Most of us travel to see new places, experience new things, taste new flavors, but at the same time, we often overlook the beautiful places and experiences just around the corner. Example, we travel pretty often to Italy, and Italy is truly wonderful, but so is Croatia. We do not travel nearly that often to beautiful places in Croatia or more specific Istria, because it's home, something too familiar, something we can visit anytime. And so it happens that we spend some time every summer climbing the Slovenian or Austrian Alps, but never climbed Croatian Velebit.
That's why we decided to explore Istria bit by bit, to try out all the local specialties, to drive all the roads and to get to know the little places not so many people heard about.
All of them are just a day trip away, and this time we did a little tour around northern Istrian hilltop towns, which included Visnjan, Groznjan, Buje, and Motovun.
Each of them is known for something: Visnjan for its planetary and the events connected to it, Motovun for its film festival, Buje for its beer brewery, and Groznjan as the seat of musicians and artists.
The thing that they have in common is obviously that they're located on the hilltops, they're all overlooking the Istrian countryside (there are some fantastic views!), and the beautiful local architecture: stone houses, narrow cobbled streets, baroque churches and loggias...
My personal favorite is Groznjan, because of its artsy vibe, loads of flowers, music that reaches out around the corner and beautifully restored stone houses. There are some chic bars, restaurants, and lovely art shops to spend your money in :). If we were tourists and if this was foreign to us, we would have been blown away! I suggest visiting in May or July, as it was just crowded enough to be lively but not overflowed with tourists.
Motovun is both an amazing sight as seen from the river Mirna valley, and an amazing viewpoint of the hilly countryside and orange rooftops. There is a walk that circles around town upon the city walls, and from there you can admire the beautiful landscape of all four sides of the world (namely, Istria). The city loggia looks like a frame for the landscape picture behind it, and I can imagine it being the most photographed site in Motovun. And if you're a film enthusiast, there is a perky film festival held here every year in July.
The main square of Buje is a vast open space with the church od San Servolo, giant (50 meters high) bell tower, Venetian style palace, city hall, school and a pillory which once served for punishment and public humiliation, and now serves as a flag holder. The peculiar facade of San Servolo church is made out of brick with reused building material from ancient and medieval buildings called spolia built in it. If you look at the facade you will recognize them as the white stone parts popping out of the brick. For a bird view of the town and its surroundings, climb the bell tower (there is a grid protecting the tower from the pigeons so it's a bit difficult to take nice shots with your photography gear, but we took a few anyways :)).
As every Istrian hilltop town, Visnjan offers some great views from the square and the loggia in front of the neoclassical church of St Quiricus and Julietta. The cobbled streets are adorned with flowers and there is a nice arbored walk with chestnut trees giving much-needed shade to the main street. If you're into astronomy, Visnjan has a planetary that's doing a good job in education, especially of younger ones. There is also a pretty cool event called Astro Fest held every 21st of June, where people gather to welcome the summer solstice. The lectures on astronomy, ethno music, dance and games last until the first rays of sun appear.
After a long day of wandering we had to have lunch, and we wanted to try a restaurant near Buje which made it to the top in Istria on Tripadvisor, but thanks to our luck it was Wednesday, and they do not work Wednesdays (that is so typical of our trips!!). We found an alternative, easily, and enjoyed some tasty Istrian cheeses, olives and olive oil, pasta with truffles and ravioli with sea bass. I can understand why Istria is making its way to a foodie destination!
The best part of Istrian countryside day trips is that, if you're tired, if it's too hot, if you ate too much (fill the gap by personal preferences), you can always be at the seaside in less than an hour and take a swim in the beautiful Adriatic!
What are your thoughts on traveling close to home and what is the most beautiful place close to your home? I'd love to hear about it, and maybe get inspired for the next adventures (away from home). :)