Tag Archive: Istria



We’ve long wanted to visit Slovenia so we drove from Vienna to Ljubljana with a Graz pit stop. Clean and green, plus it’s such a small country offering so much. Lake Bled comes to mind, but Piran stole our hearts. On a Food Trip, we included Trieste, Italy in our itinerary. Yes, that small strip of land off the Adriatic and the Italian border to Slovenia. As home to Illy Coffee, plus the prospect of seafood harvested off the Adriatic and cooked the Italian way, we couldn’t go wrong. Next, the van took us on a road trip visiting the small towns of the Istrian Peninsula. All of these destinations couldn’t have been better. By the time we left Istria and reached Zagreb, we were almost unfamiliar with big city vibes. And Plitvice? That was the highlight of my trip.

Just click on the following titles to the blog links .

From Vienna to Graz, Austria

Clean and Green Ljubljana

A Rainy Day in Lake Bled

Going Italian in Trieste

Driving Back to Slovenia’s Piran

Groznjan’s Art and Culture

More Truffles in Motovun

How Do You Say Rovinj?

Rijeka Off the Adriatic

Opatija’s Classy Vibe

Summery Day in Pula

Finally, Zagreb!

A Near-Miss in Plitvice

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Trip Length: 12 Days

Hotels:

Hotel Galeria

Hotel Coppe

Hotel Jadran

Hotel Dubrovnik


I’ve always been in awe of the grandeur and expanse of the Roman Empire. At its peak, it ruled over much of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. An empire that stretched from Great Britain to the Middle East. There may have been bigger, longer-lasting empires but in my book, the Roman Empire’s mark in our history, art and culture strikes a special element of sentimentality and psyche. Think gladiators in those Roman Colosseos! (And the hedonists in the Roman Baths too) Years ago, I thought there was only one — that grand colosseum in Rome, Italy. Until I found similar, though lesser-sized amphitheaters in Verona (Italy), in Arles (France), in Pompeii (Italy), the Roman Theatre in Pamukkale (Turkey), in Nimes (France), in Ephesus (Turkey), Caesaria (Israel), and surprisingly, a well-preserved Greco-Roman amphitheater in Aphrodisias, Turkey. So very, very impressive. Oh, Caesar!

Pula Arena or Amphitheater

World’s 6th Largest Amphitheater

The amphitheater in Pula is one of the oldest and best-preserved. Pula credits this Roman heritage for putting this Croatian city on the tourist map. It is said that as many as 25,000 spectators can be seated here back in its prime. For what? Gladiator combats of course — that most cruel ancient game. Built around the same time (1st century AD) as that in Nimes, both can house the same capacity crowd which is really just half of the capacity of Roman Colosseo. Nevertheless, the Pula Colosseum remains very impressive. Still used these days as a default place for concerts and other festivities, it is also the city’s best attraction and activity place. The Old Town is right behind it, and promises more attractions.

Visible is the Church of St. Anthony past the Arena

Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pula Cathedral

The Roman amphitheater is right along the coast, where seafood restaurants, souvenir shops and a busy marina are. We took a long table with a view of the marina in a seafood trattoria before we did any sightseeing. Need all that energy as the midday sun was bearing down on us and sapping us of our last bars of energy. The squids were very fresh, and the beers paired well with the steaks. Except that one of the steaks was well-done versus how we ordered it — medium rare. Hmmmm, still a good source of the protein we needed on that hot, sunny day. And for good measure (and to up our supply of potassium), we had our fill of Swiss Chard. Without risking being branded as pesky tourists, we politely complained over our steak doneness only after we paid the bill and got ready to leave. Bravo to patient diners!

Order your seafood!

Lunch done, we took the road to the Town Square in search of the Temple of Augustus Caesar, the 1st Emperor of the Roman Empire. Likely it was built during his lifetime, when Pula was still known by its Roman name: Pola. It is only a reconstruction of the original since the Roman monument was bombed and destroyed during WW2. Now a museum, some ancient Roman sculptures are housed inside. Right beside the Roman Temple is the City Hall housed in a 13th century former palace with both Gothic and also Renaissance features. Both are within the same Forum Square or Forum Romano, making up the “Little Rome” in Croatia. Tracing our way back to the Amphitheater, we stopped for some gelatos and took a break in front of the Pula Cathedral which also faces the Marina. The Cathedral’s early 18th century belfry is unique, and distinct in that it was built from blocks removed from the famous Pula Arena. Who’s to say why they did that? Perhaps they found it more meaningful to build a Cathedral using antique pieces from that part of the city’s Roman history.

