Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A peek inside Gračišće's Salamon Palace

I have already written about the Salamon Palace, a building that intrigues many visitors to Gračišće. It was built in 1570 (almost 450 years ago!) in Venetian Gothic style. Sadly, this beautiful palazzo has been abandoned for decades and is slowly rotting away.

During the recent wine fair (held every Easter Monday), one of the ground-floor rooms of the palace was used as a wine cellar. The next day I noticed the doors were left open. I couldn't resist a peek inside, so I grabbed my camera and snuck in.

Inside I found a treasure trove: stone steps, intricate railings, walls painted in beautiful patterns, French doors, Gothic windows, stone sinks, an old-fashioned fireplace, wooden floorboards, Venetian shutters, painted ceilings, a view of the village's main church... oh, and old-fashioned toilets!

This is such an achingly beautiful building and it pains me to see it deteriorate by the day. It would be wonderful if it could be restored with all its period details preserved and transformed into a heritage hotel or a museum. Wishful thinking?

See it for yourself... Take a walk through the Salamon Palace:

Friday, 6 April 2018

100 years ago today: Kaiser Karl I's visit to Gračišće

A few months ago I was looking for old photos of Gračišće online when I stumbled on the photo archives of the Austrian National Library and found a treasure trove!

I found 10 photos taken here exactly 100 years ago when Kaiser Karl I, the last Austrian emperor, was on an official visit of Istria. He had a whole entourage with him including his own photographer, Heinrich Schuhmann, who documented his travels.

Kaiser Karl I (or Charles) was the grandnephew of Emperor Franz Josef, who he succeeded at his death in November 1916. He was only 29 when he became the head of the Austrian monarchy and he would be their last reigning monarch. His uncle Franz Ferdinand had been next in line to the throne but was assassinated in 1914 in Sarajevo, an event that sparked the First World War.

The photos I'm sharing here were taken on April 6, 1918. It was only a few months before the end of World War I – which would also be the end of the Austrian Empire which had ruled Istria for over 100 years by then. By the end of the year Istria would become part of Italy.

As for the young Kaiser's fate, he would die just a few years later in 1922 of pneumonia while in exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004 and is called Blessed Karl of Austria by the Roman Catholic Church.

These photos are truly fascinating. We see crowds of villagers welcoming the monarch: mostly women and children and only a few older men because most men were serving in the war. We also see many familiar landmarks like St. Mary's Church, Salamon Palace, the main gate, and St. Vitus Church.

My father's late uncle was a young boy at the time and used to talk about this important event. He said that some of the women were asking the Kaiser about the whereabouts of their sons who were away at war.

Take a step back in time exactly 100 years ago...

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Gračišće landmarks: St. Anthony's Chapel

Continuing with my series on the village's landmarks, today I'm taking you on a virtual visit of St. Anthony's Chapel.

This must be one of Gračišće's oldest religious buildings because it was built in 1381, much before the Church of St. Mary on the Square and just two years before St Euphemia's church.

What makes this building stand out is its Gothic windows and arched passageway. If you're approaching it from the square you'll see the bishop's coat of arms on the facade. Staring down at you from one of the corners of the passageway is a gargoyle-like figure but he's easy to miss.

A door opens to the chapel. This is usually locked but you can have a peek through the windows. 

The chapel is quite small and sparse but it's dominated by its baroque altar and above this, a painting of St Anthony of Padua. The altar is set against the eastern wall which is a characteristic of churches built in the Middle Ages. Look up and you'll see a vaulted ceiling, also typical of Gothic architecture.

Compared to other historical buildings in the village, churches and religious buildings tend to be taken good care of and St Anthony's Chapel is probably one of the best preserved.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Istria's gastronomic festivals

Happy 1st day of spring!

It doesn't feel like spring yet, but it's definitely on its way. Some trees already have new buds, fruit trees are flowering, and soon we'll have the season's first wild asparagus growing in the woods.

With spring (and asparagus!) come thoughts of food and Istria's many food festivals. I've compiled a list of some of the most notable that happen throughout the year and celebrate a certain food or gastronomic speciality Istria is known for.

This list is only my subjective selection and is not exhaustive: there are many many events like this all year long. The best place to find information on events happening in Istria is on the Istria Tourist Office website.

Festival of Wild Plants
Where: Kršan
When: 28 and 29 April 2018

This festival celebrates all the edible plants that can be found growing in the wild in Istria's forests and countryside at this time of year. Many of these plants were eaten in times past but may no longer be part of local cuisine. Visitors can sample a variety of dishes specially prepared using these wild plants or buy seasonal foods and products from local vendors.

