A Journey from Rovinj to Split

Mid-September is a beautiful time of year in Istria, the northern peninsula of Croatia, close to the Italian border. It’s a time of year when the grapes are harvested, the season of porcini mushrooms, and the best time for truffle hunting, and eating! Arriving into Rovinj is always a delight…an artist’s dream! It was to be the start of our Istrian adventure!

My friend Jane from Australia was arriving on the fast catamaran ferry from Venice to the romantic old Venetian city of Rovinj on the Istrian Coast and I had driven up the A1 super highway from Split in Central Dalmatia to meet her. The ferry from Venice is a 3.5 hour trip across the Adriatic Sea.

Before Jane’s arrival, I found an apartment in the heart of this most atmospheric old town, an apartment where we could soak up the ambiance, and enjoy 3 days exploring, savouring gourmet food paired with spectacular wines, and naturally, sightseeing in this magical land.

Every step of the way through the old town was a photographer’s delight! So many quaint boutiques, craft, and jewelry shops, cafes, and restaurants…perfect coffee and friendly service with a smile everywhere we went…We LOVE Rovinj!

Jane was having a  BIG birthday on the 15th of September, and so I decided upon the much-loved restaurant Puntalino’s. We reserved a table overlooking the sea and made a booking for 7.00 pm so that we could have some pre-dinner drinks of prosecco and watch the setting sun while catching up on all the goss….

We shared a seafood meal, a plate of whole fish prepared Istrian style, a platter for two, together with potatoes and pan juices. Istrian Olive Oil is considered to be the Rolls Royce of all Olive Oils and it is used liberally in most of the dishes…needless to say, we couldn’t resist dipping our crusty bread into the delicious drizzling of juices and oil. Jane remarked it was the BEST fish she had EVER eaten!

From Rovinj we drove north to Motovun, Groznjan, Brtognigla, and Draguc….all are beautiful hilltowns in the northern part of Istria.

A  glass of local chilled malvasia wine, the fine white wine of Istria…

We had such a great time exploring this hilltown and it was such a pleasure showing Jane some of my favorite nooks and crannies.

It was a must to visit the village of Draguc, situated in the middle of nowhere, squeezed on the ridge of a hill, alluring and romantic. No wonder many major films have been filmed here. Dating back to the 1st century it has seen many battles and there is much to explore and discover in this beautifully maintained little village of stone.

Specialties of Istria…. Truffles, Extra virgin olive oil, fine wines, porcini mushrooms, wild asparagus, and quaintest hilltowns!

So much to see and enjoy….at a nice and relaxed pace…

We decided to visit a few of the northern Croatian Islands on our way back to Split. Driving from Istria we entered the UCKA Tunnel, bringing us the Kvarner Region of Croatia, and it was a MUST DO, to show my friend the exquisite seaside resort of Opatija.

There are many elegant villas in Opatija, the resort of royals and noblemen and women of the long-ago Austro-Hungarian Empire that ruled most of Croatia in days gone by.

Continuing south down the coast, we crossed the bridge from the mainland to the Island of KRK. By this time it was getting late, and we wanted to catch the car ferry to the Island of Rab before nightfall. We made it, and as we sailed we marvelled at the stunning scenery of the majestic mountains in the distance.

Rab was waiting with open arms…we arrived, checked in to our hotel in the heart of town, and headed for Konoba Rab.

Rab is so picturesque, it took our breath away! I can understand why King Edward and Mrs. Simpson loved this place! It was a special hideaway where they sought solitude in a romantic and tranquil setting.

Rab is a place I have been wanting to visit for such a long time. We were in awe of the pristine cleanliness of the old town, the old stone walkways,  churches, houses, terraces, all so beautiful in a natural setting, and the harbour with its little boats moored all along the walkway.

It was time to get going, but I caught sight of a beautiful photo opportunity..”Just a minute  Jane……”

An old timber boat moored in the harbour with stunning reflections of the red and white chequered flag of my Croatia..

