The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

So, the last renovation blog detailed the thinking behind creating the Secret Garden. Although it’s not a real Secret Garden – it’s pretty obvious it’s there when you look out of the living room window – it feels quite secret, when you’re in it. And, we are delighted that, finally, it’s a part of our home that we are now very proud of. Our home, which we are now selling, so this this Secret Garden could be yours

The project started a few weeks ago, when we finally decided that a wooden fence, with the posts sunken into concrete, would form the boundary wall. We decided on a wooden fence, because we wanted something which could be quite easily removed by new owners, if they decided they wanted something different. Wooden posts were purchased, concrete and metal holders to keep the posts in place. Thankfully, looking back, we didn’t go the expense of also buying the wood to create the actual fence. Immediate obstacles presented themselves, particularly that the land is on a slight incline and we had no digger and therefore holes for the fence posts were having to be dug out by hand. It was immediately apparent that doing it this way was going to be a very slow process, and we wanted something in place quite quickly, so despite the purchases already made, we had a re-think. Our builder couldn’t work as much as we wanted, and so we also decided that we’d do it ourselves and see how far we got. First thing we did was abandon the idea of the wooden fence. The holes were re-filled and the wooden planks used to create a boundary at ground level. (PS – the mess beyond what would be come The Secret Garden is on-going work by a neighbour, who is building a small stone cottage. We’re hoping that the crane and the building materials won’t be around for too much longer and that the finishing touch will be a bit of landscaping).

A lorry load of sand was then ordered and this was flattened over a layer of Geotex to prevent weeds growing. Using just a rake, a snow shovel and our feet, this was soon quite compacted and we could begin to kind of see what the space could potentially look like.

We decided to surface the area in the way we did the car parking area at the front of the house, as this has proven to be very hard-wearing. Next delivery was three cubic metres of white stones. These were tipped into the corner and we started the process of moving the stones, using a wheelbarrow to get them up the incline, and then raking into place.

Having decided against the wooden fence, we still had to come up with a solution, which would not only demarcate our boundary but would also give us the privacy we wanted. We considered potted bamboos, having lots of these in the front garden, but quickly decided against them on the grounds that they shed leaves and so over the winter would look quite bare. We had also decided that if we were going to have a privacy hedge, we wanted to be able to take the plants away with us to The Printworks, and so very quickly, we settled on the idea of potted conifer trees, which would be quite thick and impenetrable. Ten, plus pots, were bought from our local garden centre. On delivery however, we realised we had seriously underestimated the number we’d need and safe to say we now in excess of twenty! Lesson learned – always measure and calculate…

As well as conifers, we also thought if we were finally going to do this, we might as well do it properly and have the garden area we’d always imagined. So, back to the garden centre – who by this time, were thankfully giving us good discounts! – and more pots were purchased. Along with some very beautiful big plants – a feijoa, a eucalyptus, a fig tree and, the best of all, a mature olive tree. Smaller pots and plants were also included to add a bit of colour and winter pansies, to hang from pots on the palette planter on the wall.

A small table and two chairs have been added (we already had these so saved on a little bit of expenditure) and we’ve also brought the fire pit around. Nights are very chilly now, but we have sat out, warmly wrapped up, with the fire on, with a glass of wine. I’m not sure quite how many times we’ll repeat this, this winter, but it was nice while it lasted! A new shed – in a very pleasing grey colour, which was a real bonus as I assumed it would be green – has also been constructed, meaning that all of the garden tools, bags of soil, plant pots etc etc, can now be stored away.

On one of our visits to the garden centre, I spotted a beautiful vintage, wrought iron wall basket, full of succulent plants and ferns, and knew it would be a gorgeous addition to the garden. A bit of negotiation ensued, as it wasn’t actually for sale, but a cash price was agreed and it was ours. It’s now securely attached to the wall, above the table, and come springtime, when the succulents and ferns start growing and twisting of the basket, I’m sure it’ll look very pretty, indeed.

Although we’ll continue to develop this little garden while we’re still in the house, it is now such a nice feeling to look out of the living room window and see something which is cared for and attractive, rather than a cobbled together, makeshift garden, overlooking building work. The conifers give us the privacy we wanted, whilst being portable and easily able to be taken to the new renovation project and eventually planted. The same with the other plants. New owners will definitely have their own ideas about what they want to do with the rear of the house, so we made the decision that whatever we did would be temporary and could be moved with us. I can already see the big olive tree and the fig tree, especially, in the internal courtyard we are going to create. So, whoever buys the house, won’t also be taking possession of everything in the Secret Garden, but they will have seen the potential…

 Next stage for this garden, is to finish planting up spring bulbs, which we’re staggering, so that rather than one hit of flowers, we have a few waves of colour. I also have a couple of ideas which I think, if implemented, will be the icing on the cake, but I’m biding my time with suggesting these…

 