Where: Kaštel (near Buje)
When: 6 to 8 April 2018

Wild asparagus is one of Istria's highly prized seasonal specialities that finds itself on the menu of every restaurant come spring. The plant's long thin shoots grow abundantly in dense forests and is much appreciated for its sharp, slightly bitter taste – an indication of its nutritional properties. The name of the asparagus festival, Šparogada, takes its name from the Croatian word for this springtime vegetable: šparoge. Taking place over three days, visitors can sample a variety of dishes prepared with the wild plant and even go on an asparagus hunt – the person who finds the longest asparagus shoot wins a prize!

Where: Porec
When: 11 to 13 May 2018

This annual international wine exhibition will celebrate its 25th year in 2018. Wine connoisseurs flock here to sample the many high-quality wines produced in the Istrian region and beyond. The three-day event includes wine tastings, presentations, and a competition awarding prizes to the region's best wines.

Festival of Istrian Maneštra
Where: Gračišće
When: 16 June 2018

Taking place right here in the village, this annual festival celebrates maneštra, a typical Istrian soup-like dish that's very similar to Italian minestrone. Local chefs cook up different varieties of this hearty soup of vegetables, grains and pulses on wood-fired stoves set up on the village square which visitors can then sample and vote for their favourite. In addition to the public's favourite maneštra, a jury awards prizes to those they judge to be the best.

Festival of Istrian Pasta
Where: Zminj
When: 30 June to 1 July 2018

Fresh homemade pasta is a staple of Istrian cuisine. During this festival, celebrity chefs prepare innovative pasta dishes at live cooking shows, which can then be sampled and paired with a local wine. Cooking demonstrations offer the chance to learn how to make the different types of fresh pasta traditionally prepared here that take the form of different shapes, like fuži, njoki and pljukanciThere are plenty of other local specialities for sale here, including olive oil, gourmet cheeses, honey and other locally made products.

Truffle Days in Istria
Where: Buzet, Livade and Motovun
When: Every weekend from September to November

Autumn is the height of the truffle season and during this time there's a string of fairs and festivals celebrating this highly-prized tuber. Starting in September and continuing until the beginning of November, these truffle-focused events are centred around the towns of Motovun, Livade and Buzet. There are plenty of opportunities to sample both black and white truffles prepared with different dishes, and witness cooking demonstrations. There are even demonstrations of truffle-hunting: only specially trained dogs can sniff out and dig up this expensive gourmet food.

During the annual Subotina Festival (8 September 2018) on Trg Fontana in the centre of Buzet's old town, a giant omelette is prepared in a huge pan with over 2000 eggs (this year 2018 eggs will be used) and 10 kg of truffles.

In October (date tbc), Motovun's Andrea Antico Square will be the setting TeTa: Teran and Truffle Festival, a one-day exhibition and tasting event featuring local Teran wine and truffles.

Other truffle events happen in Livade: Tuberfest runs for three days in October (date tbc) while another event in Buzet is the annual Truffle Weekend in early November (date tbc).

Chestnut Fair
Where: Oprtalj
When: mid-October (date tbc)

October is when chestnut trees provide their autumn fruit and naturally there's also a festival dedicated to the humble chestnut. At the Chestnut Fair in Oprtalj there are all kinds of specialities to be sampled: not only roasted chestnuts but also breads, cakes, sweets and desserts prepared with chestnuts, and other delicacies like chestnut honey. These can all be downed with the new wine of the season provided by local producers.

Istrian Grappa Fair
Where: Hum
When: Last Sunday of October (date tbc)

No visit to Istria is complete without a taste of its homemade rakija (grappa or brandy). The Istrian Grappa Festival will be in its 18th year in 2018, held in the tiny charming town of Hum, known as the smallest town in the world. Here a huge variety of homemade brandies can be sampled and bought, prepared with different types of herbs, nuts, fruits, honey and plants like mistletoe.

Days of New Olive Oil
Where: Vodnjan
When: mid-November (date tbc)

The city of Vodnjan in southern Istria is one of the centres of olive oil production in the region, and home to several award-winning producers. At this annual festival, visitors can taste the new olive oil of the season and meet local producers while chefs whip up dishes paired with newly-pressed oil prepared with different local olive varieties.

Dobar tek!

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Friday, 23 February 2018

Photo exhibition: Spirit of India

Readers of this blog will know that I usually go to India at this time of year... but this winter I'm bringing a little bit of the colours and spirit of India to Istria instead! I'm having an exhibition of some of my photographs of India at LG Galerija in Pazin. Do join me at the opening on Friday 23 February at 7pm. Or stop by and say hello during the exhibition!
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