view over walls

Exploring the Hill Top Towns of Istria

 

Istria is its own little world…a part of Croatia but unique.

It is a land that combines the best of two worlds…life on the waters of the Adriatic and the inland hill top towns known for their food and wine.

Join us as we explore the hill top towns of Istria.

 

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

History of the hill top towns

During my research for this trip, I read that there were 136 fortified towns in Istria. Many are built on prehistoric hill fort settlements which were thought to have been inhabited by the Celtics. Around the 2nd century BC, the hill top towns were important Roman settlements. During the course of their history they were ruled by the Venetians, the Austrians, Napoleon and the Austrians again. After World War 1, Istria was part of Italy but this changed after World War 2 when it became part of Yugoslavia, now Croatia.

Whilst many were abandoned, others have retained their historic walls, churches and buildings. Many are now centres for wine, truffles and oil and have become important tourist towns.

We spent a couple of days exploring just a few of these hill top towns but you could also visit one or two as a day trip from Rovinj, Porec or Novigrad…..

Grozjnan

This was probably my favourite hilltop town. It retains the charm of its 12th century origins with beautiful old stone buildings and alleyways that lead you from one pretty corner to the other. It has become well known as an artist town with many of the buildings now converted to art galleries.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

As you walk into the town you will see trees with table and chairs set up under it. This is where you’ll find the Kaya Energy Bar, a cute little cafe where you can enjoy fabulous fresh juices and home made cakes.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Momjan Area

North of the town of Buje is Momjan a small hilltop town that is the centre of Istria’s wine area.  The small roads around here are take you on a pretty drive through the vineyards of many of the Istria’s leading winemakers.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

 

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore the town as we were headed to one of Istria’s well known restaurants, Stari Podrum which was neaby.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Lunch at Stari Podrum

There is no menu….rather a set menu based on the best seasonal produce. It was truffle season so each course was garnished with slices of this fabulous tuber.  Truffle cheese, their famous garlic soup, fuzi with truffles and a beef dish with truffles. Home made apple strudel finished a relaxing, enjoyable lunch.

 

Whilst you’re here, turn left and pop down the road to the Koslovic Winery….
Set high on a hill amongst the vineyards, the modern design of the winery was a surprise.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Koslovic Winery above the vineyard

 

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Koslovic Winery

 

We also popped into Kobola Winery to taste their award winning wines. As well as wine, Kobola produces an excellent olive oil.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Kobola Winery

It would be very tempting to base yourself in the area and spend a day or two wine tasting but night was coming and it was time to head to Motovun and find a room.

 

Motovun

Motovun is one of the best preserved hill top towns and probably the most famous. It’s a town that invites you to wander around the cobblestoned streets, walk along the medieval walls, stop and try the local truffles, wine and olive oil or just sit and take in the fabulous views. An international film festival is held here every July

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

The entrance to Motovun

Enter through the New Gates Tower…a structure that originally dated back to the 11th century but was restored in 1495 and 1607. Coats of arms including the Venetian Lion of St Mark decorate the walls.

Restaurants and bars spill out onto the cobblestones of this area. Just behind these is the 17th century loggia from you will be able to see the view over the countryside. Opposite here, another set of gates, the castle gates leads you to the square on the upper level and the Hotel Kastel. From here you can walk around the magnificent walls of this 12th century town.

 

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Scenes from Motovun

 

We stayed at Villa Borgo, a small B&B with a stunning terrace that overlooks the valley below. If you’re looking for rooms, also try Hotel Kastel, once the 16th century Polesini Palace.
Eat at Konoba Mondo just outside the walls.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Konba Mondo

 

Livade

Our plan was to continue along the main road to the towns of Buzet, Roc and Hum but at the last minute we decided to detour and cross the river, passing Livade, a town we had visited the previous year whilst staying in Slovenia. Livade is known for its truffles and is the headquarters of Zigante, a famous truffle producer in this area. Zigante Restaurant is well known for its truffle dinners but we were disappointed with our meal. They also have rooms where you can stay the night. There is a Zigante shop in the town but they also have shops in many of the larger towns, Motovun included.