Creating A Secret Garden

Creating A Secret Garden

Whilst we’ve spent the best part of the last four and a half years, fully renovating our Istrian stone-house and creating beautiful gardens to the front and side of the property, the rear has been woefully neglected. We’ve tried to titivate it up, but it’s never really been the kind of place where we want to spend any time. When people are viewing our house for sale, I always internally shudder when we take them to the back of the house. I know that when you are buying property, you are often buying the potential, but we just felt that the time had come to tackle this much neglected part of our home. So, let us take you right back to the beginning, and what this area was like when we saw its potential…

Yep, this is what we saw when we viewed the house for the first time. A very, very sorry state – and don’t even get us onto the shutters! But, when you can see through the current state of things and have a clear vision, that’s what drives you on. Fast forward a couple of years, and we were given the opportunity to buy the little abandoned house from one of our neighbours. Although we were knee deep in renovations, we knew that other people had expressed interest in this property and we felt that if we didn’t secure it, we could have someone else purchasing it from under our noses. It’s very close to our main house and we were concerned with a) the potential proximity of another house and b) building works – out of our control – going on under our windows for goodness knows how long. So, the decision was made to purchase the house and land.This took quite a long time to complete on – much longer, in fact, than the purchase of the main house – but eventually everything was signed off and we finally owned it, meaning that no-one could build close our house. We were also at this time, in the very early stages of considering our next renovation property and toying with the idea of selling the house. Owning this smaller dwelling and surrounding land, with all boundaries legally established, therefore became even more important.

So, for the last couple of years, all we’ve really done is tidy things up, gradually. All of the building materials and the trailer, as per the contract our solicitor negotiated, had to be removed by our neighbour and the area generally cleared, prior to completion. This enabled us to begin assessing what we might eventually do with the land. We decided early on that the house would stay, especially if were selling up. Although it would need to be demolished, we felt that new owners should decide its eventual fate, and we knew that whilst we were still living here, it could be the backdrop for something very pretty. So, very slowly, when we had the time, we started to tackle this overgrown mess…

We think that originally, the small house would have been for the animals, as probably evidenced by the stone trough, below. It was in a bit of a state, with stones beginning to come loose and to be honest, hadn’t really been put together very well, so we decided to take it down. It did give us quite a bit more garden space – but, in an unexpected turn, it’s recently been rebuilt, using the same stones. This time, though, it’s not a drinking trough. It’s going to be the home for our gorgeous new olive tree…

Once the ground had been cleared of weeds and vines and ivy and stones, sheeting was laid and we marked out our boundary with flagstones, before infilling with bark chippings. (The quite strange shape of the boundary is due to the fact we agreed to give our neighbour access to another of his properties, which he plans to renovate, opposite the small house).

Starting to look better, but still a long way off finished! However, ideas were beginning to form. The table and chairs and the lone bamboo looked a bit lost, and we knew we most definitely wouldn’t be sitting out here for quite some time to come, as we still felt very exposed. Plus, the nearest property to us, beyond the little house, was an abandoned, tumble-down property which had recently been demolished and building work had started to create a new stone cottage. We were still focusing on the main house and moving on with the securing of our new renovation project, so things stalled a little at the rear of the house, but we did what we could to create a little bit more privacy.

To the other side of the little house, we also cleared the ground and started the process of laying flagstones, to create a pathway, and more of the bark chippings.

As summer ’21 progressed, we started to get more enquiries about our house for sale, and had a number of speculative visits, as people passing would see the A-board by the road and often just turn up in the garden. And this made us realise that once and for all, we had to properly tackle the rear of the house. However much we had improved it since we moved in, it all still looked far too ramshackle and not what we wanted visitors to see. So, Project Secret Garden commenced at the end of the summer, the intention being to have our builder construct a wall, all along the boundary. This became complicated as the land is on a slight incline and we didn’t relish the prospect of getting in a digger for excavation works. A wooden fence, supported by posts sunken into concrete was decided upon – and then abandoned when this too became problematic, for a variety of reasons. So, we took things into our own hands, and got creative.

And, although it looks as if we’re kind of back to where we started, much progress has been made over the last two weeks. We hope that the final pieces of the jigsaw will all come together this week, and that we will eventually have a beautiful secluded space, which is completely private. Which screens us off from the comings and goings in the village and means that come next spring, either us, or new owners, will be able to enjoy our secret suntrap – and no-one will know we are there…

Coming up – how we developed The Secret Garden…

 

 

 

 

JouJou Botanicals

JouJou Botanicals

When we first moved here, unless I could get candles at IKEA in Trieste, I used to wait until our trips back to the UK to raid the shelves of TK Maxx and HomeSense and fill up the boot of car with coloured jars of scented lusciousness. We had too many other things to work out, for me to even mention trying to find the kind of shop that would satiate my candle obsession. But, they had to be found, because once autumn sets in, our house very much lends itself to becoming a hygge haven. Once we got to know Ljubljana, I sought out shops which would enable me to satisfy my cravings…

And of course, now that I do know my way around retail therapy options now, in our Istrian home, I’m never short of a candle. Or fifty. But, when I discovered JouJou Botanicals, via an account I follow on Instagram, things changed. Not only could I buy online, but the process was easy and the delivery extremely swift. If there’s one thing that’s not quick or easy here, it’s dealing with ordering and delivery – it can be done. Of course, it can. But, it can be protracted and if the website you’re ordering from does not have an English language version, you’ll spend quite a lot of time translating various parts of the website.

