Thursday, 1 December 2016

Istria abecedary: Ž is for Županski stol

The županski stol in Gračišće



Županski stol can be translated as a municipal or public table. Often made of simple rectangular or circular stone slabs set on stone pillars, this is where important community decisions were taken by a town's decision makers. You can still see these old stone tables in many places across Istria.

I've now reached the last letter of the Croatian alphabet and the end of my Istria abecedary! I hope you enjoyed it and learned a little bit about Istria along the way.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Istria abecedary: Z is for Zvonik



There's no W, X, or Y in the Croatian alphabet, so today I'm jumping from V to Z. But this does not mean my abecedary is now complete -- because this is not the last letter...

Z is for Zvonik

Every Istrian town and village has at least one church, but most often several. Interestingly, the zvonik (bell tower) is often completely separate from the church building, like here in Gračišće.

The bell tower is always the highest point of the skyline, and in some places you can climb it and enjoy the stunning panoramic views. Highly recommended! You can see the view from Gračišće's bell tower here.

Z is also for Završje, a charming hilltop town which is well worth a visit.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Istria abecedary: V is for Vino



Istria is a wine-making region that's especially known for its white Malvazija (Malvasia) wine. Other grape varietals grown here include Muscat, Pinot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Teran. Across Istria, signposted ‘wine roads’ lead visitors to small local producers where they can sample and buy locally produced wine. 

Thursday, 3 November 2016

A walk through Grožnjan – the town of artists



Grožnjan is one of Istria's many hilltop towns and an absolute must-see. If you've been to Istria but haven't visited Grožnjan... you have to come back and explore this delightful place.

Grožnjan is firmly on the tourist map but compared to other popular tourist spots, it doesn't have a flashy commercial feel. I remember when I first visited in 1989, most houses were still abandoned and in a state of disrepair. Then with each visit I noticed how it was being transformed, and today the town is practically fully restored, with only a few derelict houses left.




Compared to other Istrian towns and villages where there are still many abandoned, crumbling houses, Grožnjan is an exception. Also striking is how all the houses have been beautifully and tastefully renovated, and the original character of the town has been preserved, including its charmingly uneven cobblestones. Unfortunately in many of Istria's old village and towns, the restoration process seems haphazard and inconsistent, even in places that are under heritage protection.

Maybe it's thanks to the many artists living here that the town has been so lovingly preserved. Many of the old stone houses have been transformed into studios and art galleries, and Grožnjan is known as a village of artists. I wondered when and how it was given this status and after a bit of research I found out that it was in 1965 (during the time of Yugoslavia) that Grožnjan was declared the Town of Arts. Houses were allocated to artists from Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, while others were entrusted to Jeunesses Musicales International in 1969 and transformed into an international cultural center where music workshops are held each summer.



Today there are at least two dozen art galleries and studios, as well as boutiques selling art and jewellery. There are also a few shops hawking the usual Istrian products sold in tourist spots like olive oil, truffle products, wine and lavender, but like I mentioned above, without the ugly souvenir shops and commercial overload of other places.



Grožnjan's affiliation with music is also very present here. If you wander its narrow streets during the summer months, you'll be accompanied by the dreamy sounds of piano or violin music wafting from the upstairs windows of the music studios where musicians rehearse and practice during the annual summer school. Also, Grožnjan is the host of a jazz festival held here every July, called Jazz is Back, and every September it's time for ExTempore, an art festival.




Another good reason to visit Grožnjan is for the winding drive up to the hilltop it occupies and the gorgeous views of rolling hills and a sliver of the sea. 

Take a walk through Grožnjan...





















Sunday, 16 October 2016

Istria abecedary: U is for Učka



The Učka is Istria's highest mountain and its best-known physical landmark. It's part of the Ćićarija mountain range, which is the northeasternly geographical boundary where Istria meets continental Croatia. At a height of 1401 metres, it can be seen from most parts of Istria. Locals here say that if the Učka is wearing a 'hat' (in the form of cloud cover), then it's going to rain!



U is also for Ulika, the Istrian word for olive. Olive trees grow across the peninsula, and Istrian olive oil has a delightful fruity taste.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Istria abedecary: T is for Tovar



Tovar is the Istrian word for donkey. Donkeys used to be a common sight here when they were used as working animals to carry and transport goods, especially up and down hilly terrain.

T is also for Tartufi, or truffle. Istria is one of the few regions in Europe where black truffles and the highly-prized white truffle can be found.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Istria abecedary: Š is for Šparoga



Šparoga is asparagus (Š is pronounced 'sh'). This is one of the many gastronomic delights that grow here in Istria. Asparagus  shoots make their appearance in the early spring, growing in forests. They have a strong and distinctive flavour, and are most commonly eaten scrambled with eggs, in risotto or with pasta and a drizzle of olive oil.


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