 

Oprtalj

We weren’t sure where we heading but we were glad we found Oprtalj.
Our first indication that there was even a town here was the pink loggia on the side of the road. There’s a car park just before it with a little kiosk under the trees.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Oprtalj’s Venetian Loggia

 

Stepping under the arched entrance to the town opposite the loggia was like stepping back in time. The town had a fabulous feel about it. I only saw a couple of people as I wandered around its circular road. Restoration has only just started in this town. There were still many beautiful old buildings waiting for a sensitive hand to make them liveable. Like many of the other towns in the area, truffles and olive oil are important. An antique festival is also held here very year.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

The village of Oprtalj

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Colourful houses in Oprtalj

 

Buzet

Back on track we finally arrived in Buzet, one of the oldest settlements in the area. As with the other towns, Buzet was important in Roman times and during the Venetian reign. Subotina is a local festival that is held here at the beginning of September where the town is transformed back into the days of old and where you can also try local food and wine.

There’s a one way system happening in this town. We managed to park opposite the Hotel Vela Vrata,  a lovely spot which we returned to for a drink and to take in the stunning views. From here walk up the hill and into the town through the gates that date back to 1547. This street leads you into the main square and then on to another square with an old baroque well as its centrepiece. As you wander past the old buildings, you will notice that many are decorated with with the coats of arms of early Venetian families.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Buzet

 

Roc

A little further along the road is Roc. The town has a different feel to it than the other towns we visited. Even though it is a hill top town, it is not hilly and the roads are wider. Again it is very quiet as we wander past the rustic buildings.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Street in Roc

 

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

The bell tower and scenes from Roc

 

In the 13th century Roc was a cultural centre where printing, typography and Glagolithic Literature were important.

The Glagolitic alphabet or Glagolitsa (Croatian: glagoljica) is the oldest known Slavic script which was introduced in mid-9th century and was used in the Slavic world until the 16th century, when it was eventually replaced by the Latin script (Croatian: latinica).*

Glagolitsa was used in Croatia – and only in Croatia – up until the 19th century, which means it was the official script in Croatia for 1000 years!*

* from http://www.learncroatian.eu/blog/glagolitic-alphabet

 

The drive from Roc to Hum

A section of the drive between Roc and Hum is known as the Glagolitic Alley. Along this seven mile drive you’ll find eleven stone sculptures representing the glagolitic alphabet. These were carved in the years between 1977 and 1983 by a famous Croatian sculptor.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

The stone statues of Glagolitic Alley

 

Hum

Known as the smallest town in the world, Hum’s population figures have been cited at anywhere between 17 and 23 for a while now! Enter through the town’s gate and you are immediately in the main square where you can see the church, the belltower that was built in 1552 and the loggia with its stone table.

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Hum’s main square

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

The loggia in Hum

The loggia dates back to Venetian times when it was the heart of the commune. Every year, the mayor of  Hum for a year was elected.  This practise was introduced again in 1977 and continues to this day. Hum is also famous for miska brandy made from mistletoe.

 

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Hum

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Eat at Humska Konoba in Hum.

 

 

Exploring the Hilltop Towns of Istria

Farewell Hum

 

Istria is perfectly situated to start exploring Croatia or to even head north into Slovenia but don’t leave before visiting the coastal towns lining the Adriatic coast!

 

Other articles you may enjoy:
Seven weeks in Croatia: The Highlights
Vis: The best island in Croatia
A.Ston.ishing Oysters in Croatia
Skaradin:Gateway to Krka National Park

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26 Responses to Exploring the Hill Top Towns of Istria

  1. Krista May 28, 2015 at 7:15 pm #

    Happy sigh. 🙂 I love this post so much, and will carry these images in my mind’s eye to keep me inspired. 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman May 28, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

      Thank you Krista. I fully understand you loving these medieval towns! Hope you get to visit one day!

  2. Corinne May 29, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    I have yet to make it to Istria, but those stone towns are amazing. I also NEED to try truffle cheese!

    • Jenny Freedman June 2, 2015 at 10:53 pm #

      The hill top towns of Istria are fascinating Corinne…it’s an interesting part of Croatia. The truffle cheese was delicious!

  3. Jenny May 29, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    Once again thank-you for sharing your wealth of knowledge ,tips and stunning photos. Another place to add to my growing wish list of places to visit.