However, the JouJou Botanicals website is not only beautifully designed, with branding we definitely approve of, but it’s also in English – and has the familiar look and feel of the kinds of websites we design. As soon as I placed my order, I got an immediate email confirmation, plus an invoice. And, within three days of ordering, I took delivery of a lovely package.

The website also sells a range of soaps and bath products – made in small batches, which are all vegan, palm oil and cruelty-free. And, incredibly pretty. So, although candles were my initial priority, I couldn’t resist stocking up on these gorgeously fragranced bathroom products. Which, I cannot wait for family and friends to enjoy, hopefully come the spring, when travel restrictions have gone and the weather is warming up again. Feast your eyes on these pretties…

I love the attention to detail with these products – the packaging, the fonts used, the ingredients, the subtle (definitely not over-powering) aroma. The perfect accessories for any bathroom! And, my fail on the candle front. Two was far too few – they’re long gone now – so another order has been placed. And, I’m guessing by the weekend, my living room will smell as delicious as my bathroom.

Sadly for UK friends, JouJou don’t do international delivery. But I am sure, I can work out a way to introduce these gorgeous products to you…And how lovely to once again be able to support a brilliant, independent business.

This is not a sponsored post. JouJou Botanicals have not asked that I review their products. All products I have ordered have been paid for in full.

 

 

What Kind Of Person Would Love Our House For Sale?

What Kind Of Person Would Love Our House For Sale?

Our house for sale is beautiful. It is a fully renovated three bedroom stone house over three floors, located in a stunning part of northern Istria, very close to the borders with Slovenia and Italy. It’s about 35 minutes from the Adriatic coast, an hour from Pula international airport and in the heart of wine and truffle country. But, as beautiful as we think it is, it is not suitable for everyone. It’s not the kind of holiday home, where you’d get a coach transfer from the airport, flop around the pool when you arrive, before heading out in the evening for the bright lights of town. We do not want to waste the time of any prospective purchasers or get up their hopes that they might have found the perfect party palace. So, as stunning as we think it is, if you are looking for the following features in a holiday home, ours is not going to be the one…

Hustle and Bustle

If you want a holiday home that’s right in the centre of the action, it definitely ain’t this house. We live (full-time) in a small village – and although we can boast three amazingly renowned restaurants on our doorstep – that’s it. The nearest shop is a couple of kilometres away – as is the nearest cashpoint and bar. There are no close-by night clubs to trip the light fantastic in. The nearest petrol station is about 12kms away – so you have to be pretty organised. But, as it’s in the nearest town to the closest supermarket, fabulous pizza restaurants, banks, notary and DIY place, then you do soon learn to be organised.

On the Seafront

The sea is about half an hour to the west and about an hour to the east, from the house, but we often travel further afield to find remote coves and beaches. So, if you want to be able to pack a towel and a lilo under your arm, and head across the road, with the rest of the sea-seekers, you’re not going to be able to do it from our front door.

Easy Transport Links

This one is KEY. If you don’t drive or don’t have a car, our house would be a nightmare for you. Public transport in Istria (especially in the north) is, if we’re being honest, pretty non-existent. You can book a taxi from the local town, but if you were to be totally reliant on taxis, it would drive you mad within a couple of days. The local school bus seems to be the only regular form of transport – OK if you are 12 and going to your lessons. Not so good for anything else. There are no train links. No trams. So, without a car (either your own or hired) getting around would be very difficult.

A Built Up Tourist Area

Our home is in a village. A village of locals – restauranteurs, farmers, retired people – and people who have second homes here. People who are pretty self-sufficient, too. So, you won’t find fast food places, stalls selling generally cheap tat, money exchanges etc. The usual stuff you might find in & around a beach resort. If you want to be cheek by jowl with lots of other people, too, on the beach, or in restaurants, this probably isn’t the place for you either. Space is definitely not at a premium here – it’s what we have lots of!

But, if you want some, or all of the following, then our house maybe just perfect…

Peace & Quiet

Some days, we rarely see a car go past the house. But, we’re not hidden away in the hills. We are near a main road – it’s just not busy all the time. There’ll always be a few tractors, trundling up and down the road, between the fields and villages. Sometimes – especially in the summer – there will be cars and motor homes and camper vans and motorbikes and cyclists, touring the area or heading to their holiday accommodation or one of the restaurants. A few times we’ve had processions of classic cars, off to their next meet-up. But because we are set back from the road, with a wall of bamboos shielding us, it feels like we have total privacy. Especially when all we can hear is birdsong or crickets or woodpeckers or a tractor in a nearby field.

