Fallin' madly in love with Croatia
Days 31 to 42 of 169:
Hello again, I agree it’s been a while since I last posted about our travels, so I’m grateful you’re still here following along.
I previously touched on Rijeka + Opatija in the Kvarner region of Croatia, with this post, I will focus on a lovely little area known as Istria, where we visited Rovinj + Pula.
Before I begin telling you about the towns of Rovinj and Pula, I thought I would explain why I have not touched on the subject of food or drink in the last couple of travel posts.
Sadly, I was bad.
I made certain assumptions before visiting smaller European villages and cities, including those in Croatia. Assumptions were that the food would be blah, as in the flavorless-boiled-food-kind-of-way.
I am happy to admit – I was wrong, really wrong.
From the braised and grilled meat dishes to the simple seafood dishes, the food was wide-ranging, at its best, fresh and delish.
Our dinner of fried fish, chicken, pork, sausage and local veggies.
In fact, the foodie aspect of my visit, through Croatia, quickly became an essential part of the experience.
Istria, in northern Croatia, is a region known for producing the world's loveliest olive oils, exceptional wines, and growing spectacular truffles.
So let's talk truffles !!
I think I've always liked truffles?? You might know the kind - smelly subterranean fungi that grow deep in the ground, in dark forests, always near oak trees. They have sweet, musky, earthy, pungent, intense, comforting, notes all rolled into one "great" mushroom. If you haven't tried truffles, you should !!
Close up of Black Truffles.
The Istrian region is unique; there are a not one but a few varieties of black truffle as well as the famous white truffle (tuber magnatum pico) which is considered to be the king of the underground fungi.
Our drive along the beautiful country roads takes us to Natura tartufi; a family owned business, clear-cut in the middle of nowhere. They offer a vast range of truffle products.
And they were smart business owners when they decided to add a “Tasting Room” so customers can taste and enjoy their goods. Trust me that's what we did !!
That’s me holding several black truffles, while nearly drooling over the lovely sample board, shopkeeper, Gabrijela prepared for us.
If you’re looking for a great experience and want to learn a little more about truffles, it’s well worth the drive into the Istrian countryside.
So let’s talk wines !!
Istria is known as 'the Tuscany of Croatia,' with its never-ending rolling hills and valleys, filled with wineries and olive groves. Anyone who loves fine wine will appreciate that most of the wineries/vineyards are well hidden and most certainly off the beaten path - they are true gems in the countryside.
We were fortunate to stumble upon Kozlovic Winery. This beautifully appointed winery is just a few short kilometers from the sea and at the foothill of the sleepy town of Momjan.
The owners spared no expense and attention to detail when building this winery; it is stunning.
No matter where you look an exciting design element will catch your eye.
The wine tasting counter at Kozlovic Winery.
Awesome design features at Kozlovic Winery.
The winery was designed to respect eco-principles: outer walls and the roof are overgrown with vegetation while the interior is the complete opposite, using concrete, glass, and aluminum. The combination of these materials oozes warmth.
And from an Interior Designer’s point-of-view, it was inspiring.
So let’s talk grapes !!
The most significant of the white grapes grown, in this wine region, is certainly the Istrian Malvasia.
Frequently this is a dry wine, straw yellow in color, with outstanding almond notes, fresh fruit, and if left to age in oak wood, for at least one year, will give it a pleasing complexity.
The most significant of the red grapes grown, in this wine region is the Istrian Teran. Ruby red wine with hints of purple, mostly wild fruit on the palate.
Kozlovic Winery vines.
You could also enjoy the great tastes of Muscat, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
During our tasting, we tried fresh Malvazija and Teran, a refreshing Rosé and aromatic Muscat. The shopkeeper served a lovely and fresh ricotta cheese, with a little drizzle of a locally produced honey for us to enjoy with the Muscat.
We bought several bottles to enjoy at our rental, and they presented us with a bottle of their olive oil as a thank you present. How sweet is that?!
All I can say is - Lovely environment - Lovely owners - Lovely wines.
Now onto the other towns and villages, we visited while in the Istrian countryside.
1st up Rovinj
I will tell you that I did do my research on Rovinj. In fact on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” I became so smitten with Rovinj that it became a priority to visit while in Istria.
