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…

Vrbnik, Krk Island, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk Island, Croatia

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…

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

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!

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

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.

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

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…

Vrbnik. Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

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…

property for sale in istria, house for sale in istria, renovated stone house for sale, istria

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…

 

 

 

The Village in Istria That Time Forgot…

The Village in Istria That Time Forgot…

We had hoped that over Christmas we’d be beavering away, updating our websites and that we’d jump into the new year with a whole new look. Well, you know how these things go – a road trip back to England, much catching up with family and friends, and far too much excellent food and wine – and things website wise haven’t quite gone quite to plan. Yet. But, we’re now back in Istria and it’s full steam ahead – but until all is ready to go, we’re still blogging about our favourite things here…

So, jump back to the beginning of December and we decided to explore a track, off the road down the mountain from Oprtalj to Livade. We’ve been seeing a bit of action recently on this track – new signs, trucks, evidence of the road being improved so guessed there was something interesting at the end of it, or that it might actually lead somewhere. And, wow, it certainly did! To an abandoned village, where there are most definitely signs of new life emerging.

Electricity connections are in evidence, as are water connections and a couple of the properties have clearly had work done on them recently. One house has a completely new red tiled roof, and another seems to have had new windows fitted fairly recently. But, and it’s a big but, the village is a long way from being habitable. So, on the day, we explored, we had the village completely to ourselves…

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

The houses aren’t roped off. There are no health and safety signs. So, being very, very, very careful you can get to see them very close-up. Floors – where they still exist – are very precarious – but it was just too tempting not to get inside and take some photos. If nothing is done to restore these properties, in the not too distant future, they won’t be standing anymore, and so it feels important, in a very small way, to get a record of them. Now.

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

And, when you do get close up, you see the faded paintwork. You can only imagine how vibrant the blue must have been when this house was alive and full of people.

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

Abandoned village, Istria, Croatia

The houses in the village are huge. They must have been lived in by wealthy people – people who could afford to build halfway up a mountain with vistas across the Istrian valleys, up to Motovun and away to the Adriatic. People who then left. Or were forced to leave…

Abandoned village, Istria, Croatia

One of the houses was a little safer than others, to get inside. The floors were mostly in place and something caught my eye, so I couldn’t resist a sneak peek…

Abandoned village, Istria, Croatia

Just look at that elaborate paintwork and frescoes! Astonishingly well preserved given the state of the building. It was amazing actually being inside and looking up, down and all around. The ceiling was beautifully painted with delicate patterns and with an almost intact ceiling rose – although I couldn’t get a decent enough photo of this, as the floorboards in the centre of the room looked a lot more precarious.

So, my hunt is on to find out about this abandoned village. You’d think it wouldn’t be too hard given that some kind of renovation work has started, but it’s not marked on any local maps and google maps doesn’t throw up any obvious clues. I will find out about its history but if anyone reading, knows anything about this abandoned village, I’d love to know.

The Frescoes of Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of Draguć, Istria

In northern Istria, is the small village of Draguć, somewhere I’d never heard of, let alone been to, until this summer. That’s the beauty of Istria. It’s a small peninsula and so I guess that once people who visit have been to the big-hitters – Rovinj, Porec, Pula, Motovun, Grožnjan, Rabac, Opatija – they might think they’ve “done” Istria. Not at all. The surface hasn’t even been scratched. There’s no denying the places mentioned above are stunning and all are well worth a visit, if not an extended stay. But sometimes, it’s the little towns and villages, high up in the hills, or tucked away on winding coastal roads, that are the real jewels in the crown.

In the summer we were driving back from the eastern coast towards Pazin, and saw in the distance, a village perched at the top of a hill. We see lots of these and you can’t stop at them all, but my eagle-eyed sister felt there was something a bit special about this one and so did a quick Google search – resulting in the car being turned around.

When we arrived, although it was the height of summer, it wasn’t thronged with tourists. A few people were wandering around, snapping away at the historic buildings, the Croatian cats curled up in planters, or stretched out on the cobbles, the painted shutters etc. All was quiet – and very, very beautiful. We’d read on Google about the House of Frescoes and were intrigued. Although it wasn’t quite what we’d imagined when we visited it – we thought it would literally be a house, full of frescoes – it was very informative and led to us stumbling upon something so spectacular that I still can’t believe we got up, so close and personal, to it.