Proximity to the Sea

Although the sea is not on our doorstep, we can easily be dipping our toes in The Adriatic. Although always a drive away, every drive is through the most amazing countryside – hills, fields, vineyards, forests, magical villages, hilltop towns – and the sea, always at the end of the journey. Our nearest largest town is where we do our supermarket shopping, and it’s right on the north west coast, so we can always combine a shop with a trip to the sea. Further afield, we can be in the beautiful Venetian-esque harbour town of Rovinj, or the Roman port of Pula. The sliver of Slovenian coast, with the stunning towns of Piran, Izola and Portorož can be reached in less than forty minutes. And the cosmopolitan and beautiful Trieste, just inside the Italian border, in just about the same amount of time. For us, the positive of being a little more inland, is that we can easily get to the sea, but we can also get away, especially in the summer, when these places can become crowded, and escape to our cool rural haven.

Proximity to Medieval & Venetian Towns and Villages

The Istrian peninsula is littered with the most magical towns and villages. All full of history and charm and beauty. Some are nestled on top of hills, having once been fortifications to keep out invaders, such as Oprtalj, Motovun, Grožnjan and Piemonte – all very close to the house. Some are very Italian in style – unsurprising as Istria was ruled by Venice from the 13th century until the fall of Venice in 1797. Rovinj, on the western coast is perhaps the most beautiful example of an Italian style town, with its pastel coloured houses, with ornate balconies and shutters, fringing the harbour. To the east of the peninsula (but less than an hour from the house), is the grand Austro-Hungarian resort of Opatija, and the thriving, buzzing, arty city of Rijeka. Further south, is the medieval town of Svetvinčenat, with its magnificent restored castle, in the centre. Pula, Istria’s main city, is an hour away – and with an almost perfect amphitheatre and a Forum, blink – and you could be in Rome.

The Possibility to Travel Easily

We’ve made it very clear that having a car in these parts is pretty essential, as you can’t rely on taxis or public transport. However, once you get your head around the fact that you will do an awful lot of driving, it can be an absolute pleasure. Roads are generally quiet – even in the height of the tourist season, it’s rare to get stuck in a traffic jam. Although we can’t guarantee you won’t get stuck behind a tractor…

One of the reasons we purchased our house, is its location. Yes, it’s in a village – but it’s not isolated. Within ten minutes, we can be across the border into Slovenia (twenty minutes if you need to cross one of the larger border points) and within thirty minutes, we’re in Italy. We’ve travelled extensively since we arrived here. We’ve been to places we would never have considered if we’d had to travel to them from Manchester. It’s still such a thrill to get in the car and head south to beautiful Croatian islands, east to Zagreb, north to Ljubljana, west to Venice or Bergamo. We’ve driven to Austria for a birthday weekend. Down to Cesena in Emilia-Romagna to see a band. When we do return to the UK, we tend to drive now, as we can make a real trip out of it.

We do still fly – but, unlike in the UK when flying meant using big international airports, it’s much, much pleasurable these days. Pula, in the south of the peninsula, does have an international airport, and although it’s been expanded since we first flew into it, it’s still smaller than any of the terminals in Manchester airport. But, with flights to most places in Europe you’d want to go to. Other accessible airports include Zadar, Trieste, Treviso, Venice, Ljubljana and Zagreb. We also drive to Bergamo in northern Italy for flights. Everything just seems so much easier – and the real bonus is we are really discovering the countries around us. Ferries also connect us with a lot of the Adriatic and Mediterranean countries and islands. From Pula, Rovinj, Porec and Trieste we can sail to destinations further south in Croatia and across to Italy, where we can then connect with Greece and the islands. So, if you like the idea of being able to get in the car and discover new destinations, easily, you might like our house…

With a peninsula packed full of history, beauty, tiny villages, ancient towns, vineyards and wineries, the best restaurants, cycling routes, festivals and much, much more, we couldn’t recommend Istria highly enough as a place to own a holiday home. In the four years that we have lived here (even with a pandemic to contend with), we’re seeing its popularity grow. Abandoned houses are being renovated. New, modern and contemporary properties, are being built, sitting alongside their stone counterparts. New businesses are emerging. All meaning, that now might be the time to take the plunge and think about making your dream become a reality. Especially if you want the kind of things we highlight.

If you want to know more about our house for sale, do visit our website – or email helen@escapetoistria.com and I’ll provide you with all of the answers you need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Restoran No 4, Šibenik

Restoran No 4, Šibenik

Šibenik is an absolutely delightful city, on the dalmatian coast of Croatia. We’re up in northern Istria, so it is quite far away from us – just over 400kms – but as the drive is largely along the E65, the Adriatic Highway, it’s a pleasure to do. The road literally hugs the sea, for miles and miles and miles and sweeps around the most dramatic bays, with plunging cliffs and turquoise waters. Think the Amalfi Coast, without the tourist buses and log-jams. For a lot of the way, it was just us and the views. The islands of Krk, Rab and Pag also run parallel to the road. With all of the towns on the western sides of these islands, the landscape of each, facing the E65, is almost lunar-like. The islands look like sleeping elephants rising out of The Adriatic – just stunning.

