4 Aug,2017 By Jagabond
The alternate title for this blog is “I found my thrill, on an Istria hill.”
What is it about hilltop towns that instantly make people like them? Could you put Detroit on a hilltop and have people call it ‘enchanting’?
Maybe these towns inhabit an area of our mind that is obsessed with fantasy and fairy tales. The cute little shops, locally grown foods, and views of the countryside can transport you inside a Hans Christian Andersen story.
Istria, the Northern region of Croatia, is known for towns like this. Boasting an exotic blend of Italian and Croatian cuisine, Istria is also famous for its white wine and truffles. The villages we visited were simple…so much so that I tried to find one word that would accurately describe each of them.
Groznjan = Tolkien
As I walked into the medieval land of Groznjan, it indeed resembled a Tolkien novel. I briefly observed a competition, a game involving two adult men throwing a large, metal ball.
I then met two older women picking a local green fruit from the trees outside town. The fruits are either distilled into liquor or made into a dessert.
We stayed the night in something that looked like a hobbit-house. The instructions the owner gave me to find the key were like a puzzle – move the rock to the left of the door, take out the piece of wood, look under the red bag. There was some interesting artwork on the wall, and a locked chest on the top floor that I assumed held a magic sword.
The architecture and feel of the town was so medieval, I was half expecting to hear a drunk Lancelot telling holy grail stories at the local café.
Artists and musicians have long flocked to Groznjan, like this painter I met during a morning stroll.
The serenity of the surrounding landscape traded all my worries and anxieties for relaxation.
Bale = Beguiling
As in ‘bask in beguiling Bale’ for alliteration lovers out there. My only regret is my friends and I didn’t spend the night here, in fact we nearly didn’t even find it. What a sight when we saw it in the distance.
I saw here the two nicest churches in Istria. The first was very small, but had some 15th century frescoes still mostly intact on the walls and ceiling.
The other was a much larger church that housed a crypt full of some interesting artifacts.
It’s too bad we didn’t have an evening to lounge, as Bale was home to one of the most interesting bar/restaurants we found. Of course a tiny Istria hilltop village would have a jazz club, who wouldn’t think that? The artwork in the outdoor seating area was very modern and cool.
Hum = Quirky
Don’t get me wrong, this is a very pretty town. However I was struck by their ‘smallest town in the world’ claim, which they seem to have parlayed into increased tourism. There are no sights here other than a couple nice, tiny streets, and a vintage phone booth that I couldn’t resist posing in.
Spend a few hours here, try the Istria liquor made from mistletoe called ‘Biska‘, and if you’re lucky hear the stylings of a local musician.
Motovun = Classy
This has a posh, upscale feel to it, much more than the other towns. There are two really nice hotels here, and the one we stayed at had a stunning view from the balcony.
I woke up early one morning and walked around the quiet streets, witnessing multiple angles of one of the prettiest sunrises I’ve seen.
Check out Konoba Mondo for dinner, an internationally known restaurant right on the main street.
Zavrsje = Apocalypse
I chose that word because this is what a town would look like after a zombie apocalypse, or world-sweeping epidemic. There is beauty in its calmness, similar to how I’ve heard Pripyat is, the Ukrainian town forever evacuated due to Chernobyl. My favorite part was the ivy enveloping all the buildings.
Don’t you think there should be a global law outlawing abandoned churches? It sure would cut down on nightmares.
Speaking of freaky stuff, I took the picture below thinking it was just a cool picture of a storefront. While writing this blog I discovered that ‘Mu Bajs’ is Croatian for ‘He’s in trouble’. Think there might’ve been a hostage locked up in there?
Oprtalj = Creepy
Similar to Zavrsje the streets were empty, but less in a calming way, more like an unnerving suburb full of dark secrets. Oprtalj shared aspects of the other towns, but less pronounced, thus making it the only one on this list I would recommend skipping. If you do visit, partake in the beef at the local restaurant, they certainly aren’t running out anytime soon.
As if the silent streets didn’t creep me out enough, I encountered some artsy statues that more resembled aliens bent on conquer, and the ‘chestnut girl’ who gave me a serious evil witch vibe.
How to get there: Renting a car is an absolute must for seeing the Istria hill towns. You can conveniently get here from Italy (Trieste, Venice or Verona), Slovenia (Ljubljana), or one of the smaller airports in Croatia west of Zagreb.