The House of Frescoes was opened in the old school building in Draguć, a combined project of the Istrian Region, the Cerovlje Municipality, the Italian Veneto Region and the Croatian Ministry of Culture. They all recognized the importance of mural painting in Istria, a specific phenomenon of cultural heritage whose preservation and presentation requires significant effort and particular expertise. Although there is much more to the building, we were fascinated by the virtual tour of the churches in Istria, which were covered in ancient frescoes, quite a number being in the Draguć area. These churches, for obvious reasons, aren’t open to the general public as a matter of course, but you can have a guided tour, free of charge. Imagine that back in the UK – free of charge! And this was how we got to see inside the Church of St Roc, built at the beginning of the 16th century.

The entrance to the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The interior is completely decorated with frescoes, painted between  1529 and 1537 by  a local painter, Anthony from Padova – not Padova in Italy but Kašćerga, a small village you can see from the church door if looking out across the lake. Before our guide arrived we could only peer at the frescoes through the bars on the windows – and this was awesome enough. Once inside, our minds were blown!

The church is tiny – another small group had joined us, and with twelve of us inside, it was quite packed. So, for somewhere so small, to be covered from floor to ceiling in frescoes, was something else…

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The fact that these ancient works of art are just there – no roping off, not behind glass, no photography restrictions, completely accessible to the public – is incredible. There is such a feeling of trust and a desire to share these masterpieces with people, and I think this instils in people a sense of responsibility and utmost respect.

This tiny church in a very small, hilltop village in the Istrian countryside could so easily be overlooked – so I guess the message is, get off the main roads and explore. Take those roads which look as if they might up in someone’s farmyard. They often do, but just as often, they end up somewhere like Draguć.

This village is less than 30kms from our village, and there are many, many more like it, all waiting to be discovered. If you have a sense of adventure and want a life more peaceful, but still withing striking distance of every amenity you could ever need, as well as two international borders in less than 40 minutes – Slovenia and Italy – have a look at this website. As we’re hoping to sell our beautiful home, so that we can begin on our next renovation project, not too far away. In fact, if you bought this house, we could be neighbours…

 

Roxanich Wine & Heritage Hotel, Motovun, Istria

Roxanich Wine & Heritage Hotel, Motovun, Istria

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...

Gold Metro Tiles. Can I just repeat? Gold. Metro.Tiles…

The Cigar Room

The Cigar Room

The Wine Room

The Wine Room

The Bar

The Bar

Communal Relaxing Area

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.

 

 

Hotel Navis, Opatija Riviera, Croatia

Hotel Navis, Opatija Riviera, Croatia

What a treat, a day and night away at Hotel Navis, in Opatija, is. Built into a cliff-face, and with all rooms overlooking the sea, it is situated between Rijeka and Volosko, on Preluk Bay – and for us, not too far away from our home in Istria. We spotted the hotel on one of our first drives back from Rijeka when we moved here, and vowed that we’d investigate it – which we did recently, with friends who were visiting from England. The hotel is very cleverly designed. From the road, only the sign can be seen. A steep drive takes you down to the entrance and the reception and it is only when you get out of your car, that you really appreciate how beautiful it is. Glass walls form the shell of the hotel on the reception level, creating such a feeling of light and space, and bright pops of furnishing colour add to the overall wow factor…

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

We’d arrived quite early, much earlier than the check-in time, and our rooms were still being prepared. How lovely then to be greeted by one of the owners, who chatted to us about the hotel and the gorgeous Opatija Riviera – and who also brought us complimentary pink fizz, whilst we waited. Not a bad way to begin a Tuesday 😉 It was almost a shame when we told our rooms were ready, as we weren’t quite ready to leave the little terrace above the private beach…

Hotel Navis, Opatija

All rooms have balconies and all face the sea. We had a room on the first floor – Room 101 – and our friends had a similar room, on the fourth floor. You can’t miss your room – super-sized room numbers guide you easily, along the corridors. If you like your decor to be neutral, Hotel Navis may not tick your boxes, but we loved the bold colours and designs, and especially the purple, black and red patina walls, the famous coloured concrete Venetian technique.