And so to Šibenik, more of which in a separate blog, as the city itself, and the boutique hotel we found, are deserving of their own write-up. This blog is all about an amazing restaurant we found, deep in the heart of the old city – Restoran No 4. It doesn’t appear to have a website and its Insta account hasn’t been used on a regular basis. Unsurprising, as the waiter told us that they don’t really advertise themselves, as they don’t really need to. It’s situated off one of the many higgeldy-piggedly white marble paved streets up in the old town. A carved wooden sign, stating “Restoran No 4 Fish & Steak” points up a narrow alleyway, with the menu underneath. We were sold on the menu immediately, for me especially the white fish fillet dish with leeks, courgettes and carrots, and decided that we’d book an outdoor table for the evening.

The little alleyway was set up for evening dinners – a row of tables for two, with candles in wallholders already in evidence. A result even before we sat down. What we didn’t notice however, was the internal courtyard beyond, where we were lucky enough to secure a table. When we arrived for our 8pm table, the restaurant was full – although tables still placed apart to adhere to Covid regulations – so we were delighted to have a reservation in this courtyard.

I say courtyard, but in reality this space would have been a communal area, for the people who lived in apartments up and around the square, and businesses who operated from it. On one side, an artist lived and had his studio here, right up until he died. It hasn’t been taken over and so has a feeling of faded grandeur and elegance. The old bakery, long since closed, is still in evidence, with the faded ghost sign above the door. On one side of the square, sits a beautiful church, the ancient facade being a backdrop to the restaurant. To the side of the church, an ancient Venetian style stone staircase leads up to an apartment. And, unlike the other buildings, these apartments are still lived in, evidenced by people coming and going, between the tables, returning home or leaving for an evening out. Amazing.

So, the food. Wow. For a really moderately priced restaurant – given its setting and location – the food was outstanding. So good in fact, we decided to eat there again, the following evening. A very unusual thing for us to do. Not realising quite how filling the portions were, we opted for a mixed platter starter on the first visit – Dalmatian proscuitto and cheese, with walnuts, peppers, chilli jam and whipped cheese. And the most delicious sourdough bread. Mains were the fish that I spotted earlier on the menu in the afternoon – a fillet of the most succulent Dorado fish, baked in paper with leeks, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, olives and white wine, and a chicken breast, filled with cheese and olives, wrapped in proscuitto and served with polenta slabs and pesto. Although these would have been sufficient, with hindsight, we just could not resist the roasted potatoes with rosemary and bacon pieces. Potatoes will never be the same again, thanks to Restoran No 4…

On night two, I opted for the chicken dish and the other choice was Linguine with Tuna. and, those potatoes…

There were only three desserts on the menu – Panna Cotta, Almond Cake and Cheesecake – and on both nights, we were determined to at least share one, having seen all three being delivered to various diners. However, we were so satiated on both nights, that we’ll need to revisit, and maybe leave sufficient room for said desserts. We were also introduced to a new Dalmatian white wine – Debit. Although nowadays considered to be an indigenous white variety from the region of North Dalmatia, it is actually thiught that it originated in Italy, in the vicinity of Bari. In Croatia, it is mostly grown in Dalmatia, where it is one of the predominant white grape varieties, and is considered a perfect accompaniment for white fish and chicken dishes. Another spot on recommendation from our waiter…

This is not a sponsored post and we were not paid, in any way, to write about and recommend Restoran No 4, and we paid in full, both nights, for our food and drink. We just thought that the restaurant was pretty amazing, and if anyone is thinking of visiting Šibenik, you won’t go far wrong if you dine here.

Oprtalj Renovation Diary #1

Oprtalj Renovation Diary #1

So, we’ve finally made a proper start. The old industrial unit, which has sat unloved and empty for as long as we’ve lived in Istria, is being internally dismantled in preparation for the major renovations. A scaffold unit, an extendable ladder and a demolition drill have been added to our arsenal of tools and equipment, and we’re off! Sensibly, we’re largely staying away whilst our builder smashes down the walls – we’re on hand to offer words of support and photograph what’s going on. It’s not very pretty at all at the moment, and won’t be for quite some time, but you’ve to crack some eggs to make an omelette, as the saying goes…

The walls to be dismantled were clearly identified and the mallet swung into action.

Unless you know the layout of the building, none of what we are currently doing will make much sense. But, in a nutshell, we are creating three ensuite bedrooms, all with big windows overlooking the valley and Oprtalj, with simple ensuites. Access to each room will be from a newly created corridor to the the rear of the bedrooms. This idea is to work with the main structure of the building and create a very simple, minimalistic, open plan space inside. We’re still negotiating on outside land, so as there is much space inside, we’re stealing some of it from the other end of the building, to create an internal courtyard/potted garden. But that’s all way, way in the future.

