Croatia’s Istrian peninsula: Venetian castles, Renaissance palaces, azure seas, the panoramic walking paths, ghost villages, lush orchards; swimming every day. The Natural bounty: bee and green winged orchid, orange fire lily, amethyst sea holly, truffle-rich woods and Charming hotels: a converted palace, beautiful townhouse and C19 coastal villa along with delicious regional cuisine: local wines, home-made pasta, truffles and fish fresh from the sea
The Croatian province of Istria lies at the very northern tip of the Adriatic. The coastline sparkles with bays and inlets, while inland castles and palaces in hilltop villages float in the early morning like stone battleships on a swirling sea of valley mist. Istria was part of the Venetian empire for 300 years, and is a fusion of Croatian and Italian influences in cuisine, architecture and language – so much so that it is often referred to as Croatia’s Tuscany.
Motovun is a village in central Istria, Croatia. The population of the village itself is 531, with a total of 983 residents in the municipality; 192 of the residents have Italian as their mother language.
Lovran is a town in Istria, Croatia. It is situated on the western coast of the Kvarner Bay with a population of 3,241. Its name derives from Laurel, as shown in the coat of arms.
Buzet is a town in Istria, Croatia, population 6,059. Already at the time of Venetian rule, Buzet supplied military stations and the local population with potable water.
A transfer (20 mins) to the artists’ village of Grosnjan offers west coast views as far as Slovenia’s Julian Alps and Venice! Walk east amid apple orchards and smrekva bushes – the berries are used to make local raki. A panoramic walking track (originally a railway abandoned in 1935) leads over aqueducts and bridges to Livade, where truffle auctions are held for famous worldwide restaurants every October. A steady ascent through vines brings you to Motovun’s castle gate.
The Kaldir Valley below Motovun is well known locally for fruit, and your ascent through orchards of apples, peaches, cherries and plums passes country shrines and tiny hamlets. A high ridge affords excellent views east to Mt Vojak and west to the sea. Picnic amid olive groves, look out for honey buzzards and listen to lesser spotted woodpecker rattling the pines as you descend back into the valley. Stroll along the castle sentry’s walkway around the ancient city walls before dining out in the village.
After a transfer (10 mins) to the ghost village of Bentonici, a winding ascent on a forest trail sprinkled with green winged orchid leads you village hopping high above the clear Mrna River. Church bells chime across valleys of beech from pointed steeples that crown every hilltop. Blue rock thrush flit between branches as you ascend an amazing stone slab trail used since the middle ages by traders and travellers, before descending to Buzet, a Roman settlement on a hilltop with intact 18C Venetian fortifications.
High above Buzet a limestone escarpment runs east to west above shady oak woods peppered with smallholdings. Chickens scatter as you pass through villages leading up onto the ridge for uninterrupted views back to Motovun. You follow the escarpment edge across wind-scoured limestone as Buzet floats on a blanket of cloud below, and paraglider enthusiasts launch themselves into the sky.
Mt Vojak, Istria’s highest peak, towers 1401m over the east coast in Ucka National Park – a haven for many protected flowers and plants. After a transfer (40 mins), you zig zag to the summit for 360o views of Croatia’s islands, and Alpine peaks in Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland. Look out for orange fire lily, amethyst sea holly and Bee orchids on the descent. It is a short transfer (20 mins) to Lovran,
The Adriatic Riviera was a playground for the social elite in the C19. Impressive villas with frescoes and columns line the waterfront with views over to the Velebit mountains. A panoramic walkway leads along the sea between yachting marinas and swimming platforms, pretty coves, sea cliffs and azure bays for 6km into Opatija, a resort town full of parks and gardens. Enjoy lunch on the waterside with a view over to Cres island, then either catch the local bus back or stroll home above the waves.
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