Sunday, June 21, 2009

Exploring--Croatia's Istrian Peninsula--Hill Town of Motovun

After some posts about life at home, I can't resist returning to the topic of travel. This will be the first of three or four posts about less-traveled destinations in Croatia, a lovely coastal nation, formerly part of Yugoslavia.
Most tourists visit Croatia's shimmering Adriatic coastal towns and islands (you may hear it called the Dalmatian Coast), but Croatia offers many other charms. Of course, we also enjoyed the Dalmatian Coast on our Eastern European journey this past September and October, and I will post Dalmatian photos and memories sometime in the next few weeks. However, I thought it would be interesting to begin with less well-known, but equally delightful Croatian destinations. First on the list is the north Croatian hill town, Motovun, in the interior of the Istrian Peninsula.
The wedge-shaped peninsula called Istria hangs into the Adriatic Sea across from Venice, Italy--visitors in Venice looking for a unique side-trip can easily reach Istria by ferry. We stayed two nights in a hotel that had once been a small castle on the peak of the steep hill crowned by Motovun. From that base, we explored Istria's highlights.
On our two-week Rick Steves tour, Motovun was the first stop in Croatia over the border from Slovenia. If you are interested in reading about Slovenia, please see my posts from May 20, May 24, and May 27--Slovenia is fascinating and beautiful.
Motovun is reminiscent of Tuscan hill towns, yet is distinctly Croatian. No commercial traffic is allowed on the narrow cobblestone streets of the old town, so we walked up the steep approach road from the parking lot of a small church--as far as our bus could go. Surprisingly, the race car driver Mario Andretti was born here--he must have practiced racing somewhere else. The main gate into the old town displays carved stone crests from various rulers over time. The most obvious architectural influences are from the Venetian period. Andrea Palladio (1508 - 1580), the famed Venetian architect, designed the simple, neoclassical St. Stephen's church pictured above, with a tower that served both religious and defensive functions.
The two vista photos each give just a taste of the magical views from our Hotel Kastel windows, which let us enjoy fresh, cool breezes as well as amazing scenery. We had a lovely, comfortable corner room on the upper floor of the small former castle. Note the rocky outcrop on the right side of one photo to get a sense of the sheer drop that made this such an ideal fortified town. Walking the ramparts on the town's wall provides panoramic views of the surrounding countryside with vineyards, small towns, farms, and forests where the truffles so prized in gourmet dining grow wild.
Our guide, Saso Golub, had arranged a premium wine and truffle tasting party for our first evening in Motovun on the hill-top balcony of a lovely shop. Indescribably delicious, complete with a gorgeous sunset. We truly loved staying in Motovun as a base for exploring the region.
Question of the day: Can you imagine yourself in Motovun?

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