At the moment, we’re just delighted that we’re surrounded by rubble and masonry – oh, and wasps because we’ve uncovered a wasps’ nest – because this all means one thing. PROGRESS.

In the meantime, we are selling our current renovated house. It could be the perfect holiday home for someone out there. Check out our website – and if you’re interested, get in touch and let’s see what we can do.

 

The Dolphin Suites, Veli Lošinj

The Dolphin Suites, Veli Lošinj

After a long hiatus from travel, and after getting our second vaccinations, we decided to do a bit of exploring this summer. Croatia has managed the pandemic well, so far and so we felt comfortable about beginning to explore where we live. Travel in the past has usually involved flights, ferries and/or long car journeys. This one, in August, involved a car journey and a ferry – although to be fair, we’re now located right next to the northern Croatian islands, so a ferry to Cres island, lasting only 20 minutes, was more than bearable.

The kind of accommodation was really difficult to secure in August. I have a rule of thumb – if where we are intending to stay, doesn’t look at least as nice as where we live, we look elsewhere. And, with travel having recently opened again up to Croatia, a lot of European travellers clearly had the same idea. Lošinj was our island of choice as we’d heard great things about, but were beginning to think we’d need to change our plans and look elsewhere as good availability was a real scarcity. Then I found The Dolphin Suites, in the very picturesque harbour town of Veli Lošinj and made a booking immediately, for The Garden Suite, a self contained apartment with outdoor space and access to the main pool and gardens. It’s definitely been one of our better finds!

The old schoolhouse has been beautifully, and very sensitively, renovated. Now an elegant villa style building, it is enclosed by a a high wall and therefore is very private – despite being in the centre of the small harbour town. The outdoor areas are immaculate. Scrupulously clean red sun loungers, and umbrellas, fringe the pool. Which is one of the prettiest pools I’ve seen. It’s an original tiled pool – very retro – and so lovely because it doesn’t have that false bright blue hue to it. There’s an Indonesian vibe going on, with Buddha statues half hidden behind huge potted plants. At night, this area is particularly pretty, as it’s lit up.

Technically bed and breakfast, this boutique accommodation also offers evening food – more of which later, as it deserves a paragraph of its own. Breakfast is buffet style, but because of ongoing Covid restrictions, it actually became a very leisurely affair. A daily menu (which doesn’t change but doesn’t need to as it is very extensive) of what is available is delivered to your breakfast table – on the terrace, above the pool – and you just tick whatever you want. However much you want. And, as often as you want. The breakfasts we had here were up there amongst the very best we’ve had. Options included smoothies, fresh juices, teas, coffees, granola, cold meats, cheese selection and fresh fruit. The hot selection is quite simply, outstanding – particular favourites of ours were the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and the avocado. Both are served on homemade granary/nutty toast and garnished with thin slivers of tomato and spring onion. And, the portions are large. Very large.

So, to that evening food. Because we found The Dolphin Suites to be so utterly relaxing, on a couple of occasions we left the pool area quite late and didn’t fancy moving too far from our little Garden Suite. I was told that they offered a “bar snack” selection in the evening and so on the first night we chose to opt for this, we thought we’d get not much more than crisps, nuts etc.

Oh, my word. How wrong were we?

Forget bar snacks, and think more exceptionally well cooked, innovative and beautifully presented street food. Over the course of our stay, we actually ate here three nights – obviously meaning that we do need to return to Veli Lošinj, to closer explore the restaurants. The manager – a lovely, lovely Dutch guy called Marnix – has completely nailed it, we think, on the food front. We tried a variety of dishes. On the first night, we went a bit tapas style with mixed cheeses, olives, veggie nachos, potatoes and dips, and it was more than enough. But our interest had been piqued by the mention on the menu of Flammkuchen, described to us as kind of German pizza. A bit more delving and we discovered that flammekueche, or tarte flambée, is a speciality of the region of Alsace in France, on the German border. It is composed of bread dough rolled out very thinly in the shape of a rectangle or oval, which is covered with fromage blanc or crème fraîche, and then toppings added. Similar to a white pizza, but also very different. The toppings we chose were rocket, rocquefort & pear and proscuitto, feta & rocket. Astoundingly delicious. And, absolutely nothing what we imagined a “German pizza” was going to be…

As were eating our Flammkuchen, a couple at a nearby table were served something with such a delicious aroma that we had to ask about it. “Stew”. Now, I love a stew, so I was sold on this and decided on our last night, we’d eat here again and try this. Also on the menu was Indonesian Chicken Soup, so we thought in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound. We do largely stick to a vegetarian diet but can sometimes be swayed by a good meat dish – and these were very, very good. The soup was wonderfully spicy, with lean, lean chicken fillet pieces – replicated a few times since we’ve returned. And the stew – oh, wow. The tenderest, tenderest cubes of beef, in a rich wine sauce, with potatoes and carrots – and served in a hollowed out bun. A great touch, as it soaked up the juices. No photos of these dishes however, as they were wolfed down so quickly. Testimony to how good they were. So, there you go – “bar food”…

