I think most people don’t realize the Istria countryside is very similar to Tuscany. There are rolling green hills with beautiful medieval cities throughout the Istria countryside. They stand majestically in stark contrast to the lush green valleys which surround them. Upon stepping into one of the towns in the Istria countryside it is easy to forget there is a world outside. I am not sure if this is by design or simply a wish.
When staying in Rovinj, Croatia it is so easy to get to the countryside and visit these gorgeous towns. We rented a car and spent an incredible day visiting four of the cities in the countryside. Each one captured my heart for a different reason, and all of them left me wanting to visit again and again. Along with the Tuscan countryside there isn’t more picturesque places to drink a glass of wine or coffee.
Motovun was our first stop. It is about an hour drive from Rovinj along the back roads. I chose the back roads in order to see the local towns and villages. Although I had seen pictures of Motovun I was still surprised at how beautiful the walled in city was perched on top of the hill in the distance.
Even though it was off season we still chose to park our car in the lot at the bottom of the hill and take the shuttle up the hill to the town. The medieval stone buildings and cobblestone streets are still original. The buildings now house some of the 530 residents, wine stores, restaurants, bars (a.k.a coffee shops), souvenir shops and truffle stores. Motovun is famous for its white and black truffles.
Motovun is circular so it is easy to make your way through the town by following the winding road up through the gates and into the large square. The problem with this is the desire to stop every 30 seconds and gawk at the incredible views of the Istria countryside. There are beautiful restaurants to have coffee or eat where you can gaze across the country sprinkled with churches, homes, and other hillside villages.
After touring the town, which doesn’t take more than an hour, we walked down the hill to our car to head over to the next town. It is a lovely walk around the hill, oggling over the surrounding houses, and the views up at the village of Motovun.
Driving from Motovun to Oprtalj is an easy trip. There are signs along the road leading you through the Istria countryside and up the hill to Oprtalj. The drive is beautiful up the mountain through switchback roads, with hilltop views and roads lined with Cyprus’. When we arrived in Oprtalj we parked in the little parking lot outside of the village and walked two or three minutes into the town.
Walking through town there is a sense of village neglected by time. Much of the village is in ruins, but they are beautiful old stone ruins. There are a few cute shops and a beautiful wine and truffle store. It took us about twenty minutes to walk through the town and admire the views on the other side of the valley. Along the way there are beautiful stone homes, and quaint hotels. J. and I found ourselves wishing we could buy a ruin and refurbish it to the quality of the ones we saw.
At this point in our day we were starving. One of the shop owners referred us to one of the two open restaurants for lunch. As we walked out of the stone arch guarding the village we were immediately charmed by the Restoran Loggia perched on the edge of the hill. Dining tables were covered with lush green vines, the wood tables were packed with Italian tourists all laughing, drinking wine and basking in the sun. Restoran Loggia proudly serves local meats, veggies and other foods all from the Istria countryside. The food was delicious, the wine amazing but the incredible view and relaxed atmosphere were perfection. We sat and drank wine at our little table soaking in the green hills, the huge cypress trees, the flowers and the adorable village.
While Oprtalj was a tiny village it is worth the trip just to spend a few hours eating, relaxing and basking in the Croatia culture.
Next on our day trip through the Istria countryside was Groznjan. Again, it was very easy to drive there due to great road signs along the way. J. and I unknowingly took the more challenging road up the town via a gravel windy road. As we reached the town, there were vendors selling goods along the entrances to the town alongside a beautiful coffee shop overlooking the path we had just driven. We parked in a small parking lot and walked back towards the town.
Immediately we knew there was something very special about Groznjan. Even in the off season it was full of life. The stone buildings were all immaculately kept. Instead of being filled with olive oil shops and truffle shops there were art galleries and an abundance of locally made goods. Walking through the stone streets you could feel the creativity of its inhabitants.
In desperate need of an afternoon coffee we chose a cafe with tables overlooking the whole valley. The Italian tourists were enjoying afternoon wine and coffees and filling the place with laughter. Although we had spent the first half of the day taking in the views there was something special about the vastness lying below us that relaxed us completely. After we had sat for quite a while just taking in the ambiance and the view it was time to tour the town.
This was an absolute treat. The immaculate city didn’t disappoint with ivy covered homes, wisteria climbing over porches, and fantastic art. The city was declared an artists city by the government many years ago. The locals have clearly embraced it. Groznjan is about as picture perfect as it gets. There are cats lounging on porches, shop owners having coffee at small tables in front of their shops and a sweet church rising above it all.
Momjan was our last stop on our Istria countryside tour.I have to admit it was our least favorite town, but then it would be pretty hard to follow the other three. What really struck us about Momjan though was the incredible view of the sea and the countryside.
Momjan boasts 13th century castle ruins and a lovely 15th century church worth checking out. The town is really small so plan about an hour at most to explore.
After driving through the town and checking out the ruins we drove up to a church perched over the town. It is a sweet little church that offers some unbelievable views. It is so peaceful at the top of the hill away from the city and surrounded by flowers and green grass we just sat for a while and enjoyed the spring air.
From Momjan it is an easy trip back to the road to drive back to Rovinj, Porac or Vrsar.
The day we spent in the Istria countryside was one of the best we have spent in Croatia. The people are wonderful, the views outstanding and the experiences we will remember forever.