Istria, Croatia sits just to one side of the Southern border of Slovenia and a mere stones throw from Italy. Croatia has been on my travel hit list for a while now but never had I thought to head to Northern Croatia, in my mind it was all about Dubrovnik, Split and Hvar… How wrong I was. Istria feels and looks very much like Tuscany, lush green rolling hills covered in vineyards, fresh and simple food served up in local restaurants of the quality that you would wish for when visiting Italy, but rarely actually receive anymore. It’s simple, Istria makes an effort with it’s visitors and this gourmet destination won me over big time.
After a 25 hour drive (yes, you read that right… twenty five long hours) that included a 3.5 hour stationary stint on the Taurean Autobahn at 3am in the morning. Arriving at our stunning Clickstay Villa, Residence Monte (a separate post on this little haven can be found here) was like arriving at an oasis after weeks in the desert. A shower and a quick nap and off we headed to the first restaurant on our list, Stari Podrum.
For our first restaurant experience in Croatia I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised… Situated off the beaten path in Momjan, Stari Podrum boasts gorgeous interiors and stylish guests – a cosmopolitan vibe where I had actually been expecting rustic and charming. We let our friendly waitress order for us and we were treated to an absolute feast. The wild asparagus soup (you can pick wild asparagus everywhere in Istria) was out of this world good, especially enjoyed with hunks of fresh bread and glasses of their house wine. It was the main courses that really had me though as I am a huge lover of simple, authentic food done well so when the freshly made pasta topped with creamy sauces and mountains of truffle came out, I was literally in heaven. Don’t even get me started on the gnocci. These guys out Italian the Italians, by a long shot. After this pasta feast we enjoyed a sharing platter of steaks and again, not a single fault to be found and believe me, I am hard to please when it comes to restaurant offerings. They were cooked just right and topped with yet more truffle – a rather happy theme to this trips foodie element, along with various other delicious ingredients, ruccola, cheese and so on. Finally, the desserts… Again we were presented with a huge platter of 5 or so desserts to share, I made a beeline for the triple tiered chocolate mousse but everything on the plate was heaven for the sweet toothed.
(Warning – if you try the various samplings of grappa after your meal, the clear one is fire water. You have been duly warned.)
PRICE – Expect to pay around 25 / 30 euros per person – incredible, I know.
Konoba Rino & Vina Prelac
Onto what was possibly my favourite restaurant of the trip. Small, family run, rustic and unassuming, plus… you guys, there’s a winery and vineyards! We enjoyed a wine tasting with our long lunch and there wasn’t a single thing on the menu – neither edible nor drinkable, that we didn’t love! Be careful with the starters though because you will want to fill up on the prosecco, fresh bread and truffle cheese, we certainly did. In fact, I think they tried to take the tray away from us multiple times… ‘take a hint, people’. You’ll be glad you saved room though because their homemade pasta is the stuff that dreams are made of. At this point in the trip I was declaring that Italy was dead to me and that from now on we would be heading to Croatia on our yearly quest for gastronomical perfection! *hic* After we had eaten ourselves stupid we were treated to a tour of a couple of their vineyards and the winery where we got to try a brand new, yet to be released to the public, desert wine. My tip – Even if you’re not usually a fan of dessert wines (I’m not), you should at least try these, they’re much dryer than your average dessert wine and super drinkable. My absolute favourite though? The refosk, a ridiculously good red that we’ll definitely be stocking up on before returning home.
PRICE – Expect to pay around 25 / 30 euros per person.
Koliba Ribarska Restaurant
Last but definitely not least, the final full day in Croatia saw us switch gears and head to the rather swanky, newly opened after a winter sabbatical, Koliba Ribarska Restaurant. A seafood restaurant overlooking the gorgeous Pula Marina. Bonus – Despite being a more upmarket style of restaurant, dogs were made very welcome and were even given their own bowls – no sharing for my pampered pooches. I didn’t mention that they happily drink from muddy puddles when necessary! Anyway, I digress… We allowed the chef to decide our meal from start to finish, wines included and once again I was blown away by the quality of food in this Northern part of Croatia. It was nice to have something slightly different to the more rustic meals that we had enjoyed previously and it was a stunning change of pace to eat whilst overlooking the moored up boats.
PRICE – Expect to pay between 40 / 50 euros per person – Still incredible value for the food, wine and level of service. Especially comparing to prices we pay here in London.
Istria, you were a dream. Thanks so much to all the wonderful locals who welcomed us with open arms (and tables stacked high with delicious eats!), we will be back, for sure.