The privacy afforded by the Garden Suite was perfect for us. All other rooms are accessed via the main reception, but we were able to just head around the corner and into our own space. No meeting other people, unless we wanted to. And with a little outside area, with very comfy furniture, which was perfect for an early evening vino and a listen to our own music. The room was spacious and like the rest of the accommodation, sparklingly clean. The shower was powerful and very spacious and the toilet was separate to the washing area. We have absolutely no complaints about the level of accommodation – and we (“I”) am very fussy – and would more than happily return to this suite.

Photos : www.booking.com

Photos : www.booking.com

Parking is free of charge, in a public (but very safe) car park nearby, and the harbour is a ten minute walk away from The Dolphin Suites. Veli Lošinj is tiny – the port, which is where you’d want to be, can be explored in under an hour. But you would then want to re-explore and re-visit as it’s just so very beautiful. We’re now looking forward to returning to the island in the autumn, to discover what life is like, when it’s not quite as hot…

A Holiday Home in Istria

A Holiday Home in Istria

Are you the kind of person who goes on holiday and imagines living there? The kind of person, who, when they return home, often to the inevitable damp and drizzly weather that we generally experienced back in Manchester, dreams of having a holiday home? Somewhere where the weather is guaranteed and where you can just kick back and relax? Whenever you want – because it’s yours. If this sounds like you, then read on – as we have an idea…

We’re selling our beautifully renovated Istrian stone house because we have found another property to renovate, a few kilometres away. We live in Istria full time – because we did what we’d always dreamed of. We bought a house in the sun and, in March 2017, left the grey skies of north west England behind. We had no intention of renovating the property and flipping it. Completely out of the blue, the new property caught our eyes and we decided that if we didn’t go for it, we’d regret it. So, our beloved stone house is up for sale.

Admittedly, circumstances haven’t been on our side. Trying to sell a house, in the middle of a global pandemic, has not been easy. But then again, nothing has been really easy and I suppose if this has been our only concern over the last year or so, we’ve fared pretty well. However, travel to Istria is now becoming much easier and interest in the house has taken off. Unfortunately, trying to sell a property abroad, is not as easy as when we sold in Didsbury. Open days, for multiple viewings are unheard of here. We rely on getting the word out via our own marketing and our own website. We’re also targeting a very specific and quite niche group of buyers and enquiries, leading to viewings, are much slower than back in the UK. However, we know that our buyer is out there – and we’re ready and waiting for them.

We also know, from the enquiries we’ve had, that lots of people are very interested in our property as a second/holiday home. We know that people in the UK are interested, as well as potential purchasers from across Europe. But in these challenging times, we are also acutely aware that cost is a massive consideration – and to buy a holiday home these days, as tempting as it may sound, may not be possible for everyone. However, if you are determined, like we were, to be abroad, there may just be a way to do it…

The word TIMESHARE is one which makes me shudder. I couldn’t think of anything worse than ploughing money into a property which wouldn’t completely be mine, and which could only be used through negotiations with everyone else who had invested in it. Paying money to have a property in the sun, and perhaps being stuck with the weeks no-one else wanted. The weeks when the weather’s not good, for example, Or, totally out of season. Paying money for a property which kind of was mine, but not really. However, we’ve recently been thinking about the concept of “timeshare” and realised it could actually have some very positive connotations, in the right context…

For anyone interested in the possibility of a holiday home, but not relishing the prospect of taking on the whole financial commitment, how about doing it with family and/or friends? A kind of timeshare – but with people you know and trust. Our home has three – but potentially four – large bedrooms. It has three large living spaces – this would be reduce to two if The Snug was converted into a self-contained en-suite, but the current living room is very spacious. We have two bathrooms – one with a bath and one with a wet-room style shower, so no arguments in the morning! The outside area is spacious and is well set up for outdoor life, with a gravel parking area for two cars. More space is available around the house for further vehicles, if necessary. And, if our potential purchasers fancy a little bit of a renovation project, we also have an additional stone cottage, to the rear of the main house. If renovated, this could become a very cute annexe, creating additional living space. Or, if a pool was on the agenda, it could be demolished to create the additional space. And, with the beautiful Istrian stones salvaged and cleaned up, all of the material would be there to build a garden wall, for privacy.

If this sounds like something you might be interested in investigating with family or friends, take a look at our website, where you’ll find a whole lot more information. And that dream of yours might just become a reality.

 

 

Thai Chicken Soup

Thai Chicken Soup

I’ve not made Thai Chicken Soup before. I think I just assumed because of its flavoursome quality and spiciness that it would be a real faff. Plus, we don’t tend to eat a lot of meat at home, so chucking in the chicken element, just complicated things. Well, we’ve now got over ourselves and made a big batch of it last night. Utterly delicious and wildly simple to cook, in a relatively short time. Plus, the added bonus of not too much washing up.