Temple of Augustus Caesar

Pula City Hall

Rounding up the entire Colosseo, we chanced upon the Church of Saint Anthony from where there is a vantage point of this Roman antiquity. Pula is fortunate to house the world’s 6th largest surviving colosseum. It is now used for open-air concerts, ballet, sports events, opera and the film festival especially during the summer months. As it was summer, the mood was festive around the Arena. The wharf looked busy with yachts and small boats, the Arena was surrounded by vendors selling ceramic souvenirs, and the seafront restaurants and those around the town square were doing brisk business. We liked the vibe here. But it was our hottest day on this trip. After rounding up the Colosseo, we were eager to go back to our air conditioned vans to escape the summer heat. No amount of gelato would convince me to walk further in search of the Twin Gates, Hercules Gate and some other Roman monuments and ruins. The Arena, The Temple, Cathedral, Forum Square and City Hall Palace meet our day’s quota of history lessons. Enough already. πŸ™„

St. Anthony Church

Inside St. Anthony Church


Have not even heard of this resort town and would not even have included it in our itinerary but for that unsolicited advice from our local driver. Spent only a good hour and a half here. Enough to have coffee, beer or a gelato and to check out the lovely Promenade called Lungomare, a tiny Museum, an elegant park and the small-sized St. Jacob Church with lovely stained glass windows. This must be the Croatian Riviera. And it’s only 13 kilometres from our hotel in Rijeka!

Summer here is mild considering that parts of France, Spain, Italy are burning. Even at noon, it didn’t go beyond 30C. Hot yes, but not so unpleasant to want to stay indoors the whole day. Towards the early evenings, it gets more pleasant at 26C. So we timed our arrival here mid morning. With gelato bars and those beer pubs everywhere in this posh town, we are good. The Promenade snakes along the coast with options to visit a tiny church and a museum while retail therapy presents itself at every turn. High-end retail stores beckon and private lounging areas of posh seaside hotels invite attention. I am truly surprised that I haven’t heard of nor read of this place way before coming here. Perhaps because it’s been the private enclave of wealthy Austro-Hungarian families who built their pre-war villas here. Such a blessing to be under the tourist radar but I think that will soon change as I met some selfie stick-wielding tourists get off a private van and crowd out the Lungomare. Oh dear. πŸ™„

The town oozes with class and studied elegance. Opulence and luxury are spelled all over the place. There were bronze sculptures and fountains along the seaside footpath dotted with mansions and high-end hotels as well as a small but well-manicured park where many locals idle away their time with babies on strollers. The Empress Sisi would have been pleased. The museums (there were 2, for the price of 1 ticket, but the bigger Museum of Croatian Tourism opens at 5pm!) are perfect “breaks” along the 12 km Promenade. No, we didn’t walk the entire Lungomare but we wasted no time taking photos of the iconic Maiden and the Seagull. Not sure how pricey the seaside hotels here are, but if you have a beach holiday and pure recreation in mind, this is a good place to chill.


The road trip through the Istrian Peninsula enjoys a break in the Croatian Adriatic city of Rijeka. Our hotel is right off the Adriatic where hotel guests can jump off the first level into the Sea. No beach, no shore, just dive right into the Adriatic. Brave enough? Not me. If it’s that deep, I can’t help thinking SHARKS. Besides, it takes a confident swimmer to dive into these blue waters. Many of the hotel guests enjoyed the Adriatic as shown in the photos below. And then there are restaurants lining the edge which we’ve tried. Good seafood but the service was awfully slow. The waiter said they have a “small kitchen” to explain away the delay. I was tempted to say they should downsize the restaurant in proportion to what the kitchen can serve. But we’re on holiday so I won’t sweat over that. πŸ™„

Rijeka is a big city. After the capital Zagreb and Split, it ranks 3rd largest. The Old Town boasts of a Korzo, the main promenade, where lies the City Clock Tower, a theatre, and at the other end the port area. This promenade is where the biggest Croatian Carnival is held annually on the Sunday just before Lent. Very Mardi Gras. Think Rio. Or perhaps more Venetian, like its former ruler. Lined with many shopping opps, cafes and bars, it is easy to spend a couple of hours here. Further down near the seaport is the lovely Capuchin Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. And passing through the City Clock Tower and the Roman Arch, one finds a maze of streets leading to the 17th-century St. Vitus Cathedral, a couple more churches and a few lovely courtyards.

