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  • jimfritsche204

The Charming Hilltop Villages of Istria

I booked a one day Istria tour with Viator, a TripAdvisor tour company that I have used several times in my journeys. The tour included truffle tasting, lunch, visiting the Basilica in Porec, stopping at the medieval artist town of Graznjan and then a visit to the famous hilltop town of Motovun in the wine region. The cost of the tour was $140.00 for an 8 hour experience.

The tour consisted of 6 people with a very knowledgable guide from Croatia named Dalibor. He was so nice, interesting and a delight to hang with for the day. Dalibor spoke excellent English and offered so much history, my mind was spinning by the end of the day!

Our adventure started with the small Istrian resort town of Porec. Their history dates back to the Roman Era. Its major landmark is the 6th century Euphrasian Basilica, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Basilica is famous for its gem-studded Byzantine mosaics.

The views from the bell tower were stunning, but the creaky wooden steps leading up to the tower were a bit disconcerting.

Porec is over 2000 years old and the town's architecture has a mixture of Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque buildings.

Our next stop was the lovely hilltop town of Groznjan.

This town is know as "Town of Artists". It hosts a summer film school and a well known annual jazz festival called "Jazz is Back-BP" {the BP stands for the founder Bosko Petrovic} . It has become an international learning center for students who come from all over the world for its summer music and art classes. It was a beautiful day walking through this small town with music and singing coming from every direction.

The town also hosts an annual painting festival where more than 300 artists from all over Europe gather. There are over 20 art galleries alone in this small, beautiful village.

Groznjan is also famous for it's drummer school where highly regarded session and studio drummers in the industry from all the world come to study and play. Some of the famous players who have studied here work with George Benson, Paul McCarthy, Eric Clapton and Chick Corea.

Our final destination was the captivating town of Motovun. There is one street that runs the length of this town, one way up and one way down! There are also 1500 steps you can climb from the bottom of the hill to get to the top. I chose to ride up in the van!

The town is a gorgeous setting sitting on top of a hill overlooking the lush, green, vineyards and forests below. The area reminded me very much of the beautiful countryside of Tuscany.

Dalibor asked us why we thought the Venetians decided to build in this area. We of course answered wine and truffles, but in fact it was for the wood from the oak trees in the forests below used for building.

The city is surrounded by a fortified stone wall built by the Venetians which for a small fee, you can walk around. It was a fortress in past centuries because of its strategic position offering a 360 view of the surrounding valley all the way to the sea.

Motovun's real claim to fame is its popular film festival held every summer in July. I can't imagine the hundreds of people that fill the small town square for this festival.

A bit of trivia about Motovun is that the famous race car driver Mario Andretti was born here. I always thought he was born in Italy but he is actually Croatian. His family moved to Italy early in his youth because of political unrest in the country. They say he returns all the time to

Motovun because he loves the city of his birth.

Another fun fact is the most popular winery in the region below the city is called Fakin, pronounced with a "u"! The winery's slogan is "Fakin Good wine". I did try a wonderful Malvazija white wine that was so "Fakin" refreshing and delicious!

As for truffles, the season for the best truffles is in the fall. White truffles are the most delicious, rare and expensive. Black truffles are more available and are served in many dishes in the region. Truffle hunting is a big business handed down in families for generations. Hunters use dogs that are trained to locate them in the ground as well as pigs. Pigs are keen on truffles but are used less and less because it is too hard to pull them away once they find them!

Our tour ended with a delicious lunch in a local vineyard that served some local wines and fresh, home made pasta. They made us gnocchi with a truffle cream sauce, wild boar in a delicious red sauce and a chicken pasta.

It was an excellent tour and I highly recommend Viator if you are in the area. These towns are a must see if you are visiting the area. The only draw back of the day was it was 102 degrees, the hottest day so far this summer. So walking up to those hilltop towns became quite a challenge, but so glad I was able to visit.


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