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Huddersfield Daily Examiner - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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