Recently I headed off for a week long adventure around Northern Croatia. It was a family affair, with my ever wanderlusting parents who are visiting from Australia(no wonder I’m a traveller) & very patient boyfriend joining for a few days. So with just us, a trusty hire car, a somewhat deceptive GPS and the windy, hectic European roads we ventured around some of the lesser known parts of this beautiful region.
When: June 13-20 2016
Details: Fly in and out of Trieste, Italy. Hire Car to drive around Croatia.
Previously, I have explored the more famous parts of the country – partied and survived through Sail Croatia, checked out Dubrovnik , Split & Hvar and floated around lots of the incredible islands on the way. However this time, we were staying on land and heading to places that when mentioned to most people, they were like “where?”. What we found however, was an area that seemed slightly more untouched and removed from the tourist trail. The locations had a sense of being a real local holiday destination, and as we were travelling just before peak season, there was the space and time to really enjoy each town and village, soaking up the real beauty & culture of the area.
JOURNEY / SIGHTS
We arrived in Trieste, Italy, then jumped in a car and drove straight down into Slovenia to the seaside town of Portoroz for the night. A sweet, sleepy seaside town that is a decent walk or quick bus to the scenic & idyllic jewel of the Slovenian coast – Piran. A small, but beautiful town, you immediately feel immersed into the pace of the Mediterranean, instantly more relaxed, whether that be the Aperitifs or the charm of the locals. Plus, seeing a sunset over sea for the first time in over a year was joyous for the soul and with slightly stormy weather on the horizon it was a real showstopper.
Driving through into Croatia, we headed for the green Istrian hills to land in Motovun, perched high above the valleys and mountainside. Staying here for just one night, we got a sense of the town after the tourist buses headed back to bigger cities. A sense of true calm unfolded around Aperitivo time, when after some unseasonal rain storms began to clear, there was a beautiful blue haze rolling across the hills and an amazing tranquility. This could be due perhaps, to the belief that the town is positioned on the crossroads of the Earth’s energetic meridians, which emanate positive Earth life energy into their surroundings. Such energy fields are said to have a relaxing & calming effect, increasing concentration & spirtituality, offering rest, rejuvenation and heightened awareness for creativity and meditation. Soaking it all in, it was definitely a worthwhile stop to recharge and unwind, with breathtaking views and an honest, calming vibe.
Moving on we checked out Grozjnan, another small hilltop village close by, which hosts a large artist community. Again, beautiful scenic views over the sweeping ranges and with a quaint village centre, easily walked through in about 30 minutes, but will a strong sense of art, culture and life. We then began heading south towards our next destination of Pula. Stopping along the way at the Fjord, which was a pretty inlet which would undoubtedly be packed with watersports, swimmers and boats in peak season and then on to the highly recommended Rovinj. Rovinj is the real deal for a seaside, Croatian village. Winding cobblestone pathways that lead to glimpses of the Sea, lavender, truffle & oil sellers faring their wares, a port filled with small yachts and dinghys anticipating the start of the season – it was exactly as you would imagine a key tourist destination. A beautiful place to stop and explore for a few hours, but for us, not a key place to stay.
For the next three days we based ourselves in a beautiful little Air B’n’B in Stoja, just outside of the city centre of Pula. Pula is perhaps best known as a port town, with one of the worlds largest remaining Roman amphitheaters – which happens to host a few of the big European festivals each summer. We only ever went into the town twice, it’s not overally large and does have more of a small city vibe, but there is plenty of history & culture to explore. We spent most of this time however unwinding and relaxing on some of the many beautiful beaches – of the clifftop/pebble variety, that run along near Stoja and around the bays. There are many hidden little pockets to find a patch and enjoy the incredible, if slightly cold, turquoise waters of the Adriatic. For me, a much needed dosage of Vitamin Sea!
Heading off again we crossed into Krk Island, to arrive in Malinska. This was another beautiful little beach town, where you literally strolled down to the coast for a swim and further along to a relaxed, but atmospheric port filled with bars, restaurants, and most importantly gelateria's! The island itself was one of the highlights of this trip. Small villages and towns are dotted all over the place, within easy reach by car, with idyllic scenery, isolated swimming spots and all with the pace of Island time. It offers a true sense of the Med, mixed with rural & seaside atmosphere, lively bars & restaurants and some incredible cuisine!
Other than Malinska, Vbrink was a standout visit on Krk, again filled with centuries old cobblestone pathways, gorgeous cliff top vegetable gardens, the narrowest street in the world and sweeping views out over the Adriatic, the sense of space and expanse was definitely soul fulfilling!
On our journey back, we ventured through Slovenia, into Italy again to stop quickly at Trieste, another gorgeous town, hosting a sense of Old-World glamour mixed with modern day business. We had a brief moment to dash around, have some proper espresso & gelato before heading back to old London town.
Restaurant Nada – Vbrink
We lucked upon this spot and it was by far the culinary highlight of the trip. The location was beyond beautiful, situated on a sun-soaked corner of cliff, overlooking the Adriatic sea reaching beyond the horizon. We opted just for the “bar snacks” menu, which was far from any usual bar snacks encountered, think perfectly grilled chicken and fresh salad, roast beef sandwiches, local cheese platters and topped off with decadent cherry tiramisu (divine) and the local speciality – cremesalinska – layers of fille pastry with fluffy custard crème…the steep walks around the rest of Vbrink were definitely needed!
Konoba Mondo – Motovun
Dining here upon the recommendations of a guide to Motovun in the New York Times, Konoba Mondo highlights the local delicacy of truffles, and there is no shortage on the menu, nor the plate. Always a fan of sharing platters, I convinced the team to get the mixture of two types of local Prosciutto and cheese, which of course, was delicious. I then opted for the homemade ravioli, filled with a mixture of truffles, celery and spinach. I’m pretty sure I have only ever really had truffle oil, so my tastebuds were blown away but this dish. There was no lack of truffle, with incredibly generous shavings atop the dish, but with such a light, fresh taste, that all in all, it was perfect. I rounded off with a chocolate torte filled with molten chocolate, dusted with pistachios. Decadent and the reason for a brisk workout the next morning - which you can find here! Additionally, the local wine of this area, a crisp white, was a perfect accompaniment!
Filled with locals, set slightly back from the main harbor in Malinska, is Konoba Bracera, which offers honest, wholesome, home style meals. As we had found, most of the menus within Croatia tend to be the same mix of seafood, pastas and pancakes. However, here, you were able to truly interact with the waitstaff and find out what was the freshest fresh, top recommendations and the daily specials. I opted for a fresh fish fillet atop grilled polenta within white wine sauce. Again, perfect. We also filled up on another local delicacy, which is a spinach side dish of sautéed, garlic spinach with small portions of boiled new potatoes mixed through – delish. Perfect for a relaxed family evening outside, watching the sun drop down over the sea.
As a new adventure, to a location on the world map I really hadn’t given much thought to before, it was revealing & relaxing. A great chance to explore pre-peak season & such a variety of towns, villages and cities across the trip. With such cheap flights into Trieste and with easy driving times, it is definitely worthwhile checking out if you want to see a side of Croatia that is not just resorts & wild boat parties (though, those are pretty fun!)