Come along for a ride, as we visit a few hilltop towns and eat truffles in central Istria.
Central Istria – think Tuscany without the tourists (or at least without as many). Some even make reference to central Istria as the Croatian Tuscany.
Visiting some of these hilltop towns felt like visiting unspoiled places that have not been changed by modern life. You see pictures of these places in books and travel magazines but when you actually see it in real life and experience it, it’s hard to describe it in words.
Renting a vehicle was one of the best decisions we made in order to visit these more isolated towns. It made it super easy and convenient for us to get from one town to another. If you’re ever in Istria, we would certainly recommend renting a vehicle for some of those day trips.
Groznjan was the first hilltop town we visited. Perched on a hill, it is surrounded by vineyards, green valleys & olive groves. As you drive up, you suddenly arrive to it, sitting there on top of the hill.
As soon as we arrived, we quickly found this nice little outdoor terrace with views of rolling hills in all directions. It was the perfect setting for the day’s first glass of Istrian red Teran wine.😊In Istria, the most famous Croatian wine is the white Istrian Malvasia. Malvasia is in Northern Istria. The most popular red is Teran, which is from western Istria.
This town is filled with art galleries and studios. In summer we read that they have both a jazz and an art festival which brings many artists from all over Europe. There is definitely an artistic flair to this town.
In Istria they make brandy. After the grapes are pressed during the wine-making process, the leftover is used to make Istrian brandy. It is made exclusively from grapes (not from other fruits). After tasting the brandy and olive oils we stocked up for the remainder of our trip!.
Bernard, I think we’ll buy the big bottle of brandy up there!😊
We had lunch at Taverna Bastia.
We already mentioned in our previous post on Rovinj that Istria is well known for its olive oil, truffles, fish and seafood. They also make delicious pršut, which is a salty paper-thin sliced ham. It’s not smoked, only dry-cured and treated with sea salt. As well, during March, April and May the wild asparagus is picked and they make with it omelettes, soups, homemade pasta and risottos. They even have an asparagus festival during these months. I ate homemade pasta with asparagus at Taverna Bastia. Everything was so amazingly fresh tasting!
Sometimes when you travel you get a bit afraid that eventually, you might cease to get marvelled by your next destination. Arriving in Motovun and looking through our apartment windows to absolutely spectacular views of the countryside, took our breath away. Definitely, one of those “pinch me” moments.
Our apartment in Motovun was unique, as we felt like we were staying in a treehouse perched up in the sky looking down at those amazing green valleys. We couldn’t have chosen a better place to spend a couple of relaxing days!
Our apartment views in Motovun.
Motovun is one of Istria’s most beautiful and best-preserved medieval hilltop towns in Istria. On arriving there, it requires that you leave your car in a parking space at the bottom of the hill and then walking up to the town on a steep hill. If you stay overnight as we did, then you get a parking pass for a few euros that allows you to park halfway up to the town. Our Airbnb hostess kindly offered to meet us with her personal vehicle to bring us the rest of the way to the apartment with our luggage.
Here are a few photos of the old town itself. It is actually not big at all but it is the spectacular views and food here (get to that later) that brings people to this place every day.
While waiting for our apartment we had a coffee and dessert at the Kaštel Hotel. How about a different twist to this piece of apple pie – also served with a light crême fraîche topping! Not sure I can share this one!
Since we had enjoyed their dessert first thing in the morning 😊 we decided to return to the hotel for lunch. Of course, Istria, including Motovun is all about those heavenly truffles. So…needless to say that is what I had from the menu for lunch. A pasta dumpling with shaved black truffles on top.
What is different here in Istria, compared to their neighbour Italy, is that you can afford to get truffles to eat off the menu in restaurants. The New York Times wrote in an article on Istria, “a truffle meal won’t burn a hole through your wallet”. Beware, it is really addictive!
Bernard went for the veal and then we shared, of course, another dessert!😊
We ate as well in Motovun at Mondo Restaurant. They have been featured in The New York Times. This is a charming homey style restaurant, nothing really fancy but when you walk in a heavenly aroma of truffles fills the room. They are well known for their true homemade Istrian cuisine. Many truffle dishes are on the menu.
