "truffle capital" of Istria.
Since Istria's a peninsula, there's also plenty of opportunity for fish and seafood lovers to get plenty of freshly caught fare.
Now, who's feeling peckish?
You know that picture-perfect village that Belle wanders through at the start of Beauty and the Beast? Colourful houses, cobbled streets, medieval architecture... Istria's towns all have that lovely fairy tale feel. And more: centuries of history.
Take Motovun: this medieval town with Gothic and Romanesque buildings sitting atop a 277-metre high hill offers panoramic views of the countryside and Mirna River Valley, and was fortified by Venetians in the 14th century. Indulge your inner Little Red Riding Hood with a stroll through the Motovun Forest, where you can go on a truffle hunt or pause for a pampering session at the local thermal springs spa.
Another medieval town you can't miss? The artistic haven and walled town of Labin, on Istria's eastern coast, where you can explore the bucolic landscape on hiking or cycling trails, or climb up the city's 17th century church tower for a stunning view of the city and charming nearby fishing village, Rabac. Be sure to bring your camera.
While much of Istria's striking landscapes can be viewed from up high, there's also an amazing subterranean world to explore down below. Yes, we're talking about channeling Snow White's Seven Dwarfs and heading to one of the many caves Istria offers.
Two well worth a visit? The Pazin Cave, which has inspired the likes of Dante and Jules Verne, and sits beneath a vast medieval castle with a gorge running alongside it (how's that for a fairy tale setting?).
In search of an adrenaline rush? There's a zip-line adventure which offers a glorious view of the cave and castle as you zoom past.
The Baredine Cave is another favourite, with galleries filled with craters, stalactites and stalagmites, as well as fish that dwell in the cave's murky depths. No real-live monsters dwelling here, but plenty of other cool stuff to discover.
When we think modern-day fairy tale, we think about us, on a beach, enjoying the sunshine and swimming in warm, emerald-blue waters. Istria is full of beaches for any and all temperaments: Cape Kamenjak (near Pula) has that rugged, adventure vibe, where cliff-jumpers and thrill-seekers plunge from 70-foot-high cliffs, Lone Bay (Rovinj) is ideal for taking in the postcard views, relaxing and indulging in casual beach sports, like volleyball and Bijeca, in wind-surf capital Medulin, is a must for sandy-beach lovers - it's one of Istria's sandy enclaves.
With over 44 beaches to choose from which have the country's Blue Flag rating (associated with clean facilities and a pristine coastline and waters), no matter where you are in Istria, you won't be far from a dip in the water.
Nothing quite says fairy tale like unearthing hidden gems in nature, or seeing it at its most sublime: glorious blue skies, lush green woodlands, crystal-blue waters... Istria's got nature walks covered, if you're in search of a quiet amble through the forest or a more intense trekking adventure (check out the trails in Central Istria). On your journey, you'll pass medieval bell towers and churches and make your way through totally untouched, wild nature. Avid cyclists will also find cycle trails across the peninsula to suit their skill level and interests.
One of the most striking historical relics that Istria has to offer lies in Pula, where you'll find the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre, where gladiators once battled to the death. Construction on the arena initially began under the reign of Augustus in the 1st century, and it's one of a handful of surviving arenas in the whole world. Originally designed to house over 20,000 spectators, impressive is an understatement.
Did you know that one of Europe's oldest churches - dating back to the 6th century - can be found in Poreč? The Byzantine Basilica, built on a 4th century oratory, is well worth a visit for the striking wall mosaics (featuring biblical scenes) alone.
When it comes to bedding down for the night, Istria has it all. Campsites with easy access to beaches and pools, glamorous 5-star hotels, or resorts with swimming pools and on-site kids clubs, featuring playrooms, classes and entertainments for children of all ages. Now, parents everywhere know that when it comes to grown-up fairy tales, there's nothing like taking a dip in your hotel pool and then relaxing on a sun lounger while reading a book, knowing your little ones are just minutes away, happily occupied.
For some, a fairy tale getaway is all about stunning views and quiet strolls. For others, it's the thrill of the adventure, the journey, the adrenaline rush. Happily, in Istria, there's both on offer. If you're looking for a more-is-more experience, you can walk in The Little Mermaid's footsteps - under the sea - at the Underwater Park Verudela, enter a cave via rope, go skydiving at the Aeropark Vrsar or try out a real-life escape room experience in Pula. For those looking for something water-based, there's no shortage of offerings: sailing, diving, fishing and windsurfing are just a few activities to enjoy on the sea.