In its succinct précis of what’s on offer for the traveller to Croatia, the British Airways website states: “Go further north to Istria, a hilly peninsular bordering Italy.“ It’s a fairly straightforward one-liner but Istria is so much more than a hilly peninsular!
Now that British Airways will be flying into Pula from 2017, to that hilly peninsular itself, we thought we’d give new visitors to our favourite destination some travel tips that are more outside the box. As importers of the best wines from Istria nto the UK, we hope you’ll enjoy your visit enough to seek us out on your return!
Our Top 10 recommendations here are for some “off the beaten track” events that we enjoy in Istria; never ones to follow in the footsteps of the usual suspects, these are events that we go to for something different, culture, sport, great gastronomy, wonderful wines and passionate people. In Part 1 we gave you a short list of what to do in Pula over a weekend, but in Part 2 here, if you get more than a few days in southern Istria and want to head out of Pula to see the rest of this fascinating region, try timing your visit for some of these events – but remember, it’s best to double-check that it’s going ahead before booking your flights!
1. Open Cellars Days. Who loves wine? We love wine! Istria and Wine are synonymous. Winemakers in Istria open their doors to the general public on the last Sunday of May every year. The “Open Wine Cellars Day” allows you to taste round the myriad of producers as you go along, with a try before you buy approach (and an ‘enjoy a party before you buy’ approach too!). We suggest you have a designated driver with you, as there is zero tolerance to drinking and driving on Croatian roads. Try Cattunar, Geržinić, Peršurić (for Misal sparkling wines) and Piquentum for a real variety of great tasting wines and a fabulous welcome.
2. Days of Sole: Generally from mid October to the end of November every year, the delicious Adriatic sole (švoj) is celebrated at restaurants around northern Istria. Towns where Days of Sole take place (to our knowledge) are Buje, Umag, Novigrad and Brtonigla, and large hoardings go up around North-West Istria announcing this gastronomic delight. The sole that we know and love in our region is a smaller, sweeter flat fish than the sole we buy in the UK and it’s well worth trying a variety of restaurants with different menus, from nouvelle cuisine to traditional taverna.
3. Truffle and Mushroom Weekends: all hail the fungus in all its forms! The first weekend of November traditionally heralds the start of the white truffle season but depending on the weather it may be earlier. And traditionally Motovun and Livade are advertised as the top spots for truffle fairs. We prefer Brtonigla’s mushroom weekend (in 2016, this was held on 29 and 30 October) and Buzet’s truffle weekend (in 2016, this was held on 5 and 6 November), it may be less well-known but it is full of locals and Piquentum wine should be on sale too!
4. Buzetska Subotina. Translated as ‘Buzet Saturday’ this is held in mid-September and comprises the preparation, making and eating (naturally!) of the world’s largest omelette flavoured with truffles in Fontana Piazza. Thousands queue for a slice cooked in a 2.5 metre sized pan, and rounded off with glasses of biska (that’s a dark brown grappa flavoured with mistletoe, don’t worry, not the berries!). Not just about food and booze, there is folk dancing, traditional crafts, a fair and it all adds up to a fun weekend and one worth joining the locals to enjoy. The omelette is created from the same number of years in the date, so 2017 will comprise 2,017 eggs. This past year 10.5 kgs of truffles were used! If you miss Buzet Saturday, we also have a huge tomato festival in our home-town of Umag, where everyone descends on the village square to enjoy pasta with fresh tomato sauce. Join us in September for this one!
5. Days of Asparagus. The days in question are between March and May, and that’s Istrian Asparagus; a little like ‘sprue’ Istrian asparagus is thin and long, and is found growing wild. For that reason it commands a high price and is quite a delicacy; the Istrians know the best places to forage for it and they won’t let you know. We leave it to the experts nowadays and join in the fun around north-western Istria again where restaurants create menus of several courses all dedicated to this wonderful vegetable. If you’ve never tried Istrian asparagus served with a glass of Istrian malvazija then you really need to; only then will you understand one of the most heavenly food and wine matches!
6. Grožnjan Drum Camp. This may not be for everyone but if you’re a drum lover you’ll be wowed that the dynamic Petar Ćurić secured Steve Gadd to be one of the tutors at this year’s drum camp! With this kind of professional help it’s worth the trip to soak up the atmosphere of Grožnjan, a creative artists’ village on a hill top in north-west Istria. Students can also learn acting skills here.
7. Grožnjan Jazz Festival. Croatian musician Boško Petrović started his jazz festival in 1999 and invited a steady stream of A listers to come and play in a really laidback setting; Jools Holland for one. Well, under the trees in a central square, long tables of friendly locals drinking carafes of wine and enjoying fabulous dinners well into the early hours of the morning is pretty laidback to us. We met the man himself and so we confess to having an allegiance to this. It is also being held in the framework of the program of the International Cultural Centre of Croatian music youth in Grožnjan.
8. ATP Umag. Anyone for tennis? Then continue the momentum after Wimbledon, jump on a plane after the UK finals and see some world class tennis at the ATP in Umag. 2017′s event starts on 17 July. Our little town’s numbers swell from around 9,000 to over 40,000, so book your accommodation early! At this year’s ATP Goran Ivanisevic and Andre Agassi kicked off the proceedings with a celebrity match. Play goes on into the evenings as it’s cooler and it’s worth going for the social calendar too: one year we enjoyed Montserrat Caballe in concert and there’s both a gastronomic and music festival within the grounds, where you can sit and enjoy local plonk and try Istrian food into the early hours. We saw the Davis Cup there too in 2013 (watching Andy Murray no less) but sadly this seems to have been moved to the Zagreb Arena now. It was such an atmosphere and one that Umag could have built on for the future.
9. Two Film Festivals. If you’re into film, target either the Motovun Film Festival or the Pula Film Festival – or both! Whilst Motovun is a lovely hilltop fortress town on every tourist map, it is perhaps best visited whilst the film festival is on rather than just the usual walk around the town’s fortifications, and a quick look at the spectacular view with hundreds of other tourists. With an associated programme of events that reflects diversity and social values, if that doesn’t float your boat maybe just sitting watching a movie open air in the warmth of a July night, under the stars, in a medieval square, will! Pula Film Festival will be on between 15 to 22 July 2017 and with a ticket price of 25 kuna for an evening of film screenings this is 75% less than an average one film screening in the UK.
10. Wine [again]. To us, Istria is the gastronomic heart of Croatia and whilst it may not be an event per se, if you love great food and wine then why not take a few days off to explore the wineries of Istria. Whether you’re in the trade, a sommelier and chef team, wine journalist or blogger, or members of the public with a taste for a food and wine adventure, we’ll tailor-make you a gastronomic long weekend tour that will take in 3 or 4 fabulous wineries, restaurants to match wines with local fish and game, home-made pasta and some Istrian specialities. Just email us and we’ll take it from there.
Our thanks to British Airways for bringing Istria one step further to the UK!
For more details of our gastronomic tours, email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
© Pacta Connect (UK) Ltd, 3 November 2016