This was originally posted in August 2019, so all pre-Covid, when we could all travel much more freely…
As well as family and friends coming out to visit us in Istria, we now have the opportunity to meet up with people who come to Croatia on holiday. We still find this very exciting as we get the best of both worlds – entertaining and travelling. Good friends from Didsbury were returning to Croatia, this summer, for the second year running and their final destination on their island hopping trip, was Krk. As we can reach Krk in about 90 minutes, we arranged to drive over and spend an evening with them, in the beautiful little town on Vrbnik, on the eastern side of the island.
Krk is a very accessible island. It can be reached by one of the many ferries which cross between the northern islands, or from Istria, there is a roadbridge from Rijeka. You pay to cross to Krk but not when you leave. Once on the island, roads are very good and because the island is small, you can tour it quite easily in a day. On this visit, our destination was Vrbnik and the road took us through vineyards and crop fields and around the bay of Soline, famous for its salt pans which date back to the pre Roman period, and healing black mud. It’s quite a sight to drive around the bay and see people wading ankle-deep in the shallow waters, plastering themselves in the mineral-laden black mud…
Vrbnik was first mentioned in 1100, and is thought to be one of the oldest towns on the island. Its inhabitants were mainly farmers, then navigators and fishermen, but today the most important product is its golden yellow wine – the Žlahtina. Originally a walled town, it is situated 50 metres above the Adriatic Sea on a dramatic limestone outcrop – and now is a labyrinth of winding cobbled streets. Including, allegedly, the narrowest street in the world – Klančića passage – only 17 inches wide…
There are approximately 1000 full time inhabitants in Vrbnik, as well as numerous holiday apartments in the middle of the old town – but we have absolutely no idea how anyone manages to get any furnishings into these properties. I imagine even getting back from the car with a load of shopping would prove to be a challenge! However, the narrow streets and tiny doorways and windows and quirky architectural features, make this town an unmissable delight.
Many of the beautiful old dwellings have been refurbished and are now boutique style accommodation or very pretty shops, many selling traditional arts and crafts, olive oils and the famous Žlahtina wine. We bought a couple of litres of this from a very tiny winery, straight out of a cooling stainless steel wine tank. Can’t say it lasted too long, but it was very nice!
Because Vrbnik is perched on the top of a cliff, the drops down to the sea are stunning. As with most of Croatia, there are very, very few sandy beaches. Most coves and beaches are either rocky or pebbly and many are only accessible by boat. Even if you don’t get down to any of these beaches, we’d recommend just soaking up the azure blue waters below. As clean as a whistle and supposedly populated with dolphins. Although sadly, they didn’t make an appearance when we were there.
Every corner you turn around, reveals another sight to behold. I loved this door, with the utterly gorgeous metal frame, affording both beauty and privacy. I think it’s an idea I might like to incorporate somewhere along the line…
The city walls are still remarkably intact in places, with fully formed turrets, reminding you that this was obviously once a town which was in danger of attack. Also within the city walls, you can still walk through the doorways – which are so small. Hundreds of years ago, people must have been very short of stature.
Whenever we used to go on holiday, usually to Greek islands and so islands quite like Krk, we always used to wish we could stay and not have to return to the rainy north west. Now, that has become a reality. It is now very surreal leaving such an idyllic location and knowing that we are now returning to the house we’ve been renovating. Sometimes dreams do come true…
And, if you have dreams of moving somewhere idyllic – or owning a holiday home – you may be in luck, as we have now found another property, very close by to renovate. Meaning that our current home (above), located in northern Istria near the borders with Slovenia and Italy, is for sale…
Whenever we filled up the car in the garage in Motovun, we always used to say how beautiful the derelict building opposite, was. It was a huge structure, but had been clearly been abandoned some years ago. But was still an impressive structure. We imagined winning the lottery and buying it and redeveloping it and restoring it to what would have been its former glory.
And then one day, the diggers moved in and demolition started. Of course, I had to know who had bought it and what it was going to be, because someone, somewhere, had thwarted my plans!
However, I was delighted when I found out that it was actually being restored and would become the Roxanich Heritage and Wine Hotel. If you want to find out more about this amazing renovation and the thinking and concept behind it, it’s all on the official website. It opened in April of this year, and on one of our petrol fill-up trips, I popped across the road, to see what I could find out. And, oh my word, it was absolutely astonishing – and bearing in mind I only saw the reception and bar area, it still was enough to make me realise that we had to stay here.