Here’s what I can tell you about Rovinj, it is the "idyllic" Istrian city.
Not only does it offer some of the region’s best views, but the pedestrianized old town is charmingly archaic and reminds me of the narrow streets of Venice (which, by boat, is about 115KMs across the Adriatic.)
Pretty view down to the Adriatic Sea.
The old neighborhood, Grisia, is filled with hotels, endless cafes and restaurants, appealing little shops and art galleries. You’ll get a feeling of stepping back in time when you walk down the narrow and well-trodden cobblestone lined streets. Meander aimlessly and carefree as you should on your walk around the town, explore it while you look for a place to have a late lunch or an early dinner.
One of many narrow and cobblestoned streets in Rovinj.
The buildings show varied styles of architecture from years gone-by. Look at the details on the walls of the churches, the town halls, arches, water-wells, and you will see a strong Venetian influence. You will be amazed by the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical style architecture as well. But I especially loved the pastel colors of the city’s buildings, very serene and tranquil.
I wonder, did the owner of this house paint the entry way to match
the leather on the scooter or the other way around??
The old town itself has a few other must-sees. One of importance is the 18th century Saint Euphemia’s Basilica - a baroque church where its bell tower stands over the seaside city acting like a Good Samaritan protecting its beautiful landscape along the Adriatic Sea.
Saint Euphemia's Basilica
And Rovinj has a laid-back and effortless charm - it is gorgeous, authentic and has an excellent example of a “typical” fishing village on the Adriatic.
Rovinj's main fishing port.
And last but not least, if you’re a “Game of Thrones” fan, you will appreciate this area - many scenes were filmed right on this very spot.
Make your travels during the months of May to September as Rovinj receives more than ten sunshine hours per day. That is a lot of warm sunny days !!
Now let’s talk about Pula
Pula is one of Istria’s most authentic cities and is known for its wealth of Roman architecture, unspoiled natural surroundings, inviting turquoise waters and beautiful countryside. With all that said, it has managed to retain a friendly small-town appeal and that my friends are what makes Pula an attractive destination spot for tourists.
I was super keen to see the Roman architecture !!
No doubt the main attraction is the Pula Arena Amphitheater. It is the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers, consisting of all three Roman architectural orders (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian). It is also Croatia's best preserved ancient Roman monument.
Pula Arena Amphitheater.
The Triumphal Arch of the Sergii - it leads you into the heart of Pula where you will find many restaurants, cafes, shops and places of interest.
Triumphal Arch of the Sergii.
Another famous site you should add to your itinerary is the Temple of Augustus. It is a well-preserved Roman temple right in the centre of Pula, and dedicated to the first Roman emperor, Augustus.
The Temple of Augustus.
Food in Pula: Majority of restaurants offer typical Croatian fare: pizza, pasta, risotto and grill for affordable prices.
Today, Pula has a long tradition of wine-making, fishing and is an important shipbuilding center.
I am positive that Croatia will win you over and that sooner or later; you’ll be visiting Croatia again and again.
As a special mention, we made a slight detour on this road trip to Ljubljana, Slovenia. And am I ever glad we decided on the diversion !!
Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana.
Ljubljana is Slovenia's capital and largest city. It's known for its green spaces and natural parks. I was most impressed by the curving Ljubljanica River, lined mainly with outdoor cafes, museums, residences, and all things of interest.
The best way to see the Ljubljanica River is by boat.
But what I would like to talk about is their unique food market - Odprta kuhna (Open Kitchen). Open Fridays during spring, summer and early autumn.
I urge you not to miss this market located at the Pogačarjev trg Square, smack dab in the heart of Ljubljana. Dozens of the best culinary service providers, prepare fresh food, deliciously thought-out street food. Not to mention a Gin Bar, and several wine stalls selling locally produced wines.
Pulled pork sandwiches.
Check out this Gin stand - Awesome.
Grab a delicious bite to eat, find a bench or sit on the steps of the Cathedral Church. And you will not be disappointed !!
This is but just a few things to do on a visit to beautiful Ljubljana, Slovakia.
Stayed tuned for the next post; Croatia - 4.0 (Plitvice Lakes National Park and Supetar, Brac Island).
Trust me you won’t want to miss that post.