LOVE ice cream. I also like olive oil... with a hunk of ciabatta or drizzled over a salad. But pouring olive oil on your ice cream? Are you insane? But that’s what I’ve just done – and, you know what, it isn’t quite as daft as it sounds. One spoonful and I’m hooked on the velvety, bittersweet concoction in my bowl.
This isn’t any old ice cream, though.
This is homemade vanilla at the end of a magnificent meal at the Restaurant Vodnjanka in the town of Vodnjan in Istria.
Chef Svjetlana has treated us to a feast of the delicious, earthy food this Italian-influenced region of Croatia has on offer: beef carpaccio, hams, cheeses, polenta with herbs, gnocchi with truffles, zesty Prosecco and moreishly light red and white wines.
And it certainly isn’t any old olive oil. It is a veritable Rolls Royce of olive oils.
It is a vibrant green and arrestingly peppery, smells of freshly-cut grass and gives a mellow burn on the throat, like a fine single malt.
A very distant and embarrassed relation of the bland mass-produced yellow stuff you buy at the supermarket.
And it’s produced a short drive from the delightfully homely restaurant where we’ve eaten like slightly mad kings, mixing sweet and savoury with reckless abandon.
When it comes to making olive oil, the Istrian peninsula is right up at the top of the world league.
A visit to one of the many producers is a must when you’re in this incredibly welcoming part of central Europe.
We’ve travelled from our base in the seaside resort of Medulin to rustic Vodnjan for a tour of Brist Extra Virgin Olive Oil’s groves and shop.
Our guide is Paul O’Grady – Dublin-born, raised in Poynton from a toddler to seven, before refining his Irish accent in Cork.
Renaissance man Paul – a trained architect, published author and former journalist – married into the Puhar family behind the Brist brand after falling in love with heart-shaped Istria and settling there.
We taste a variety of different oils Brist produce, learn the production process and marvel at the precision of his father-in-law’s GPS-guided tree-planting.
You can book tastings and tours via the Brist website (www.bristolive.hr) and stock up on a few bottles of an eye-opening product – they’ll even ship you more supplies when you’ve run out.
Laid-back Istria is big on socialising, history and cafe culture.
With its stunning Adriatic coastline, charming towns, a lush green interior and food and drink to rival that found over the water in Venice, it’s becoming an increasingly popular choice for family holidays and romantic getaways.
The airport at Pula is just a twoand-a-half hour flight from Manchester – so in the time it takes to battle down the M6 to Birmingham, you could be by the pool soaking up glorious summer sunshine with temperatures averaging in the mid-70s.
You won’t break the bank either - although Croatia is in the EU, it’s outside the Euro zone and so relatively cheap for accommodation and eating out (100 kuna is roughly £12 and will buy you a good main course with a nice glass of wine).
All this, plus it feels extremely safe, the service in bars and restaurants is usually exceptional, and English is widely-spoken.
During our long weekend we manage to pack in a host of sights as destinations tend to only be a short journey away and transport links are excellent (it’s probably worth hiring a car but we got about easily using buses and taxis).
With Jet2 flying between Manchester and Pula on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from May to September, you can plan a longer trip to take in much more of a region that shows a holiday in Croatia doesn’t have to mean Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian coast.
The ship-building city of Pula is home to a magnificently-preserved first century AD Roman amphitheatre, which is where we start a walking tour with our knowledgeable guide Nada (you can hire guides via the tourist office at www.pulainfo.hr).
We learn the role animals played in the imposing arena, who sat where in the crowd, how lead was used in its construction and why the steps are just a touch too high for comfort (amphitheatre entry costs 50 kuna for adults and 25 kuna for children and students).
But it isn’t just the Romans whose legacy is preserved in Pula – we see how the Venetians, AustroHungarians, Mussolini and