    • Jenny Freedman June 2, 2015 at 11:00 pm #

      A pleasure Jenny. We really enjoyed our time in Istria..it was very different to other parts of the country. We enjoyed having both the waterfront and the hilltop towns to visit.

  4. budget jan May 29, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

    Groznan was a favourite of mine too. It was raining and windy the day we were there and a tour group had taken over the cafe. Never mind, we sat rugged up under the huge tree outside, drinking cofee and eating cake – the one on the left in your photo. It reminded me of German Cakes which is no surprise. Loved the views.

    • Jenny Freedman June 2, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

      What a shame it was wet and windy Jan…It’s such a lovely town to wander around. The cakes were fabulous weren’t they!

  5. Ruth - Tanama Tales June 1, 2015 at 4:31 am #

    So many wonderful places! I really felt like I was road tripping with you. BTW, love all the historic details you gave about each place.

    • Jenny Freedman June 3, 2015 at 8:45 am #

      Thanks Ruth. We had fun road tripping so I’m glad you enjoyed the ride too!

  6. Laura @ Bottled Air June 1, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

    Aah this looks so nice. Loving the old houses! Definitely added to our list of places to visit when we finally make it to Europe!

    • Jenny Freedman June 7, 2015 at 11:46 am #

      The old hill top towns are full of wonderful houses and history Laura. Croatia is definitely a country to add to your list of places to visit!

  7. Jackie Smith June 1, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

    Your post has moved Croatia even higher up our ‘must get to soon’ list. Loved the looks of them.

    • Jenny Freedman June 7, 2015 at 11:41 am #

      Croatia is definitely a must see country Jackie and the hill top towns add another dimension to the islands and towns along the Adriatic. You’re closer now that you are in Greece but you may find it hard to leave your little bit of paradise!

  8. Noel June 2, 2015 at 1:36 am #

    I’ve always wanted to explore this area and look at how solid and thick those cakes are – yummy! Jenny, please do share this on my link up for Travel Photo Mondays, love to have you join us today!

    • Jenny Freedman June 7, 2015 at 11:43 am #

      It’s a fabulous area to Explore Noel. Maybe the cakes can tempt you to do it sooner rather than later! Sorry I didn’t make it over to you link up…all of a sudden the week has gone by!

  9. Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru June 2, 2015 at 3:10 am #

    I was so fascinated to read about the hilltop towns of Istria, a region with which I am not very familiar. What a fascinating shared history with Italy. I think if I had to pick one, it would be Oprtlj. Something about having to walk through the loggia into what seems like another world. Fun!

    • Jenny Freedman June 7, 2015 at 11:44 am #

      The history of the area was very interesting Betsy. Oprtlj was a great find. It has no infrastructure for tourists and is still being restored which is what I liked about it.

  10. Donna Janke June 2, 2015 at 11:29 pm #

    All of the Istria hilltop towns you’ve featured look delightful. I’d love to explore the area.

    • Jenny Freedman June 6, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

      It’s a great area to explore Donna. There’s so much to see, a lot of history to understand, some fabulous restaurants to eat at and some brilliant wineries for wine tasting. And then there you can visit the coastal towns!

  11. Heather @ Ferreting Out the Fun June 3, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

    Just when I’ve narrowed down my Croatia itinerary, you go and give me yet more places to explore 😉

    • Jenny Freedman June 6, 2015 at 2:27 pm #

      I hope you’ve got a couple of months Heather…there’s so much to see in Croatia! We actually allowed ten days for Istria and needed every bit of it!

  12. Irene S. Levine June 4, 2015 at 4:24 am #

    On a cruise, we stopped at Rovinj but never got to see the hilltop towns of Istria. They look lovely, worthwhile even for the foods and wine alone:-)

    • Jenny Freedman June 6, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

      Rovinj is fabulous isn’t it Irene. If you wanted to go back you could do a couple of day trips from there to the hill top towns.They are very interesting to see and the history is fascinating!

  13. Istria June 5, 2015 at 10:52 pm #

    I would like to go to the Hum – smallest city in the world:)

    • Jenny Freedman June 6, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

      It’s a quiet little town as you can imagine. I loved learning the history of the town too!

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