Croatia

istria

Istria. Holiday in Istria, Croatia! That the map is Italian is significant.

It was the last week in May and I went to Istria for the first time. This is how it went…

Accommodation

We booked a villa for two through Vintage travel.  We found a villa that looked huge for two – it also looked tasteful and clean ( I have a ‘thing’ about  cleanliness despite – or perhaps because of – my slovenly housekeeping skills at home…).

It said that it was ‘peaceful’ which shouted out ‘in the middle of nowhere’ to me. Another of my ‘things’.  This time a negative ‘thing’. But it did look so beautiful.

And it was…

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For two?

So big that I couldn’t even fit it in a picture.

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Note the loggia where we had breakfast and looked over the valley –

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P1040481Loggia and geranium window boxes. Fabulous views.

P1040278Loggia, geranium window boxes and a pool.

P1040500Loggia, geranium window boxes, pool and own wine cellar.

P1040442Loggia, geranium window boxes, pool, wine cellar and … own wine . ‘I kid you not.’ (Bolara – same name as the villa!).

I could go on. And hell! I will for a little while just in case you would like to stay at Bolara too.

You see the villa was simply exquisite. And SO clean. When we arrived the owner was there and as we walked through he took out a Wet Wipe to pick up a speck of dirt on the very beautiful limestone floor. As an unrepentant dusty dirty lazy person I was shocked but as the week wore on I ‘saw the light’. Having experienced such a perfect home, so clean and well thought-out, I appreciated everything about it. I no longer saw him as a weirdo but as someone who loved and respected the home he had created.  I didn’t leave the breakfast things hanging about until suppertime.  I didn’t even think it good enough to leave the washing up , once I had  done it , to dry naturally.

On the draining board.

 

And here’s why –

P1040446Can you see  ‘Bolara’  painted on the plate?  All the crockery was handpainted in the same way.  As were the light fittings  –

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and the tiles –

P1040444Everything was so perfect.

I could go on.  And on. Even about the most spacious and well-appointed utility room. ( I can’t believe that I’m singing the praises of a utility room. But I am. You didn’t see it. I would  add a picture but I wouldn’t like to come across as the type of person who likes to take photos of …utility rooms.)

One very well-appointed and beautiful...utility room
One very well-appointed and beautiful…utility room

Oh what the hell! It was beautiful.

and here it is again!
and here it is again!

And then there were the sinks.

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…with copper taps.

Attention to detail.

It was astounding.

And so I wiped up the dishes and put them away.

The place was beautiful. Wonderful stone work. Polished wooden floors upstairs. Travertine tiles downstairs.  Beams. Shutters.

As for the furniture…

P1040490Somewhere for me to carefully hang my clothes up.P1040476Somewhere for Simon to nonchalantly throw his…

P1040475A chest of drawers for sunglasses perhaps? Small but perfectly formed.

With marble-topped pieces positioned around the property, mirrors  with capitals  and furniture in which you long to lay your clothes out, the villa was beautiful.

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As for the bed, it was more than kingsize and also a thing of beauty. All seven dwarves could have fitted in and so it was no surprise that my poor little Dopey felt a little lost every night. Unfortunately I failed to take a photo of this.

However, I did, spookily, take a picture of this –

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Yes. It is what you think it is. A cradle.

The villa is a very popular with honeymoon couples. Need I say more!?

Yet still, it is a beautiful and well-thought out property which really does inspire. As I came home and walked into my dusty, untidy home, crammed , full of make-do Ikea ‘pieces’ I breathed deeply and thought that there had to be another way. A cleaner, wet-wipe, Snow White way…

Time to raise my game!

Places of Interest

Hilltop towns and villages

Istria is renowned for its hilltop towns and villages and you must visit these when there.

Grozjnan

We went to Grozjnan, hilltop village of artists that is reputed to be, so I’ve read, magical. With artists’ studios open to visitors and music generating from open windows  according to guide books and websites I was expecting to be blown away by an artistic tsunami.

I was not.

This undoubtedly had something to do with the season (it was the end of May when we were there).

Usually awkward in galleries/ studios ( posh shops), my self-consciousness reached new dizzying heights in Grozjnan as a result of one particularly intimidating ‘artist’ who made a beeline for me, handmade earrings in her hand.  Hellbent on getting me to put them on she pulled my  hair back and started the hardsell. Petrified, I fled, giving every other ‘gallery’ a very wide berth after that. And there  was a very high concentration of them for such a small place.

