5 things most tourists miss in Istria
Everyone knows Motovun is famous for its film festival and truffles, but a 20-minute car ride to the hills surrounding it will take you to Vrh, a village with a long tradition of producing sparkling wine. It all started in 1874 when a priest sent to this middle-of-nowhere place taught the local peasants to make him bubbly refreshment. Nowadays, virtually all the families in the village still make it for their own needs in almost the same way it was made back in the 19th century. However, one producer took it to a higher level and makes 2000 bottles per year (white, rose, and red - yes, red!), of quality comparable to more renowned wines, at a ridiculously low price. You have to purchase it on the spot, but it's worth the trip!
In late summer, thousands of partygoers flock to Pula for two world-renown music festivals, Outlook and Dimensions, held in an abandoned Austro-Hungarian fortress, named Punta Christo. But there is much more. Pula itself boasts a vibrant clubbing scene, especially during the tourist season, but even in the sleepy winter months you can easily find a place where talented local DJs will make you dance, be it house, techno, trance or dubstep. Things get even better when raves happen in the abandoned fortresses – the aforementioned Punta Christo is just one of many, Fort Bourguignon being the second most important – which provide the perfect setting for dancing out the latest drops of sweat from your body.
When Istria is mentioned, truffles and asparagus will probably be the first thing to spring to mind, gourmet-wise. But those are just the tip of the iceberg, for there is a wealth of local dishes to be explored, with labinski krafi being probably the finest well-kept secret. Originating from the town of Labin, otherwise known for coal mines and the establishment of the short-lived workers' republic in 1921 (the first anti-fascist uprising in history!), this medieval delicacy is similar to ravioli, but with unique stuffing which includes hard cow and parmesan cheese, rum-soaked raisins, lemon lest, vanilla and nutmeg. You cannot label it as sweet or savoury, because it’s as amazing paired with stew as it is deep-fried and topped with some sweet sauce. Very few places serve it, but it’s worth the trouble locating those.
This author used to be prejudiced about Istrian beaches, considering it “not proper sea” and thinking that one should go to southern Dalmatia to get a full taste of Adriatic. That was until the locals took me to not-so-frequented places in Istria, and I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of by-the-sea landscapes. One could find pebble beaches surrounded by pine trees (a personal favourite), savage rocks perfect for gazing at a sunset, and beaches bordered by grassy hills that remind one of Ireland. Best part is, all of that within a range of 10 miles! Example: beaches around Ližnjan, also one of the very few places in Croatia where surfing is possible.
DUŠAN DŽAMONJA SCULPTURE PARK IN VRSAR
Džamonja is one of the leading Croatian sculptors of the 20th century, most know for abstract monuments glorifying the anti-fascist struggle of the peoples of Yugoslavia, but also for projecting the beautiful mosque in the Croatian city of Rijeka. He spent a part of his life in the Istrian town of Vrsar, where his works are placed in the surroundings of his house and studio. This unique park is a must for any lover of modern art, but should be appreciated by anyone wishing to relax in a pleasant environment.