Fast forward to August and friends came to stay with us and we did indeed have a night with them, in Roxanich, and I think I am still reeling at how bold and inventive and unique this restoration is. Partly financed by the European Union – we are delighted to now be living in a country which still embraces this union – winemaker Mladen Rozanic has created something very, very special. As well as the hotel accommodation, a restaurant and a wine shop, Roxanich produces its own wines, stored safe and deep in the cellars, snugly fitting inside the landscape, under the hotel. Although definitely not cheap, as you would expect for something of this standard, it’s one of those places that you owe it to yourself to experience. Even if just once. From the moment you enter – and, if you arrive by car, there’s a bit of a James Bond car lift, to take you down into the car park – to the moment you leave, everything is just perfect. A real top notch hotel, which will only serve to increase to reputation of beautiful Motovun.
The reception area sets the tone for the rest of the hotel. The barrel vaulted ceiling, the white painted brickwork, the tiled floor, the exquisite furnishings – plus floor to ceiling glass doors, leading out to a huge terrace, overlooking an infinity pool and beyond, rolling vineyards, the River Mirna and the surrounding hills. But nothing really prepares you for the rooms. Although perhaps the golden lift should give you a clue…
Our room was a deluxe double room, designed for families – and I can honestly say I have never stayed in such an unusual, eye-popping room! But, let’s start with the bathroom. Large enough if you did book this as a family room, with a huge walk in shower – and decorated in a very elegant pale pink and powder blue colour scheme. Very pretty.
But the the room… Blimey, the room! This is the view from the calm and relaxing blue and pink bathroom, looking out onto a psychedelic scene.
But, don’t let this word put you off – because it works. It really does work. Bold and vibrant wallpaper. A four poster bed (padded, Chesterfield style leather), with a mirrored ceiling, with a bed on top, with a ladder to the side, really is the centrepiece. Something this spectacular really can’t be anything else!
We genuinely thought we’d either never sleep or have crazy dreams – but, the bed itself was so super-comfy that it was a dream sleep. Our room had views right across the Mirna Valley and if we squinted, we could also see Oprtalj, our nearest town, so how fabulous to have something so design-led, so close to home.
The rest of the hotel is just as jaw-dropping. We ate dinner on the terrace, which has panoramic, sweeping views across the valley. The views were delicious enough, but the food actually topped the views! No photos, unfortunately, as everything was tucked into immediately!
The attention to detail is carried through to every single public area. To get a feel for this uber-stylish hotel – and don’t forget, it’s located inland, at the foot of a hill, topped by a medieval town, so not in one of the snazzy Istrian coastal resorts – I snapped away. Hopefully, what I got will give a good indication of just how delicious Roxanich is…
Gold Metro Tiles. Can I just repeat? Gold. Metro.Tiles…
The Cigar Room
The Wine Room
Communal Relaxing Area
Where we live is quite rural. We get to our house by driving up a big hill, with a winding road and some quite hairpin bends. Sometimes, we can feel as if we are quite remote and far away from places which are super-stylish. No longer! Now that we can be at Roxanich in under 20 minutes, we feel so privileged that this is literally on our Istrian doorstep.
We thought we knew Rovinj, in Istria pretty well as it’s now one of our go-to places when we need some sea air and a bit of comfort away from an on-going house renovation. We decided to stay somewhere different this time, and chanced upon the very stylish and boutiquey Casa Amando, run by two German designers, Marijana and Lucas. More about this find in a later blog, but suffice to say, we *got* it when Marijana explained that “the house found them…”.And, through staying here, we discovered a whole area of old town Rovinj, we have so far not investigated.
Breakfast currently does not come as an option with these apartments (five in total in a renovated house), but there is an amazingly well equipped communal kitchen. However, we were advised that a new cafe/restaurant had recently opened, literally next door, and that the owner used to be head chef at The Adriatic Hotel. This piqued our interest, because The Adriatic is our favourite get-away-from-it-all place.
So, Korta. What a beautiful place! The decor is exquisite – lots of vintage style wrought iron tables and chairs, lanterns, candelabras, bird cages, rose patterned cushions, mis-matched crockery and the biggest bouganvillea I have ever seen. So big, that just about everyone who went past, stopped to take a snap of it.
Cafe Korta, Rovinj, Istria
Breakfast was a delicious affair, beautifully presented on a three tier cake stand. The top tier was the “savoury”. Cold cuts of meats were available, but we opted for just the cheeses – Istrian truffle cheese, a hard but creamy cheese, ricotta and mozzarella, sprinkled with dates and small fruits. The middle layer was the “sweet” – two big slices of homemade apple cake, two big croissants, one filled with chocolate and one with marmalade and two glass pots, one filled with chocolate spread, the other with an orange marmalade. The bottom layer was the “healthy” one – grapes, orange slices, apricots, bananas, blueberries and redcurrants. We had two large coffees each and fresh juice – all for 150 kunas, which is less than £20. Fantastic value in a stunning setting. Hugely recommended.
