The Beauty of Istrian Hilltop Towns and the Gourmet Extravaganza

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The beauty of Istria lies in its diversity — from the landscape to its history. I have just returned from a five-day trip to this region of Croatia and despite being there so many times in the past, this time I was blown away by the beauty of its hinterland.

Even though the Mediterranean climate is typical for the coastal area, just a mere 20-minute drive inland from Umag takes you into a more continental type of weather,  that creates beautiful, picturesque sights of hilltop towns ‘emerging’ from the foggy valleys.

Truffle Hunting and Olive Oil Tasting

Truffles can be found in the Livade area, in the depths of Motovun’s forrest, nestled in the valley of the river Mirna. Depending on the season, you can go hunting for either black or white truffles and maybe even get as lucky as Giancarlo Zigante, who found the world’s largest white truffle in 1999 near Buje. I went truffle hunting to try my fortune, but unfortunately summer is not the prime season. The dogs did help us find some, and we dug out three black truffles that we curiously observed, but for a chance to get into the Guiness World of Records, it is better to go at the end of September until the end of November when they are in season.

Neat rows of vineyards with town of Buje in the background (credits: Maja Gudelj)

Neat rows of vineyards with town of Buje in the background (credits: Maja Gudelj)

A short drive away is one of Istria’s best olive oil producers – Ipsa. Besides a stunning view from this family estate, the olive oil you can taste there has been continuously awarded both national and international awards for highest quality and purity among extra-virgin olive oils. Here is where you will learn how to properly taste olive oil if you have never done so before, as well as enjoy some light snacks that go along with it,  and maybe purchase a bottle or two to take home with you.

Motovun, Groznjan, and Wine Country

A leisurely drive over to Motovun will take you to one of the most popular hilltop towns in Istria. Home of the renowned ‘Motovun Film Festival’ that takes place at the end of July, it is also popular because of the wedding of a Google Executive’s close relative that took place in this charming town last year. A must-stop is the store Bencic Tartufi, located on Gradizol 10 street, where you can taste different truffle products, olive oils, domestic liquors, cheeses, and even the Istrian prsut. I definitely enjoyed chatting with the owner’s wife about different local recipes, while the rest of my companions on this trip were enjoying their snacks and finishing up the shopping.


View from Motovun (credits: Maja Gudelj)

Our afternoon was reserved for the hilltop town of Groznjan and a visit to one of Istria’s best wine producers – Kabola. Groznjan is interesting not only because of its history and architecture, but also as the so-called ‘city of artists’. This town is where many artists have found their summer home, opening up their ateliers in renovated stone houses and showcasing their work for sale — talk about bringing an original souvenir home! I bought some local jewelry in one store, hand-painted bottle corks in another, and a gorgeous hand-painted silk scarf in yet another.

The Kabola winery was the highlight of our excursion as this family’s winemaking tradition dates back to the 1891 and their passion has been exemplary throughout. What makes them special and different is that some of their wines are kept in ancient amphoras, bringing together this ancient tradition with modern knowledge about wines. Some light tapas were served to make sure we could take advantage of our tasting without feeling light-headed, and at the end of it we all happily brought at least one bottle back with us to the States.

This tour is available as a part of our Istria Experience 5-day package, but can also be booked as a stand-alone excursion for independent travelers that have already arranged for their accommodation or will be coming into Istria on a one-day trip. For further information, please call 1-800-877-1755 or email!

Would you choose Istria on your visit to Croatia?


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