A few days ago we were chatting with a German van traveler about our shared travels throughout Europe. One of his favorite memories was the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia and we shared our excitement of having visited this area as well. He later commented that he loved this region of Croatia, but felt it was too crowded with German speaking tourists.
Our experience was much different. Perhaps it had a lot to do with the combination of the COVID pandemic and being in this region in September, after the families with children where back in school. Regardless, we found the northern region of the Istrain Peninsula to be a delight – Old-style towns full of quirky art and color, remnants of medieval castles, and lovely roads full of curves and natural beauty.
Grožnjan is a wonderful hill-top town in the north of the Istrian Penisula surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards.
With a long history, dating from the Roman era, this town has influences from the Venetian Republic, Austrian empire, and even a short period of the Kingdom of Italy.
Today it’s a quaint town known as the “Town of artists” with numerous art galleries, and yearly festivals for film, music, and painting.
We enjoyed all of the public art, including these fun ships made from old metal parts from the regions of the former Yugoslavia.
This is the kind of towns we really enjoy – quiet and relaxing with lots of things to explore.
Grožnjan is a town full of wonderful colors making it a delight to photograph all the small details…
… Even the old rock walls are full of natural color!
We especially enjoyed exploring all the narrow walkways with brightly colored shops selling handmade items and specialties from the region.
This fun bicycle with various parts welded to the frame, transform an old metal-framed bike into an interesting steam-punk looking contraption that looks like it could whisk you away on a story-book adventure.
Grožnjan offered a surprise around every corner and we were extremely glad we stopped to enjoy this wonderful town.
After a memorable couple hours in town, we saddled up the mules, and continued our ride southeast towards the next destination of Motovun.
Motovun is another town worth visiting on your tour of northern Istria. This wonderful medieval town grew from an ancient Roman structure built on a large hill surrounded by forests.
The stone-walled buildings and cobble-stones streets create a charm reminiscent of many Adriatic towns. The Venetian influences can be seen throughout the town with architecture from the Gothic and Romanesque era.
A town on a hill is bound to feature amazing views of the surrounding countryside and Motovun didn’t disappoint.
However, the views of walking around the narrow streets, various stone arches, and wonderful colors are equally as amazing. Like Grožnjan, the town of Motovun features many shops and galleries with artists showcasing their own unique talents.
While snooping around the various stone walkways, we came across a sign that read “Secret Garden” with an arrow pointing in the direction of an open door. Why not?
Inside, we found a quiet courtyard with some games to play, and a room dedicated to the famous Italian-born American race-car driver Mario Andretti. He was born here in 1940 when Motovun was called Montona, and was part of the Kingdom of Italy. In 1948, the Andretti family left their home here and returned to Italy, and then later moved to the United States.
Mario started racing at the age of 5, when his twin brother, Aldo, and him would ride their hand-crafted wooden cars through the steep streets of their hometown. With the steepness of the roads here in Motovun, we imagined Mario and Aldo flying down the cobblestone streets to the delight of supporters and the scorns of old ladies.
Motovun is also famous as the town that inspired the well known Croatian novel Veli Jože, by author Vladimir Nazor. The story is about a giant and his struggle for equality in a changing world. It’s a tellings story about the cruelty of people filled with greed and personal interests. There are numerous murals with references to Veli Jože throughout the town.
The ride to our next destination was only about 20 minutes…
The ruins of this 10th century medieval castle sits on a high cliff with commanding views of the roadways and surrounding fields in all directions.
In 1999, the ruins were restored with automated entrance gates, modern stairs, and protective railings, that allow visitors to enjoy the views from the top of the watchtower.
This castle is one of the most preserved within Istria. Most of the original three-story walls and four-story watchtower are still standing.
We enjoyed walking around the castle, at our own pace, and wondered what life would have been like in the 10th century. Compared to modern history, this was one of the darkest of the Dark Ages where most of Europe had fallen into economic, intellectual, and cultural decline. Life would definitely be difficult, however, we also recognized that people back then would have still stood on that same castle tower and appreciated the same warm rays of sunlight, green trees, and blue sky that we were experiencing.
The moment seemed like a fitting end to a wonderful day of exploring some of the best of the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia.
Next Blog Post
Join us as we ride the dirt roads and camp in the backcountry and beauty of the Croatian Trans Euro Trail!
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05 Sep 2021