Korta only opened at the beginning of July, but from what we experienced, it should be a success. It is open from breakfast through to evening – and the menu changes to more of a tapas style, with Istrian meats, cheeses and fish. It can be found right next to Casa Amando, which is located at Bregovita ulica 9.
We’ve just said goodbye to our second set of friends who’ve been staying with us for a few days. Amanda and Steve had a few days in Italy first – they flew to Venice Marco Polo from Manchester and then spent a couple of days 30km north of Venice, in Treviso and then took the train to Trieste, where we picked them up. We can be in Trieste in 45 minutes so it’s a great place to meet visitors and it’s a great introduction to our new part of the world. Although we live in Istria, which is part of Croatia, it was, until not long ago (1947), a part of Italy – and it certainly still feels very Italian.
We left Trieste in baking sunshine and arrived in Istria under dark, threatening thunderclouds. Note to visitors – bring something waterproof!
We’ve become used to our weather now – we get torrential rain and insane storms, but give it a couple of hours and we can be back out on the sun-loungers. Amanda didn’t quite believe it when I told her this, as we left them to relax for a couple of hours, while we did a supermarket run. However, when we returned, where were they? On the sunbeds
As we had a few trips out planned, we spent a leisurely Friday evening, catching up. We’re getting used to the quirkiness and eccentricities of our house now, but it’s always a real delight to hear what other people think. We’re used to our Well, now re-positioned outside the front door, but every now and then, it’s good to remember that this is such an unusual and beautiful feature. It’s also very lovely when people see familiar things around them, that they know from our West Didsbury home and so very quickly relax into their new surroundings. And, have a very comfy night’s sleep…
We want people who visit us to get an insight into where we now live. It’s such a beautiful part of the world and we want to share it. We also try to think about what each visitor would like to see or experience – some people love water parks, some lovely cycling trips, some love hilltop villages, some love cities, some love some or all of these, but we’ll always try and find out what you like so that you have the best experience possible.
Saturday saw us heading over to Rijeka, on the eastern side of the peninsula, a journey which cuts through the mountains, via the Učka Tunnel. We wanted to come to Rijeka to see the Stadion Kantrida. Until July 2015, Rijeka football club was based at Stadion Kantrida, their traditional home ground for over 60 years. With Kantrida now awaiting demolition and reconstruction, Rijeka have been based at the newly-built Stadion Rujevica, part of the new training centre and the club’s temporary home ground. Following the demolition of old Kantrida, a new, state of the art, 14,600 all-seater stadium will be built at the same location. And what a location! When we take people to see it, they are always a bit wowed…
Yes, that is The Adriatic, with Krk Island shimmering in the distance.
Next stop was Opatija, a beautiful resort, much loved by the Austro-Hungarian nobility and very different in architectural style to the more Venetian/Italian style of the Istrian side of the peninsula. As it was a whistle-stop tour, we just stopped for a drink in the grounds of a hotel where The Rat Pack would entertain. Sounds swish – which it is, but very inexpensive for a round of drinks, sipped whilst overlooking the sea. As a birthday was being celebrated, we felt that a perfect spot to do so, was in a gorgeous sea-front restaurant we’ve found in the little fishing port of Mošćenička Draga – and no, we can’t say it either The beach is white pebbles and the sea the bluest of blue – and we were lucky to get a table overlooking the beach at the lovely Konoba Zijavica.
Next stop was a drive inland, to the medieval village of Gračišće. Miss the turn off for this village and you will miss something very special indeed. It’s a sleepy little village, where everything seems to move at a very slow pace – but is just one of the most picturesque places we’ve visited. Some of the houses date back to the early 1400s (dates inscribed on crooked stone lintels above tiny doorways) and the sense of history is palpable. The church sits high on a hill and the views of the Istrian countryside are jaw-dropping…
We don’t have a *local* restaurant or bar, in the sense that we used to in West Didsbury. Our local is about 4km from The House, but it is our local – because we are treated as such. We’re not treated as tourists any more. The owner greets us with “Hello, Neighbours” – we’re sure he’s actually forgotten our names, but we love it nevertherless and we want our visitors to experience it too. When we arrived, it was clear that it had been raining, very heavily too – although we’d had glorious sunshine on the east coast. In fact, the weather had been so extreme, one of the guys we know, whose English is very good, just said, “I have no words to describe it!” Well, the sun was shining now, so all was OK with the world and we were able to enjoy our sunset drinks in the warmth.