Sadly it was time to depart and as Jane packed the car, she unfolded our map and commented on the Island of Pag…”Can we visit Pag?”

The EXOTIC Island of Pag! I visited here last year, and I was certainly looking forward to returning once again. It is the island of a desolate windswept landscape, white stone, salt pans, 1000-year-old olive trees, with the finest of laces, the tastiest of cheeses, The sheep’s cheese of Pag is a specialty, and lamb dishes slowly baked under the bell, covered with hot coals, roasting slowly,  is a dish that many talk about long after their departure.

The thought of some roasted Pag lamb for lunch was enough to excite the senses…and we found it in a little family restaurant in the centre of Pag Town. IT WAS SOOOOoooo DELICIOUS…washed down with some local red…

The Island of PAG and BOSKINAC VINEYARDS, CELLAR AND RESTAURANT (Otok Pag) I had dreamt of visiting Pag for a long time and finally the day had arrived! 

I had heard about the famous cheese of Pag (Paski Sir); the fine lacemaking tradition; 1000-year-old olive trees, the ancient salt pans, and the traditional folklore, food, and wines of this exotic island, but no one had prepared me for what I was about to experience!

The island is very famous for the particular type of cheese produced here, Paski Sir (Pag Cheese) Here live the toughest of sheep grazing freely among the rocks, on the salty herbs and plants. The cheese can be likened to an Italian Parmigiano but is distinctly salty and sharp. May is the month when the milk is at its best for cheese-making, and is left unpasteurised, fermented and then rubbed with olive oil, and aged for 6-12 months.

As I drove across the Paski Most (Pag Bridge) I had to stop and take in what was now before my eyes! A scene of sheer barren rocky sepia coloured stone for as far as the eye could see, and looking back across to the mainland the majestic Velebit Mountain Range in the distance is an amazing backdrop for one of nature’s most dramatic seascapes. The lack of vegetation has been caused by the howling of the Bora winds, sweeping down from the mountains and out to sea across the eastern side of the island. The strongest wind recorded reached a speed of 248 km only a few years ago.

Driving along I noticed many German cyclists and stopped to join a group at one of the many scenic spots where a young Croatian bride and groom happened to be posing against the dazzling white stone, and the blue sea, on a day of clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine.

The Ancient Salt Pans of Pag. I felt absolute exhilaration, continuing on towards the town of Pag, and enjoying every new scene unfolding before me. Suddenly there they were, the salt pans of Pag. Kilometers and kilometers of them, stretching to the horizon. In years gone by, most of the population of Pag Town was involved in some way or other in the salt industry. Today the salt museum tells the story vividly of the hardships of hardy and hardworking people.

As we approached Stara Novalja on the northern end of the island, I saw the signpost to the Boskivac Vineyards. A short drive past stone walls and grapevines, and there was Hotel Boskivac in full view. What a glorious sight! It reminded me of a beautiful Tuscan Villa, and there to greet me was Boris Suljic of Boskinac himself! Tonight we were to be treated to a fine dining degustation dinner on the terrace at Restaurant Boskinac, accompanied by their excellent wines. What an experience!

As for the hotel itself, the rooms are exquisitely furnished, and it was a joy to walk around discovering many ethnic yet very innovative decorating ideas. We felt right at home, comfortable, in great company, and so at peace with the world. That’s the effect this place and this island and its people had upon me.

As I rolled into bed (one of the largest I have EVER seen) I felt as though I had been transported into a heavenly state of divine slumber. My eyes pleasantly closing and sweet dreams wafting about at the close of another perfect day.

Arriving back to my home city of Split is always a great feeling. We all love to travel, but then it’s always nice to come home. We had travelled from Istria in the north through the Kvarner Coast, Northern Dalmatian Coast, and now home to the Central Dalmatian Coast. Four counties of Croatia, four different dialects, meeting so many interesting people. A wonderful 10 days of discovery were spent exploring, indulging, and generally enjoying every moment. Robyn Vulinovich

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