For our Croatian day trip we drove down from Trieste, Italy not knowing what to expect having never been to Croatia before. The drive proved uneventful and we were met by a beautiful countryside. Istria, formerly Histria is the largest peninsula bordering the Adriatic Sea. The peninsula's bucolic interior of rolling hills and fertile plains attracts food and culture focused visitors to Istria's hilltop villages, rural hotels and farmhouse restaurants. We would be some of those visitors.
By the early 60s the medieval town of Grožnjan had seen its better days but a proposal for revitalizing the town around the arts and music began to take hold under the direction of the municipal authorities. Today Grožnjan reminds me a little bit of Carmel, California or at least how it could be if they could get rid of the traffic in the central part of town.
We came upon a store that sold truffle spread and oil and we stocked up for our trip and some to take home. My wife had never tasted truffles before and originally thought it was some type of chocolate. We also met an artist who has show his work all over the world. His work was quite stunning but unfortunately out of our price range. There were many nice shops with all sorts of handiwork. I bought a very small casting of a Kazun, a tiny round stone one room structure used over the centuries to store food and other supplies safely out of the elements for those working in the olive groves and vineyards. They could also serve as a temporary shelter from a passing storm.
Next we had lunch in a town called Motovun. To get to the town we had to drive a dirt road but all was ok once we arrived. Motovun is one of the best preserved Istrian hill medieval towns. It is located at the south side of Mirna River Valley. For racing enthusiasts Montona, as it was then known was the birthplace of race car driver Mario Andretti and his twin brother Aldo. The brothers raced hand-crafted wooden cars through the steep streets. After World War II Istria became a part of Croatia, under Yugoslavia. His family, like many other ethnic Italians left with the Andrettis later emigrating to America.
We had lunch at a place called, "Konoba Mondo". I had a wonderful pasta sprinkled with truffles. Speaking to the waiter regarding Motovun's famous son I was startled to hear that we had missed Mario by one week and that he ate at the very same restaurant where we were now eating.
Our last stop before returning to Trieste would be Rovinj. Now surrounded on three sides by the sparkling Adriatic the town was originally an island, it was only connected to the mainland in 1763 when the narrow channel separating it was filled. The old city is dominated by the 280-year-old Church of St. Euphemia, perched on a hilltop site next to an even older, 200-foot campanile modeled on that of St. Mark's in Venice. Frome the top of the campanile we had a great view. It was said that on a clear day you could see Venice but clear as it was we could not see it.
The body of St Euphemia is said to rest in the ancient Roman sarcophagus behind the right-hand altar. Rovinj’s patron saint was tortured for her faith by the Emperor Diocletian before being thrown to the lions in AD 304. Her body was kept in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) until the 7th century, when it was removed to protect it from harm. According to local legend, it then appeared off the coast of Rovinj in a spectral boat. The townspeople were unable to budge the heavy sarcophagus until a small boy appeared with two calves and moved it to the top of the hill. In the 13th - 18th centuries Rovinj was a part of the Republic of Venice and the town still maintains a Venecian flavor. Later Rovinj and most of Istria became a part of the Austro - Hungarian Empire.
One of the city's most picturesque streets, Trevisol Street runs from Balbi Arch up towards Saint Euphemia Cathedral. The stree has many shops and restaurants to entice you along the way to the Cathedral. We stayed as long as we could but eventually it was time to leave.