That night I went for the fish. Since my dad is a fisherman and fresh fish was at the dinner table at least once a week growing up, I know quality when I see it, and Croatian fish definitely passed the test. Bernard went for the lamb. For a great price, once again, we had a memorable and authentic Istrian dining experience.
Our airbnb apartment in Motovun will certainly be a memorable one. It was so cozy and homey. We stayed there for two nights and we just didn’t want to leave. The room surrounded by little windows that gave us amazing views, even in the shower!
I even had a cozy little spot where I sat early in the morning and played soft oldies on this good old model CD player!😊 La vie est belle!
Motovun under the rainbow.🌈
The town of Paladini will be memorable for us as we spent a good part of a day in a truffle hunting event. We decided to see how this intensely aromatic mushroom was farmed. We contacted the Karlic family in Paladini and booked a truffle hunt and tasting experience.
One of the world’s most expensive gastronomic delicacies, truffles are big business in Istria. You could say it’s like hunting for gold!
They first explained the tradition of truffle hunting in Istria and as well went over some basic facts about truffles and their environment.
Here is a map of Istria and the shaded dark green area is where the truffles are found.
We then went off in the woods with a trained truffle guide and two truffle hunting dogs. They got so excited when they realized they were going hunting. I felt bad for the others as they can only bring 2 dogs out at a time and a possible 3rd for training purposes.
Meet Zara and Candy (with the yellow collar) – all the hunting dogs are females. They are the best hunters! They actually have different breeds of dogs, even Labradors which is a common breed back home. The trainer told us that Labradors are excellent truffle hunters but they, unfortunately, get issues with their hips.
Once the dogs find & sniff out the truffles the trainer has to be quick to remove them otherwise they will eat the truffles.
Candy was the first to find one!But Zara wants a piece of the action!
I don’t know who was more excited, me or the dogs!😊
The ultimate gastronomic experience, in addition to getting to go out and hunt for your own truffles, is enjoying a feast of truffles after the hunt, both black and white! This time of year the black truffles are in season. In the Fall it is the white truffle. Hunters can get $1000 or more a kilo for their white truffles!
Our truffle menu consisted of –
3 types of homemade brandies
red and white homemade wine
olive oil with white truffles
honey with truffles
canapés with truffles
3 types of cheese with truffles
sausages with truffles
scrambled eggs with truffles
and a truffle dessert!
Here below is the wonderful Croatian Martha Stewart at work in her kitchen getting our food prepared.
Candy was definitely the hero of the day!
Our truffle hunt turned into admiration for both the trained ‘truffle guide’ and the dogs.
By the way, it was some cold the day we went out hunting. Croatia was having what they called a “Bura“. It’s a very strong cold wind, at times with rain that blows from the northeast onto the Adriatic region. We definitely experienced it that day! Luckily I still had my warm headband in my suitcase.
Oprtalj was the last little hilltop town we visited. Compared to the others, Oprtalj seems to be more colourful. This little place was quite interesting. It felt like we had stepped back in time. It was strange because sometimes we’d say “does anyone actually live here” but then you would actually see signs of life, like children attending school and artists working out of little studios.
Many houses are abandoned which gives the town a strange eerie feel to it, but then again it adds to its charm. Time appears to be standing still here.
What was strange as well is that when we were walking around it felt as though this could be the setting for a movie…and then as we were leaving we actually saw a group of cameraman arriving and a film production were setting up, so yes, it must be the perfect setting for a movie!
This is a large Venetian loggia, which has a lovely terrace overlooking the Valley from beneath ancient chestnut trees.
Maybe this is the James Bond Jaguar 😊
We have now spent 8 weeks in Croatia and have seen many “faces” to it. It’s an interesting country and has lots to offer. I know for me, that my heart will flutter when I hear the words Zagreb and Istria. ❤️
Next bus stop 🚌 Ljubljana, Slovenia 🇸🇮