I chose this when we were staying in Veli Losinj, and chose to eat in one night at the hotel. The menu was very eclectic – definitely much more global than is usual in Croatian restaurants, and I couldn’t resist the spice factor. The soup was so gorgeous that we needed to recreate it at home – and the recipe below is one we cobbled together from what thought might go into it, the fusion of ingredients from recipes found online and what we had in the cupboard/fridge. If you make it, hope you enjoy it as much as we do…

INGREDIENTS

  • Sweet potatoes (four, peeled and chopped into cubes)
  • Large clove of garlic, sliced thinly
  • About a 2cm piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • One stem of lemongrass, peeled and bashed up to release the flavour
  • Red Thai curry paste
  • Two or three fresh chillies, de-seeded and chopped
  • Veggie (or fish) stock
  • Coconut milk (one can)
  • Very lean chicken fillets, cut up quite small
  • Brown sugar (about a teaspoon)
  • Splash of lime juice
  • Fresh coriander (leaves for garnish & stalks for flavour)
  • Coconut oil
  • Salt & pepper to season

METHOD

It really couldn’t be simpler. Heat the coconut oil gently and saute the garlic, ginger, chillies, coriander stalks and a handful of leaves and lemon grass for about 10 minutes, over a low heat. Add the cubes sweet potatoes, the stock, the Thai red curry paste, sugar, lime juice and the coconut milk. Bring to the boil, slowly, and then simmer until the potatoes have softened. Whizz the mixture with a hand blender and when smooth, add the chicken pieces and heat through for no more than 5-6 minutes. Check that the meat is white – if it is, your soup is ready. Sprinkle with fresh coriander leaves. We served ours with the most amazing toasted brown bread, with carrot, from Lidl (in Istria, so may not be available in the UK), but I suppose any kind of bread (toasted or not, depending on your taste) would work as well. Or pitta bread, or naan or flat bread. I think the next time we do this, I’ll add rice noodles, cooked separately and then when the soup is ready, poured over the top.

A perfect supper dish, for a late summer’s evening. And, I imagine, for a cold winter’s night. Perfect, therefore, at any time.

 

Our Small Stone Cottage…

Our Small Stone Cottage…

A small, abandoned cottage – in need of much TLC – sits behind our main house. It belonged to one of our neighbours and when he offered to sell it to us, we decided to go for it. The little house, which we think was possibly connected to our house many, many years ago, is very close, and we didn’t want someone else seeing its potential and snapping it up, as all of a sudden we’d have lost our much valued privacy. With the house, we also purchased a parcel of land, meaning that the potential of the dwelling really increased.

It’s small. The floor space is approximately 6m x 4.5m, but it is tall enough to have at least a mezzanine level, or if carefully designed, two floors. The roof would most definitely need to be taken down – over the years, vines and ivy have twisted their way up and out through the slate tiles. It looks very magical, but not the safest. The building is constructed completely of beautiful, milky Istrian stones. Again, I’m no builder, but I would imagine if the cottage was to be renovated, the easiest way to do might be to take it down, stone by stone, and rebuild. The small windows have Istrian stone lintels – a big bonus, as these are quite pricey if bought new. We know this because we had to buy four, for our new kitchen window.

We’ve cut and stripped back much of the vines, although ensuring that the sturdiest ones, which could potentially be holding it all together, were left in place. The roof greenery has been left intact – although we can access the roof, it wouldn’t be at all safe to actually get onto it so a cherry picker would be required. This was all part of the grand plan when we bought the property, but our plans changed pretty quickly, when our heads were turned by another renovation opportunity. Meaning that our two houses – the main renovated house and our cute cottage – are for sale.

Internally, there’s not much to see. We think it was originally a barn for animals, so we’ve unfortunately not uncovered anything which could be salvaged. But, small as it is, it would make an amazing annexe – perfect for a bijou holiday rental, a granny flat OR, if the main house was rented out in the holiday season, this could be where you could camp out.

Even though we’re no longer intending to renovate the stone cottage, as our intention now is to move, we do still scour Pinterest and have turned up some gorgeous examples of what could be done with it. Feast your eyes…

https://tinyhousetalk.com/charming-stone-tiny-house-moulin-de-liar/

https://tinyhousetalk.com/376-sq-ft-modern-brick-tiny-home-with-ocean-views/

www.nordichouse.co.uk

The image below, although not entirely practical, has to be my favourite. It’s so magical and internally looks so much like our little cottage. Perfect for a photoshoot…

So, if you love the idea of a fully renovated holiday home, but with the scope to also let your imagination run riot, why not get in touch? You too could discover Terra Magica.

(Uncredited images from Pinterest. If you are the photographer – or you know who is – please get in touch and we will obviously credit you for your beautiful images).