The next three days in our journey were a whirlwind of travel. We bused across the border from Slovenia into Istria, Croatia, a region famous for its’ production of wine, olive oil, and truffles, and its’ Italian-Croatian heritage. We spent our first night in Adriatic Rovinj, a romantic, old-world, port town of ancient crumbling buildings, and marinas full of sailing boats and fishing vessels. We may have been in Croatia, but with all of the Italian we heard, I felt like I was an extra in an old Italian flick, and young Sophia Loren might swish around the next corner with big black sunglasses and a smile.
The streets were delightfully twisty, winding their way up and down from the Cathedral topped promontory. The sea lapped up against the rocky edges of the city, which provided crags and walls to perch on. Dan and the children couldn’t resist a swim from the minuscule cove, while I peeked in at the fancy champagne bars situated for perfect sunset watching. The atmospheric charm intensified into the night with twinkling lights reflected in the water, and the sounds of laughter, clinking glasses, multiple tongues, and the Bosnian folk music of a cultural dance performance.
The next day, we rented a car to explore the interior of Istria, passing vineyards, olive and fig orchards, and farms of squash and corn. We stopped in the steep hill-town of Motovun, with its’ sweeping views of the forests and cultivated lands below. Here we splurged on a very special meal at Mondo Konoba:
- locally produced white wine
- robust tomato soup
- a bowl of clear and flavorful chicken broth with noodles
- peppery arugula salad with grana padano, balsamic vinegar and olive oil
and the stars of our luxurious lunch:
- creamy polenta with parmesan and black truffles
- risotto with purple radicchio and a very generous topping of freshly shaved white truffles!
I was so seduced by the musky perfume of the truffles that I forgot to take any photos. Since the children were less than entranced by the aroma, Dan and I didn’t have to share!
After lunch, we had a four hour drive to Plitvice Lakes, in the interior of Croatia, including a transit in the Ucka tunnel which is 16,608 feet long. Of course, google maps directed us through the most windy, motion sickness inducing backroads of the countryside – a shortcut? At first, the farms and homes of the surrounding landscape seemed idyllic, until we realized that some of the abandoned rock buildings had bombed out roofs and bore the scars of multiple bullet wounds. This region of Croatia had seen some of the ugliest fighting between the Croats and the Serbs, a nasty war of genocide, rape and persecution.
Just before complete darkness, we arrived in Rakovica to settle in for the night before our early hike the next day. Our apartment (Franciska) above a family’s home was one of our favorite yet, super clean and charming with lots of handmade wood furniture, and a very efficient wood burning stove. Our host welcomed us with a home-brewed, plum brandy toast, ginger cookies, and apples from the garden. We didn’t want to leave.
The next morning we rose early to pack a picnic lunch and get to Plitvice Lakes, in advance of the tourbus swarms. This park has been on my bucket list since I first saw professional photos of its’ green-blue cascading lakes and perimeters of frothing greenery. Without a pro slow shutter on my iPhone and a tripod to stabilize each shot, I am afraid I cannot capture the incredible natural beauty of this canyon of lakes and fish. We hiked for five hours, never a complaint from the kids, and left happier for our excursion.