road trip : istria to venice

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 ampitheatre is really blown away as it’s the only remaining Roman ampitheatre 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…

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.

Published on 18th May 2018