During our holiday vacation in Pula in August, we decided to skip the beach for a day and explore how summer in central Istria looks like. Starting from Pula, our first stop was Sv. Petar u Šumi ( literally- St Peter in the Woods :) ).
The 18th century church of St Peter and Paul along with the 15th century Pauline monastery attracted us to visit this place. It was around noon and the village was empty, except for the waiter in the local bar and a few cats resting in the shades. We were happy to discover that both the church and the monastery cloister were opened. Initially a Romanesque complex, the church was rebuilt in mid-18th century with a narrow, tall facade pierced with niches that hold the saints, characteristic for Pauline architecture of that time.
The Romanesque cloister of the monastery is a hidden gem with its elegant arcades surrounding a small interior open space with well. We enjoyed quietness, whiteness and cleanness of that place, sitting in a tree shade on the square in front of the church.
On our way to Pazin- the administrative seat of Istria County we stopped at Tinjan, the so-called „municipality of Istrian prosciutto“. Tinjan is such a charming and peaceful place- narrow streets with well restored houses and all sorts of plants in colourful pots in front of them, late-baroque church of St Simon and Judas Tadeus, a beautiful view spot of the green hills situated in the shade of a giant tree with an ancient municipality stone table...
Once in Pazin, we wanted to visit the Abyss of Pazin, which inspired the famous Jules Verne to write his novel „Mathias Sandorf“. An abyss is not what one would expect to see when visiting a center of the city! The stream which runs in the bottom of it is dry in the summer season, but the vegetation is green and lavish, and the path which leads you down and then up the steep hill makes a good recreation. There is a zip-line hanging over the abyss if you're into that kind of adrenalin fun!
After Pazin, we headed to the village of Kotli, beloved Istrian weekend destination, situated on the slopes of the river Mirna. The stream bed was again dry, which enabled us to walk through a part of it, and to make photos of the little pools of remaining water which held tadpoles and little water snakes. The restaurant on the river bank serves traditional, local dishes in abundant portions, so we enjoyed sausages, ombolo, sour cabbage and tasty rustic potatoes. It was so delicious, that we asked the waiter to pack us a doggy bag for later. :)
All the narrow side roads which connect Istrian villages are so exciting to drive on, winding, empty, passing through beautiful nature (we even saw a deer!) and picturesque villages.
Heading back to Pula we passed by Draguć, whose name reminded me that there should be a church with Romanesque wall paintings (we learned about it in college). So we turned around to visit it, and it was a home run! The small hill town of Draguć is really worth seeing, with its stone paved streets filled with lazy cats, beautiful houses with flowers, spectacular view of the Istrian hills from the center of the town, and then at the end, a lawn with a tiny humble chapel, bathed in a mild sunset light, overlooking hilly Istrian countryside.
Unfortunately, the chapel was closed, but we peaked inside trough a small window, discovering it's truly magical interior- austere architecture filled from bottom to top with “medieval” frescos painted in 16th century. Sounds illogical, but local art in the provinces was always legging behind the main European streams! It was a stunning scene, kept just for us, since we were there alone, enjoying that exquisite peace of art without a crowd of visitors or a limited visiting time. That reminded me of the Scrovegni chapel in Padua, painted by the great renaissance painter Giotto,where for the frescoes to be preserved, there is a max of 30 persons which can stay inside for 15 minutes to observe one of the world’s greatest pieces of art!
It was a great end to a beautiful field trip, and there is so much more to Istrian countryside. So, when you're on Istrian coastline on holidays, it is worthwhile to take a day off the beach and discover that multitude of little hill towns, villages, local cuisine, wines and beautiful nature!