To illustrate how mad Istrian weather can be – and no wonder he had no words to describe it – we returned home to find carnage in the garden. Plants had been ravaged – the hostas which I was delighted had not been eaten by snails, looked as if a razor had been taken to the leaves. All due to a hailstorm – the pile of hailstones, which had obviously shot out of the gutter, being evidence of the ferocity of it all. And all while we basked in east side sun…
When we collect family or friends from Pula Airport, we can’t resist a quick detour into Pula. Anyone who hasn’t witnessed the spectacle of the amphitheatre is really blown away as it’s the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and with all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved, and the best preserved ancient monument in Croatia.
Next stop was Rovinj – a must for anyone who comes to visit us. We enjoyed – and all agreed – the best lunch of freshly caught sea-bass. HUGE fish and just so, so tasty, in one of our favourite restaurants, Rio, right on the harbour. No photos of said fish, as we wolfed it down However, if you’ve not seen photos of Rovinj or been before, here you go…
One of the best things about where we now live, is our proximity to other places, especially in northern Italy. Amanda and Steve were flying back from Venice and not having been before, wanted to spend a bit of time there – so we offered to take then there and stay overnight with them. What a hardship
The drive across the SS14, the main route from Trieste to Turin if you want to avoid the madness of the A4 motorway, is stunning. The Veneto is really flat and you can see for miles and miles, way up to the snow peaked Dolomites. We were a bit concerned weather-wise as the rain had started, but as we approached Venice – and you always know you’re near as you can see the planes taking off from Marco Polo airport – the sun started to break through and that was it. Sunglasses back on!
Rather than walk from the car park – the one where you have to park and where you have to leave your keys on the dashboard – we thought that a water bus would be the most spectacular way for Amanda and Steve to see Venice for the first time. Nothing beats seeing it from the water. A water bus isn’t expensive – 30 euros for four of us and the journey lasts a good 40 minutes if you’re going right round to St Mark’s Square, as we were, because we’d found a great value apartment, not too far from this famous landmark.
Anyway, Venice – it just really speaks for itself…
Rialto Bridge, Venice
San Simeone Piccolo Church on the Grand Canal, Venice
Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia
Walled courtyard overlooking The Grand Canal, Venice
Approaching St Mark’s Square from the water bus
St Mark’s Basilica, Venice
Cruise ship, almost dwarfing St Mark’s Square…
St Mark’s Square & San Marco Campanile
The Bridge of Sighs, Venice
The Arsenale, Venice
The colours of Venice
Washing day in Venice
Nothing says Venice quite like a mask…
We were so lucky to stumble across this workshop in Venice & watch a real craftsman making the Fórcola, the typical Venetian gondola rowlock
We found new places to eat on this trip too – although we did try to eat at a favourite restaurant, Al Buso, which is directly under the Rialto Bridge. The location is amazing and we’ve had great food and service there before, the last time being during the Carnival, where we had very delicious pizzas. We’d eaten lots of fish and pasta over the last few days and all were in the mood for a pizza, so we reckoned this would be a good choice. Menus were presented and the waiter (who had served us before), told us about the daily fish specials. Unfortunately, on this occasion, his mood wasn’t as customer focused and when we asked for the pizza menu – and there definitely is one – he replied by telling us if we wanted pizza, we should go to St Mark’s Square. Given that we would have spent quite a lot of money – given its location, it’s not the cheapest option – we found his attitude to be rude and condescending and left. And I vowed that I would never set foot in there again, and would tell everyone to avoid it. So, if you do ever find yourself in Venice, please join my boycott of Al Buso, located at Centro Storico fondamenta del Buso No. 5338 – right under the Rialto Bridge. We found two very lovely places and would heartily recommend these – Osteria il Milion, where the Spaghetti con le Cipolle is literally to die for, and Ristorante Marco Polo on Salizzada San Lio, where got the pizzas we wanted, and very nice they were too
So, there you go – a four day whistlestop tour of Istria and Venice.
Practicalities for Visiting
Our friends flew from Manchester to Marco Polo Venice, a flight of under two & half hours. We’ll always pick up visitors – unless you intend to come over and do lots of travelling, there’s no point in hiring a car, as we can always visit places with you. Or, we do have a Fiat Punto, a very sturdy & reliable car, which is insured for visitors to use. The only thing we’d advise you of, is that the house will seem, when you first visit, to be quite remote. However, as we – and everyone who has visited – quickly realise, Istria is a VERY small peninsula, and you very quickly get used to where we are in relation to other places, and pretty soon a 30 minute to the supermarket doesn’t seem that long at all. Especially when the road takes you through rolling hills and vineyards. Idyllic
If you’re only travelling with hand luggage, we have stocks of suncream & mosquito sprays, so you don’t need to weigh yourself down. You’ll obviously have fresh towels and bedding & the washing machine/dryer/iron etc are all there at your disposal. Consider it a home from home.