Like most big cities, these major attractions draw in the crowds but Rijeka still is very much under the tourist radar. If at all, most tourists I saw seem to be mostly Croatian locals from other provinces or Europeans from other states. Of the 2 churches and 1 Cathedral we visited, not one was open. A pity. Of the 3, I would have wanted to see the interior of the Capuchin Church but we only managed to scale the sweeping staircase for a view of the seaport across the street. As for St. Vitus Cathedral, the 100 kuna Croatian currency depicts an image of this Rijeka Cathedral on the reverse side — the only baroque rotunda church architecture in Croatia. Check its similarity to the Venetian Church — Santa Maria Salute right across the Basilica of San Marco.

The city is well-marked, with all those brown-coloured markers showing the direction to city sites. Besides, most attractions are clustered around the Korzo. We missed the Rijeka Tunnel though. From St. Vitus Cathedral there ought to be this 350 meter-pedestrian tunnel to the Dolac primary school in the Old Town. No luck. But we chanced upon the Roman Arch or the Old Gateway as we walked from St. Vitus Cathedral to the City Clock Tower. Another testimony to the vastness of the Roman Empire. Oh, Caesar!


It’s that seaside resort town in the Istrian Peninsula. Rovinj. The Italians say “Rovigno” (ro-veen-yo) but in Istria, it is pronounced as ro-veen. Having settled that, may I say that Rovinj feels very, very Italian. The harbor, the fruit market, the laundry hanging outside the residential buildings, the cobblestoned lanes, the narrow alleys straight into the blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. The Italians — particularly the Venetians — do have a flair for romance and sentimentality, and that’s what we found here. Even the colourful laundry hanging on clothesline has a certain charm to it.

Dominating the skyline is the Church of Saint Euphemia, shimmering against the pale limestone buildings crowding this part of the Istrian Peninsula. The uphill zigzag climb proved to be a struggle and we lost energy midway. Must be the heat and glaring sun this time of the day. We can only look with envy at locals and guests donned in swimwear, ready to sail in the many yachts and speedboats at the marina. There are options to visit nearby islands but we skipped that, eager to reach our next destination: our hotel for the next 2 nights. You can say we felt sapped, so we traced back our steps through the maze and labyrinth of cobblestoned alleyways.

The fruit market was no different from the other Istrian food markets. But the cheese stands casually placed at doorways I found quite charming. The town square was also filled with souvenir shops and stalls selling lavender sachets and yes, more truffle goodies. They must be making brisk business as we spotted a cruise ship from where some 2,000-3,000 passengers must have been offloaded for a few hours to enjoy the Old Town. More peeps to add to the shine on cobblestones owing to centuries of footfalls.

Rovinj can easily be anyone’s favorite but I worry over tourist arrivals from cruise ships. I sure hope such groups don’t crowd out the town to a point where it’s no longer relaxing to visit. And then there is the ferry crowd from Venice. Takes only 3-4 hours or one can rent a car and drive for 3 hours, with option to drop by Trieste, another interesting town in Italy. Unlike Groznjan and Motovun, Rovinj is more crowded though still “manageable” and certainly not in the same league as touristy Venice or Dubrovnik which look bursting at the seams. More like Ljubljana which has a decent tourist crowd but NOT to a level where one feels unsafe and suffocated by the crowd. Like many touristy sites, Rovinj must be more pleasant in the evenings when the crowd of noisy tourists wielding selfie sticks have gone back to their boats or sailed back or driven back to wherever they’re staying for the night. Just saying.


Just like Groznjan, Motovun is another medieval village in the heart-shaped Istrian Peninsula where locals are largely part Italian and part Croatian. The character of the village is no less different, considering that it’s only a half hour drive apart. But where Groznjan is into arts and music, Motovun is into films. In fact, they hold Film Festivals here where international films from all over the world are screened. Also, there’s a more pronounced Tuscan fortified town feel in Motovun perhaps because of its medieval walls, tunnels and well-preserved 13th century bell tower from where one glimpses a panoramic view of the verdant valleys below. At the same time, the town also reminds me of Le Baux De Provence in France. But comparisons aside, Motovun is truly a charming village to visit.