Still, it was a pretty hilltop village with bars and restaurants and shops selling local produce such as truffle, honey and olive oil.

bastia

As for the restaurant ‘Bastia’, we were the only customers. However, the waiter was charming as well as funny and left us to enjoy the food, occasionally advising us as to what to have. That he spoke with the intonation of the Prince of Darkness mixed with the highpitched accent of the meerkats from the car insurance advert was a fact that we quickly managed to overlook. Especially when he brought us a complimentary glass of schnapps each.  We deduced from this that the Croatians are very friendly, generous people not unlike the Italians. Strange how we came to such a sweeping conclusion based on one small experience when we could just as easily have come to the opposite conclusion if another waiter had served us…

Grozjnan is also on the Parenzana cycle route – worth knowing if you’re planning on cycling in the area.

Apparently the village comes alive during the music festival. The earring ‘artist’ will,  then, hopefully not have to desperately grab at tightfisted earring philistines such as myself.

Motuvun

Though with not as many ‘artists’ selling their creations, Motovun is a very attractive walled hilltop village with commanding views all around.  With a very generous supply of truffle shops and well-located bars with breathtaking views it is another great bar stop for cyclists on the Parenzana cycle route. It looks striking, built out of the hilltop, and on a warm day there are few better places to sit and have a beer with a plate of Istrian Ham or a glass of malvasia with some truffle cheese.

Walking up...
Walking up…
Parenzana cyclists were sitting at the top of the hill having a well-earned beer...or 2
Parenzana cyclists were sitting at the top of the hill having a well-earned beer…or 2
views from the hilltop bar
views from the hilltop bar
the Venetians get everywhere
the Venetians get everywhere
cars struggling up the hill over the cobbles
cars struggling up the hill over the cobbles

There is a carpark at the foot of the hill from where you can walk or take a bus up to Motovun itself.

Buzet, Roc and Hum

Buzet is another hilltop village, a little rougher than Grozjnan and Motovun ( there were broken windows!) yet it has a tourist information office here as well as a good regional produce shop with very helpful, informative staff.  It was here that we eventually gave in to the truffle souvenir.  Small jars of nutmeg-sized  black truffles, teeny tiny bottles of  truffle oil – and all for a princely sum of a-surprising-amount-of-money.

You can also drive right into the heart of it – an experience in itself, although not one that I would be rushing to repeat.

From here we drove straight on to Roc.  We had a swift look around accompanied by two school groups and then we moved on hurriedly to Hum, reputedly the smallest town in the world. Here you pay to park before you enter the town and it looked as though it would get very crowded in high season. As it was there were myriad cyclists milling around and members of a mercedes car club purchasing their foodie souvenirs. As it started to rain we attempted to seek shelter at the cafe-bar but it was full up. I suppose that’s what happens when you find yourself in the smallest town in the world.

sculpture garden of musical instruments - accordion
sculpture garden of musical instruments –
accordion

P1040422P1040406Looking down the hill from Buzet, one of the more ‘lived in’  hilltop villages…

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smallest town in the world!
smallest town in the world!

Seaside towns

Don’t go to Istria for the beaches. There. I’ve said it. Simon and I spent many a wasted morning looking for a beach and each time found nothing but concrete strips. You may be luckier than us but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

However, we did find very pleasant seaside towns with beautiful Venetian architecture and wonderful restaurants and here are some of our favourites –

Rovinj is quite a large town with an interesting old quarter with very good seafront restaurants which are built into the rock. Go out of your way to get a table with a sea view as the experience is very special.
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Rovinj      Colourful houses rise out of the sea

rovinjhotel

Pula is a very large town which has a wonderful amphitheatre and lots of shops but you can see why James Joyce didn’t really like it here. It’s worth a visit but don’t get too excited.

pulaamphitheatrejames

Novigrad is a small town with a pretty marina and very good restaurants. A great place to go for an evening stroll.

novigrad

Porec has a lot of shops, bars and restaurants and is pleasant enough. However, the Unesco world heritage site was an unexpected surprise with its beautiful mosaics and puts Porec up with the best of them.

Bacchus bar
Bacchus bar
amazing mosaics
amazing mosaics

 

Umag is a seaside town I can safely say I will never visit again in my life.

in a nutshell

where to stay  –   try   www.vintagetravel.co.uk   for comfortable villas with pools (useful for when you want to splash away the disappointment that there aren’t many -any?- beaches).

where to eat  –  the food is generally very good in Istrian restaurants -try Bastia in Groszjan and La Puntulina in Rovinj

what to eattruffle dishes, fish

what to drinkMalvasia

if cycling –  try the Parenzana cycle route

 

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