It would take us approximately eleven hours to get to Croatia, roughly 1,000 kilometers and three international borders. This, I thought, was what travel was like before border barriers were removed inside the European Union and before air travel became affordable for everyone. I was a bit apprehensive before we took off – after all, there are only so many Nintendo games available for your ten-year old in the backseat and eleven hours can stretch to eternity if things don’t fall into place. We started from home shortly after midnight and I sure hoped the country we were going to would amend us for the drudgery.
- Rakotule, Motovun, Porec and Rovinj, Istria, Croatia
- Traveled there: end of October 2016
- Stayed at: Spinovci vacation rental, Rakotule
If the view we had upon arrival at our vacation home was any indication, then Croatia would live up to its promises. “Magnificent” or “stunning” aren’t quite enough to describe the view we had from our newly-built, excellently appointed vacation home at the end of a small (actually, very small) road some thirty car minutes away from the coastline. Built on a slope in a hilly area, there was a clear, unobstructed view all the way across a valley to the impressive Motovun, a village built on a mountain that from afar looks like a medieval castle.
When you get there, Motovun presents itself as a good mixture between normal town and tourist place. Be prepared for a steep ascent to the hilltop which, depending on the amount of tourists on hand, can be quite long from the parking area. Being all the way up, you’ll be gifted with a nice view, but all in all, Motovun is actually nicer to look at than to look down from in my opinion. Other places in Istria are more interesting to see.
One of those places is the Lim bay, sometimes referred to as “fjord”, although it is not actually a fjord, but definitely looks like one. Seamed by dense forests on often steep slopes, the bay stretches inland for more than 30 kilometers. The waters here are the habitat for various species and there is some oyster and mussel farming done here. Other than that, the Lim offers some nice hiking and mountainbiking, but boating and fishing are prohibited.
Continuing on from the false fjord, you will after a few minutes get to Rovinj and that town should be on your must-see list. Embraced by the Adriatic Sea from two sides and surrounded by more than twenty islands, Rovinj has a long, storied history that begins in the 2nd century. Standing in the harbor area and looking across the water, to the picturesque town culminating in the cathedral perched on a hill above, I notice that it is impossible to take a bad picture of Rovinj. The harbor is seamed by cafés and restaurants and once you have charged your batteries there, you must set out on a walking tour through the narrow streets of this town, which is truly a gem of Istria. Eventually, you will get on a winding road leading up to the cathedral, which is a nice path to take, but the views aren’t too spectacular.
The other town we spent time in, Porec, is a hub of tourist activity in the main season, but had an enjoyable off-season feeling when we were there in late October. It was still warm enough to enjoy being outside, so we walked around town for quite a bit. Which sounds like more than it really is, because you can easily explore every street in the town’s central area within one hour. Along Porec’s cobblestoned streets, there are quite a few stores catering to tourists, plastic souvenirs and Asian-made shirts. There is one notable exception in a side street, where a Croatian business has set up tent. They craft an assortment of ceramic fish, give each one a name and spin a little story about it, which you’ll get on a card when you buy one.
Actually though, the best souvenir you can get from Istria caters to the culinary-minded traveler. I had not been aware that the region is famous for its truffles and much to my delight, I had come for truffles season. There was a truffles-themed fair going on in Buzet, there were special truffles-adorned dishes available in all the restaurants and there were literally hundreds of products available that featured truffles as an ingredient. All that comes without any posh attitude or outrageous prices. You will find plenty of affordable, high-quality truffles products at street vendors or at the market in Porec.
Istria is an area that lives mostly from tourism and in the summer, the coastal communities get their fair share of Germans, Austrians who they have to cater to. However, I made the experience that the Croatians didn’t let that affect their friendly attitude towards visitors. Throw in the nice climate and the affordable prices and you’ll have a vacation destination that is actually more versatile than you would think at first glance.