Because it rises high above the Motovun Forest, the village is also popular for Istria’s famous truffles. Both the white and black varieties of this fungus abound in this dark, damp forest. Some of the visitors here actually go on truffle hunting adventures with certified truffle hunters along with their canine assistants. Here in Istria, I have so much respect for their pride in having their own truffles, Motovun wine and Istrian prosciutto. Having said that, you’d think it’s a no-brainer to choose Motovun as our lunch place. Well, our local driver actually recommended we lunch here and we stumbled upon this place visited by much-admired Anthony Bourdain called Konoba Mondo. There was a photo of dear, departed Tony with 2 of the trattoria’s waiters (or is one the owner?) and a New York Times article proclaiming it as the best little bistro in town. There was indoor seating and an outdoor terrace. Menu expectedly listed truffle dishes. At our table, we each ordered a dish of truffle pasta (no sharing!) but we shared a bowl of salad. The servings were generous, with many slices of the coveted truffles. πŸ˜‹

Lunch done, cravings satisfied. We got ready to walk slightly uphill tracing the city walls and through 2 short tunnels towards the church. Passing more outdoor cafes along the walls, I imagined many happy sundown cocktails here, while enjoying the amazing view of the terrain. Most diners were locals and there was hardly any crowd in Motovun. I hear ding-ding-ding for another medieval village worth visiting. I won’t suggest staying the night here though, as there seemed to be a lack of lively town square vibe here. Well, perhaps it has an appeal to the artists, the writers, who need their “space” and find it here in this ancient hilltop village. Me? I’m happy with my truffle pasta lunch. πŸ‘


From Piran, Slovenia, we prepped for 3 pit stops driving into the Istrian Peninsula through the hilltop villages of Groznjan, Motovun, Rovinj, and finally Rijeka where we stayed 2 nights. From Piran to Groznjan, there wasn’t enough time for a nap. These 2 towns in 2 separate states are just a half hour drive apart. Two countries within 30 minutes or so. From Slovenia into Croatia. I picked a banana to take out from our hotel’s breakfast buffet and had barely eaten the whole fruit and drank a bottle of water before it was time to get off the van! Here’s our story on this roadtrip covering the first town of northwestern Croatian Adriatic.

Art is top of the agenda in Groznjan with its many art galleries, courtyards, artists’ workshops, antiques and curio shops. It’s summer and this medieval town is like an entire stage for art and music, like a Mecca for all art lovers. Along the photogenic cobbled streets, we found a local friendly cat and tinkered with this musical box playing Beatles songs and some other jazz pieces. So in sync with the art pieces on display — images of Groznjan’s neighbour towns within Istrian Peninsula’s coastline with tiny, closely-built houses and cottages with blue shutters, or fertile valleys and rolling countryside with olive trees and grapes. So very charming!

Art and Culture.😊 The town breathes it. And its visitors either come toting cameras with long lenses and other gadgets, or leave the town with bags heavy with some shopping. There are al fresco cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating for diners to enjoy the rustic panorama of green, rolling hills from a lofty vantage point. More than the place, I found the locals very charming and friendly. Having just entered Croatia, I didn’t have time to change money and thus didn’t have kuna to buy a local snack food. The young man behind the Fritule booth changed my €5 into the local currency just so I can buy his fritule. He even asked me to take his photo and gamely posed for a shot! The same young man also told me that we should stay at least a night in his village if only to sit and sip a beer in an outdoor bar while listening to good jazz or classical music. It being summer, he said every night there’s some kind of music fest where jazz musicians come do a show for free. If I let my imagination run, it could be one magical night of wine and jazz. Not bad!

Truffle. I never expected this medieval Groznjan to be teeming with truffle stores. But obviously, truffle is serious business here. I bought truffle sausages in snack sizes, truffle spreads, truffle jams and truffle chips. If there was truffle-flavoured soda or water on sale, I would have bought it too! πŸ˜‚ Thankfully, I got out of the truffle store in time to save money and instead delight in the town’s Loggia just past the store. It’s pretty with its charming flower boxes but it isn’t a place where one lingers. Have a good look and that’s it. Seriously.

I’m not sure I’d be back anywhere in Europe during summer — the heat can be bothersome — but if I do, I’d like to head back here, stay the night and as suggested by the Fritule lad, enjoy a beer while waiting for the landscape bathed in golden light. Have a good local dinner with some truffles, sip some wine while listening to jazz music until late evening. During the day, I’d sleep in the whole morning and step out of my hotel with a window offering a view of the rolling hills no earlier than noon. Maybe hit the art galleries and studios, visit a church, drink more wine in the town square, before moving to the next medieval town. Yes, that should be nice 😊