Sunday, 29 November 2009

Exploring the island of Cres


After spending two days in central Istria, road led us to the island of Cres in Croatia. On our way to Brestova - our ferryboat link to Porozina, we passed by Plomin. There was a tall thermal power plant chimney piercing low clouds in this narrow bay.


Not an idyllic seaside destination by my standards, but it looks kind of nice in this photo anyway.


After an uneventful, 30 minute ferry ride across to the island of Cres we spent an easy day planning our stay and settling in a small apartment in the town of Martinščica.
We have been on this island many times before, but usually just to get to it's southern neighbor - island of Lošinj.


As we have discovered, Cres offers many interesting locations that are worth visiting.


Since we were hungry, we decided to visit the fishing village of Valun and taste some fresh fish. We weren't disappointed with grilled cod and relaxed setting at the restaurant Toš Juna.


The restaurant walls are covered with replicas of ancient stone tablets (Valun tablet) the village is famous for. Tablets are believed to have served as an 11th century gravestone. Written in bilingual (Old Croatian and Latin) and digraphic (Glagolitic and Latin) writing, the tablet truly is special.

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Monday, 23 November 2009

Charming hill towns of Istria


As I already mentioned a couple of posts earlier (click) I recently visited some charming hill towns of central Istria, Croatia.


If I had to pick one of them, Groznjan (Grožnjan in Croatian) would be my favourite choice. Ancient feel of this town is really hard to ignore. It seems like time has stopped on that particular hill. When we were driving towards it, I wasn't sure we were on the right way at all. When we finally reached the town, parking lots were full of cars - only a few license plates were local. This seemed a bit strange, since from a distance it really looked like a small and peaceful medieval town.


Today Groznjan is an artist colony, which is a result of the Croatian government’s effort to save hill towns from abandonment by offering cheap rents to artists. This seems like a good solution since the town was abandoned by its mainly Italian inhabitants after the Second World War. That happened when Istria was given from Italy to Yugoslavia.


It is a small town but offers many beautiful vistas and picturesque narrow stone alleyways to wander. Every corner is filled with flower pots and various examples of local art. Definitely a right place to just wander around and soak in the positive vibe. I think the artistic touch on the above photo captures the atmosphere of this town perfectly.


On one of the many town squares we found a promising tavern called Bastia and enjoyed a great meal topped with a glass of superb red wine. All that for a very reasonable price. Since M. is not too fond of truffles, we left them for our next visit. I definitely recommend you visit this place when in the neighborhood.

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Monday, 16 November 2009

Fresh Truffles on the Menu


Recently a friend of mine was driving towards Istria. She stopped at a Slovenian village of Socerga (Sočerga in Slovene), just next to the border with Croatia and sent me a couple of photos just to remind me of my own visit a few months ago.


Next to the road going through the village of Socerga, there is a local tavern - Gostilna Sočerga. It looks quite unattractive and to a random visitor it may not seem worth a visit.
Well it might look like that, but as you should know - looks can be deceiving. The tavern doesn't offer a great variety of dishes on the menu, but everything is really genuine. A better idea then looking at the menu is simply asking the waiter about the daily special offer. Usually at least one of the dishes is some kind of a truffle dish.


I recommend you visit this place. If not for anything else, I am pretty sure this character of a waiter will make you laugh. You should not expect fancy service and also whatever you might order will not be delicately arranged, but it will probably be very tasteful and you definitely will not leave hungry. I could say portions are very generous at the least.


Well let me get back to this friend of mine... When she was trying to decide about the daily offer, the waiter came around with a plate full of black truffles. "To help her with the decision", as he said. I guess I don't need to explain, why she decided for the "fuži s tartufi". That is some kind of local handmade pasta with creamy truffle sauce.


I don't know about the actual price of the plate on the above photos, but I would guess the guy had to pay around 500 Euros for it. I am pretty sure he sold them for much more then that.


If you want to read more about truffles and The place where you can get to know them up close and personal, you should also check out my previous post.

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Monday, 9 November 2009

Truffle days in Istria


For as long as I can remember, we have been vacationing in coastal towns of Croatian Istria. I guess that's mainly because Istria is a really close to Slovenia. Now this peninsula is a part of Croatia, but when I was still a boy, Slovenia and Croatia were both parts of Yugoslavia.


I drove through the Istrian peninsula many times but I can't say I have spent much time exploring the central part of it. Lately it is marketed as “the new Tuscany” and I must say there definitely is a resemblance. Unfortunately until recently I was always speeding past those charming old hill towns, just to get to a seaside destination of choice as quickly as possible.


A couple of weeks ago I had a different plan. Together with M. we decided to taste the land of truffles. It was a two day trip and we are not sorry we did it. We saw some great stuff and enjoyed delicious local food.


We started with a visit of Motovun - a town where once a year a film festival takes place. The town sits on a highest hill in the neighbourhood and is surrounded with lots of smaller hills. I guess that is the strategic advantage its founders many centuries ago were looking for.
That's also the reason we spotted it from far away. We parked our car on the slope of the hill and walked into town (only residents are allowed to drive into town). Charming, narrow streets are literally impregnated with the smell of truffles.


If you don't know that specific (almost unique) truffle smell, it is really hard to explain it. The closest description I have heard so far is: "a combination of musk, nuts, and ozone". If you think you have a better description, please share it with me.
We took a chance to compare black truffles to famous white ones. Almost every shop offers free samples of truffle paste and wine. I couldn't say the two kinds of truffle paste tasted all that different. However I am not an expert on this, so I might have overlooked an important detail or two. For the truffle ignorant people out there, let me just point to the financial side of this delicacy.
A kilogram of black truffles costs a couple of hundred Euros (usually around 400 EUR), which is nothing compared to it's white relative. Since it is considered to be superior in smell and taste to the black truffle, a kilogram of white truffles can cost a couple of thousands of Euros (usually around 2.000 EUR).


The financial part aside, dishes seasoned with truffles are definitely not one of those things everyone would like the first time. Well... we found out M. was one of those people. Let's just say she didn't like the smell of Motovun. At all.


That was one of the reasons we decided to move on without enjoying a proper meal. We headed for the town of Groznjan (or Grožnjan) and after that we also visited supposedly the smallest town on the planet - Hum (more about that in the next post). The nearby town of Livade was left for our next visit.


Before we left it, we also stopped at the town cemetery, which offers a great view of the town.


If you have a chance to visit these parts, this time of year might be the best time to do it. There are many things going on at the moment in central Istria. For more information check out this official list of truffle events.

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