When we stay somewhere, my rule of thumb is that I want it to be at least as nice as where I live – otherwise I could stay at home. Often, though, our expectations are exceeded – and they certainly were at Hotel Navis.

Rooms have been meticulously designed in this hotel. Dark concrete walls contrast with the floor to ceiling glass doors which slide back, to reveal a balcony and sweeping views across the bay. Our room was perfectly positioned, just above the little pebbled private beach. Rather then sunbeds, this beach has big squishy beanbags which look super comfy – so comfortable that even when some quite unexpected waves rolled in, literally no-one moved. Although that could also have been to do with the waves providing some respite from the searing heat.

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Minimalist accessories and furnishings give the room an uncluttered, spacious feel…

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

The bathrooms are also a delight. As well as L’Occitane toiletries – a class act – and big fluffy towels and robes and slippers, most rooms have a bath, as well as a shower. And, given that we have tiniest bath ever, anywhere that has a big one, gets a massive thumbs up from us.

The attention to detail continues in the hotel corridors and stairways. Huge glass and concrete planters and vases, filled with greenery (and wine corks), dominate corners and add real interest to what would otherwise be dead space. The dark colours continue – but the hotel is not dark, simply because of the expanse of glass, which reflects the sunlight and the turquoise sea.

Hotel Navis, Opatija

The hotel has, as well as the cute little private beach, a spa and treatment area, and a large sun terrace with a pool and a very stylish bar. It was a luxurious treat to just lounge around the pool, sunbathing and interspersing this with swimming in the sea. The location is so peaceful – nothing beats being able to lie in the sun and just watch boats bobbing about on the water.

Breakfast is amazing. I think it’s probably one of the best breakfasts we’ve experienced, simply because of the range and choice. As well as the location of the restaurant, which literally overhangs the water.

Hotel Navis, Opatija

As well as an extensive cold buffet – with cheeses, meats, breads, fruit, youghurts, cereal, croissants, cakes – there is also a cooked breakfast menu, with so much choice. The consensus amongst us was that we had all made the perfect choices – the lightest, fluffiest omelettes, and poached eggs with avocado and the other with truffles. Breakfast is available until 11am, and with check out until midday, it meant that we could enjoy a long, leisurely start to the day. Although perhaps not as leisurely as those who were opting for the Prosecco with breakfast. Think we missed a trick there 😉

The location of this architect designed hotel really is quite stunning – situated where it is, clinging to the rocks below a road which snakes around the Opatija Riviera, it is very remiscent of the Amalfi Coast. Although without the hoardes of tourists, coaches and back to back traffic, which makes it all the more special.

Got to be honest and say it definitely wasn’t the cheapest hotel we’ve ever stayed in – but you certainly get what you pay for. And as a treat, it was absolutely perfect. Just perfect…

 

Rovinj : Pretty as a Picture

Rovinj : Pretty as a Picture

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.

 

 

Travels With Our Guests

Travels With Our Guests

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

San Simeone Piccolo Church on the Grand Canal, Venice

Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia

Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia

Walled courtyard overlooking The Grand Canal, Venice

Walled courtyard overlooking The Grand Canal, Venice

Approaching St Mark’s Square from the water bus

Approaching St Mark’s Square from the water bus

St Mark's Basilica, Venice  St Mark’s Basilica, Venice

St Mark’s Basilica, Venice

Cruise ship, almost dwarfing St Mark’s Square…

Cruise ship, almost dwarfing St Mark’s Square…

Venice

Venice

St Mark’s Square & San Marco Campanile

St Mark’s Square & San Marco Campanile

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice

The Arsenale, Venice

The Arsenale, Venice

Those windows…

Those windows…

The colours of Venice

The colours of Venice

Washing day in Venice

Washing day in Venice

Nothing says Venice quite like a mask...

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 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.