06 May 2009

Istria - the inland hill towns

Motovun / Montona

As you cruise Istria in your Cinquecento convertible, do not miss Motovun. Small (600 inhabitants on a good day), and eminently visitable in under an hour, it is worth stopping if only to stock up on tartufi (truffles) and imbibe the visual deliciousness of the interior of Istria from this jewel of a hill-top town surrounded by walls from the XIIIth and XIVth centuries. For even more spectacular views, drive up to Oprtalj (head to Livade from Motovun, stop to buy truffles, then keep uphill to Oprtalj).  When you get there, stop at the aptly named Loggia (052/666 219, address redundant as it is in the town's loggia) to have a bite and/or pick up some local Istrian products (wine, grappa, olive oil, truffles....)

For those wishing to join the art house crowd, check out the Motovun Film Festival in the end of July. Oh, but of course you already knew.

Tourist Association Motovun / Turistička zajednica Motovun
Trg Jozefa Ressela 1
52424 Motovun
+385 (52) 617 480
Fax: +385 (52) 617 481
E-mail: info@tz-motovun.hr

Hotel Kastel
Trg Andrea Antico 7
+385 (52) 681 607
Fax: +385 (52) 681 652
Well, it’s the only hotel in Motovun, so by default it is the best. It is brilliantly located in the heart of the old town.

Konoba Barbacan
Barbacan 1
+385 (52) 681 791
Look for the big “Enoteca” sign painted right above a doorway on the left side of the pedestrian walk up the hill toward the main town gate. The owner of one of New York’s best Northern Italian restaurants (Falidia’s - check it out in Zagat’s) allegedly gets her truffles from here. If you like truffles, this is heaven. The tartufi fuži (Istrian pasta with truffles) and the liver pate with truffles are both excellent, and it was difficult not to assault the other patrons to try their selections (restraint won out for once). The orada with truffle sauce sounded particularly divine.

Restoran Cotić
+385 (52) 681 758, 681 614
ul. Miljenko Cotić, Zadrugarska 19
Don’t let the pink exterior dissuade you. Although the inside looks like a bad setting for your second cousin’s wedding, the food is terrific. Truffle dishes are their specialty. Located at the base of the hill leading towards Motovun proper, but don’t worry, you’ll see the pink.


Grožnjan is on a run to overtake Motovun as quaintest spot in Istria, with a combination of truffles, a summer music school, and a beautiful medieval town with stunning views over Istria. Just ignore the art galleries and craft shops. Accomodation in private pensions, but no hotel. The municipality’s official website has information in Croatian and Italian while the Tourist Association’s website has information on private accommodation and more in English, Croatian, Itlaian, and German.

Jeunesses Musicales Croatia / Hrvatska Glazbena Mladež
“The International cultural centre of Croatian musical youth in Grožnjan has been operating since the year 1969 as a meeting place and place for the promotion of culture and art amongst young people,” states www.croatia.hr on the JMC. Who cares? Just check the website to see if there is anything interesting playing whilst you are in the area. Devouring truffles to a musical background is hardly the worst you can do.

1 Svibnja
+385 (52) 776 370
Truffles, truffles, and more truffles. Courtyard, terrace, and interior dining. In summer you may be lucky enough to have the outdoor stage going nearby, providing live music as a backdrop to your funghi-laden evening.

Zigante Tartufi
Grožnjan hosts one of Zigante’s many truffle outlets, this one with a small restaurant and enoteka. If you don’t stop here to load up on truffles, you’ll find another shop – and you will load up on truffles if you have any sense at all.


When you find yourself in Pazin (and who hasn’t?) and are looking for something different for dinner, drive over to Gračišće. This is a more or less abandoned walled town that seems to have hit its heyday at about the same time that DaVinci was doing his thing in Florence. The reasons you want to go here are: it is exceedingly cute in that "darling ruins" way; there are amazing views of Mt. Učka and the valley below from the back of the main church; St. Simeon allegedly walked here; and they have hole in the wall restaurant serving excellent rustic Istrian food. When you walk through the main town gates the restaurant is more or less in front of you, off to the right. It is the ONLY restaurant in town, so directions are basically superfluous. Recommended: Istrian minestra, jota (sauerkraut, bean and smoked pork stew), or the fuži with game. Just make sure it isn't time for the annual harmonica festival - it may be a bit too much for you (was for us!)

Enoteka Marino
Gračišće 75
+385 (52) 687 081

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