CROA­T­IAN COM­FORTS

dis­cov­ers the Con­ti­nen­tal side of Croa­tia

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - EDITED BY SHAR­RON LIV­INGSTON sliv­ingston@thejc.com

C ROA­TIA IS fa­mous f o r t he wall e d city of Dubrovnik and its beau­ti­ful is­lands that float in the Adri­atic. Yet in the far North, c l o s e t o I t a l y , the re­gion of Is­tria is be­gin­ning to com­pete.

The 1st cen­tury Ro­man am­phithe­atre in Pula is mostly in­tact, al­though gla­di­a­tor com­bat has now given way to more peace­ful cul­tural events — in sum­mer there’s a film fes­ti­val, opera sea­son and con­certs. Just up the coast, the city of Rov­inj has a de­light­ful old town, blue flag beaches and fine restau­rants where you sip cham­pagne watch­ing the sun set.

The coun­try­side in­land is rel­a­tively new to tourism but its green val­leys and forested rolling hills, topped with for­ti­fied vil­lages, such as Mo­tovun, are star­tlingly at­trac­tive. Wine and olive oil are some of the best in Croa­tia and you can visit vine­yards and olive farms and sam­ple their wares. Boutique style ho­tels blend into the land­scape, of­ten con­verted wa­ter mills or an­cient cas­tles, with only a hand­ful of rooms.

But its the truf­fles, the small fun­gus, that are prized as a del­i­cacy by chefs, and only found in the wild.

So I make a date with Ivan Karli at his house near the vil­lage of Pal­a­dini. I’m wel­comed by the bark­ing of the truf­fle dogs and Ivan chooses his favourite and we set out into the for­est.

It’s al­ready bak­ing hot, the poor dog’s pant­ing heav­ily and I’m think­ing that we’re not go­ing to find any­thing.

Sud­denly the an­i­mal’s an­i­mated and starts dig­ging fran­ti­cally — his owner pulls him off, gives him a bis­cuit, and care­fully un­cov­ers the soil. Sure enough, there’s a black truf­fle

Ru­pert Parker stick­ing out, slightly smaller than a golf ball, but cer­tainly big enough to eat.

Back in his kitchen, Ivan cracks some eggs, grates some truf­fle, and beats the mix­ture gen­tly, be­fore pour­ing it into a pan with melted but­ter. When it’s still runny, he adds parme­san, then tops it with thin slices of truf­fle, and serves up his Fri­taja or Croa­t­ian scram­bled eggs.

Sit­ting out­side, with a glo­ri­ous view, it’s break­fast for a king. As I eat, Ivan tells me that he finds black truf­fles all year round on his hill­side, but he only finds the highly prized white truf­fle in the val­leys from Oc­to­ber to Jan­uary.

The se­cret of his suc­cess, of course, is a good dog, and he’s been of­fered over 12,000 Eu­ros for his, al­though he’s not sell­ing.

This is also a land of wine­mak­ers and the Ko­zlovi win­ery in Mom­jan is a good place for a tast­ing.

The land has been in the fam­ily for gen­er­a­tions and its his­tory mir­rors that of the area. In the past, this was a poor farm­ing re­gion, but day trip­pers from Italy, only an hour away, came here to buy cheap wine from the bar­rel. In the 1990’s Gian­franco con­vinced his fa­ther they should aban­don the old ways and think about pro­duc­ing higher qual­ity wines. They re­built the win­ery, added a bot­tling plant, and took sci­en­tific ad­vice about their vine­yards. He’s pas­sion­ate about pro­duc­ing the per­fect grape and has in­vested in the best equip­ment to turn it into wine. And it’s work­ing — his Mal­va­sia, the pre­dom­i­nant lo­cal wine grape, is ex­cel­lent and he’s won many awards.

Sur­pris­ingly, in such a ru­ral area, restau­rants pride them­selves on their ser­vice and the qual­ity of their crockery and cut­lery. A good ex­am­ple is Tok­lar­ija, a slow food restau­rant in a con­verted olive mill, in Sov­in­jsko Polje. Chef owner, Ne­vio Siroti, scoured the world for his place set­tings and the stylish

THE TOWN OF HUM IS NOTED IN THE GUIN­NESS BOOK OF RECORDS AS THE SMALL­EST IN THE WORLD

cut­lery dates back to 1951. His plates are from the 19th cen­tury. He’s a per­fec­tion­ist, so much so that, on a busy Sun­day af­ter­noon, he turns down other clients just to serve the two of us. I tell him about our truf­fle hunt and he grates some of his own over his de­li­cious home-made tagli­atelle.

As you’d ex­pect, there are many hik­ing trails in the area and you can work up an ap­petite by spend­ing a day around Buzet on the 15km “seven water­falls” trail. Be­ing sum­mer there’s not too much wa­ter but it’s a great way to see the de­serted in­te­rior — whole vil­lages, which were once cen­tres of wa­ter-pow­ered in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity, are now be­ing slowly claimed back by the for­est.

Along the way there are river pools, great for cool­ing down, and a cou­ple of farm­houses that sup­ply light re­fresh­ments.

I climb up to the me­dieval for­ti­fied town of Hum, noted by the Guin­ness Book of Records as the small­est in the world, with just 18 in­hab­i­tants. The walls en­close a hand­ful of houses and the church of St Jerolim con­tains frag­ments of fres­coes from the 12th cen­tury.

I’m anx­ious to try Buska, their brandy. The recipe is se­cret but mistle­toe is a key in­gre­di­ent and it’s claimed to have strong medic­i­nal qual­i­ties. All I can say is that it seems to re­vive me af­ter a hard day’s walk­ing.

Is­tria, given to Italy in 1919 and only gained in­de­pen­dence af­ter WW2, is a de­light­ful re­gion and feels more Ital­ian than Italy. Many peo­ple speak the lan­guage and the in­flu­ence is most ob­vi­ous in the food and drink. Lo­cal fish, olive oil and, of course, truf­fles, mean you’re guar­an­teed a de­cent meal. Some are hail­ing it as the new Tus­cany so my ad­vice is to get there be­fore the crowds ar­rive — at the mo­ment, you’ll have the place al­most to your­self.

Spec­tac­u­lar: The 1st cen­tury Ro­man am­phithe­atre in Pula (above) and (in­set) the colour­ful Is­trian har­bour and the cov­eted truf­fles that gave the

trip an added bonus Cap­tion goes here like this across

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