Istria, Meditteranean Heart

October 01, 2007


Plinius wrote: “In Istria, the Romans patricians feel like gods” and when you visit this heart of the Med,
you do understand. Rolling hills covered with vines and olive trees and ancient towns artistically and precariously perched on top of the mightiest hills, made this drive day an exciting one in more ways than one.

We decided to go the long route from Rovinj, Croatia to Ljubjajana, Slovenia, on minor roads thru the center, to experience the very heart of the Isria peninsula in Croatia that we had heard so much about. We had planned to all along, but when I was talking to the Croatian guy with the film crew who had sailed around the world, he said we could not miss Hum, so we added that to the agenda of Motavun and Godezjan. Our Japanese friends and crew had just been to Motovun and Hum and enjoyed it.

It is very pretty countryside, but you never know quite what you are getting into when you go for this kind of a drive in a small motorhome. Ancient hill towns look great, but one has to get the vehicle up and down them and the bigger the vehicle, the more daunting the task. I suppose worrying about what could possibly be ahead is the worst part, but we always seem to manage.

My worst fear is meeting a bus or other large vehicle at the wrong spot or getting stuck, not to mention losing our breaks on the way down. Ha! My mind never fails to send up frightening images of things
that could possibly happen. Nevertheless, we just plug along and I learn to push them aside.
I suppose some of this is a mother’s protective mechanism, but I also had this tendency of over- anxious-antennae-searching-out-danger before she was born, but not in my youth. Perhaps it is old age and the hard lessons of traumas along the way.

The drive was worth facing a few of my inner demons, which is just par for the course for me and I can even laugh at it most of the time. The motorhome really chugs up a steep hill with concerted effort, slowly and loud, so one can not help but easily slip into a praying mode. I find myself actually leaning forward as if to help it with the strain. Still, the beauty and curiosity pulled us on.

This area has been settled since the Bronze age and the Istrians proudly display their ancient Glagolitian script with monuments next to old vineyards and stone churches. The country side is very peaceful and pristinely quiet with many enchanting vistas.

The road to Hum was probably the hardest, altho surprisingly a few tourist buses do go on this small one way, very long road, deep in the rural countryside. If we had run into them on the steepest part, we would have been in trouble as it was enough work for our camper as it was. I can not even imagine having to back up there. Luckily, we ran into a tour bus (both coming and going) on more flat areas that were not as challenging, although the last one gave us a little bit of a thrill coming in, just as I thought we had it made with one easy bus pass on this one way country road.

I chickened out and we decided not to even go up to Motovan or Godezjan, but we enjoyed them from a distance. DaVinci laughed at me with chicken squawking sounds. I rationalized that a big part of their charm is viewing their setting from the surrounding vineyards, so we drove close to each. Perhaps we could have made it to them just fine, but I did not want the stress. With time pressing on us, I just did not want to chance getting caught in a bad place and its not like we haven’t already done our share of medieval hill towns around Europe.

We decided to have lunch in Hum and see what it had to offer and in 20/20 hindsight, I think that was a smart choice. So, two from a distance and one close up, since this was a travel day after all and even at this, it was quite ambitious.

Hum labels itself as “the smallest town in the world” and indeed it is tiny with only about twenty inhabitants. Nevertheless, it is quite pretty with all the makings of a medieval town including Illyrian hill fortress to church, town gate, belfry tower, stone structures and houses. There even use to be a castle. It is approximately one hundred meters in length and thirty meters wide.

The tour bus we had passed on the way in was leaving, so we seemed to have the whole town practically to ourselves and we wandered about until we stumbled upon the one charming, tiny restaurant that served traditional home made food. The view was very beautiful and tranquil and I was more than ready to try the home made noodles with truffles (gotten in the nearby woods which is part of Istrian tradition). It was good, but what really stood out in this meal was the freshly made bread which was perhaps the best we have ever eaten. We tried several specialties of the area and it was the perfect setting to sample them in.

We walked around afterwards and lapped up all the pretty little joys in this town from the vineyards, flowers and nature to the well done little stone shops and buildings. We admired someone there who is quite a master at stone and planting and wondered what it would be like to live in one of these houses. When we were almost done, a small van pulled up and honked loudly a few times and we discovered that he was the local grocery store as it was filled with groceries and
a few people came out to get what they needed.

Before we left, we bought a little book about Hum and a cup with Glagolitian script on it. Hum has been one of the most famous centers of Glagolitism since the XI century and still today has signs using it. A Missionary from the Byzantine Emperor in 863, St. Cyril, invented the Glagolitic alphabet for the Moravian Slavs for liturgical books, because the words of the language could not be translated in either the Greek or Latin alphabet. It was used continuously by the Croats, where it was not only a script, but an expression of national belonging, so there is great passion here for it. There are many monuments in this area devoted to it and this past that means so much to these native people who felt repressed by other nations for many years.

It was certainly a compelling little side trip that delayed us a little more than expected, but worth the effort. It added another layer of learning and experience in our Croatian travels.













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cavaletta marina

the names of the two places are correctly

Motovun and Groznjan


Great post on Istria! Really captured the spirit of the place. Photos are great, too!

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