On our holiday this summer in Istria, the northernmost province of Croatia, I particularly enjoyed getting away from the coast into the rural interior and the picturesque hill towns of Grožnjan and Motovun. It’s easy to do a day’s driving tour between the different hill-top towns, such as Buzet, Draguac, Hum and Boljun as well as the better known Grožnjan and Motovun that we visited. These towns started off many centuries ago as fortified settlements on the top of the hill, were rebuilt in the Middle Ages and then strengthened further under Austrian or Venetian colonisation.
After the second world war most of the Italian Inhabitants abandoned this town but in the 1960s it regained somethng of it’s previous success and the town was designated as a ‘City of Artists’. Now, you arrive and park on the edge of the town, then wander through the church square and through the pedestrianised lanes. Many of the picturesque old stone buildings have been converted into art galleries, selling ceramics, paintings, jewellery and gifts, as well as the odd stalls selling honey and other local produce.
When we visited, we had just missed the summer Jazz festival, Jazz is Back, with a stage set up in the local square and performances every night throughout July. That was a big disappointment, as I’d have loved to have sat in the balmy air in a cafe listening to the music. I had to console myself with lunch in one of the main tavernas, Bastia where I ate a plate of pasta in creamy sauce with the local truffles shaved over it. Read my post about the truffles from this region of Croatia here.
When you reach this old hill-top town in the province of Istria in Croatia, you have two choices for parking, either park for free at the bottom of the hill, or pay a small amount to park higher up at the edge of the pedestrianised area. You walk up through a stone gateway with carved Venetian stonework on display inside the archway. This old medieval town still has the old fortified town walls encircling it and you can walk all around them with fantastic views over the valley and looking down onto the teracotta tiled roofs below.
The town is particularly known for the local food and wine specialities that are sold in many of the shops, often with the opportunity to taste before you buy. There are also many restarants serving the local specialities and a pleasant Kastel hotel with a garden where I wouldn’t have minded staying. By the time we’d done out little walk around, it was ate afternoon and there were rumbles of thunder in the distance, so we hurried back to our car before the storm blew in.
Even if you’re based by Istria’s beautiful coastline for sea and swimming, I’d highly recommend you hire a car for a day or two and explore some of these beautiful hill-top towns. This is the gourmet heartland of Istria, so do time your visit to take in a good lunch and taste the local specialities of the region. Many thanks to the Istrian Tourim board who hosted me on this visit to Istria in Croatia.
Carved stone at Motovun, Istria, Croatia
Other articles about Istria