I’ll write much more about our Kajgana experience in a trip addendum – it’s so different than the rest of our trip – but let me catch up on a few stops we’ve had since, before I go back for the deeper dive regarding my family.
Following a wonderful two days in Garesnica and Kajgana, Mike and I bid farewell – more accurately, “until we return” – to our Croatian family and headed west back to the coast. Our excellent travel agency had selected the key sites for the full flavor of Croatia which must include the peninsula of Istria in the north Adriatic. The drive from Garesnica to the town of Rovinj takes about 4-5 hours, skirts the southern tip of Zagreb midway, rises to 3,000 feet as it tunnels through mountains touching the edge of Slovenia (Croatians do love their tunnels), glimpses the Mediterranean at the town of Rijeka, passes through vineyards then opens to the Adriatic Sea. Not too shabby a way to spend a day’s drive. We took the opportunity to swing by the Zagreb airport to locate exactly where we’d be dropping off our rental car at the end of our visit, time well spent as the drop-off spot wasn’t immediately apparent and required a quick trip into the terminal to speak to a rental car representative. We took our time on the drive, as much to decompress from the excitement of the last few days as to enjoy the change in scenery.
Port of Rovinj
Rovinj is yet another historic port town, though its proximity to Italy lends it a cosmopolitan air not apparent in Dubrovnik, Hvar or Trogir. Our GPS came through with flying colors this time, guiding us directly to Villa Dobrovac and into the hands of Natalina, our host for our 3-night stay. It’s hard to describe what Villa Dobrovac is – not a hotel, as the reception desk is not regularly manned, not an apartment, as we did not have our own kitchen – the closest description is a bed and breakfast, though that minimizes the elegance, comfort and experience of this lovely villa. Natalina – our beautiful and elegant, multi-lingual, informative host runs the accommodations which feel like an elegantly restored (have I used the word “elegant” enough?) Tuscan home. She uses phrases like “welcome to our home” while checking us in to a room with an extraordinary view of the Rovinj port and Adriatric beyond. Natalina’s mother and mother-in-law both live with her and her husband; their children are grown and now live in Zagreb. The family owns fields just 10 minutes drive away where they grow grapes for their wine and vegetables to sell at the stand outside the villa. It’s not easy to describe this amazing woman who could both grace the cover of a European fashion magazine, debate politics (it was a very interesting experience to be an American in Europe during the U.S. federal government shutdown), and check in the grapes delivery that arrived by tractor. One of our most noteworthy discussions with Natalina is her opinion – which we shared – regarding a universal loss of family values, honoring and respecting our elders, making time for family celebrations, taking time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. These conversations were friendly, open, and invigorating, and made our visit to Rovinj all the more pleasurable.
View from our balcony at Villa Dubrovac, Rovinj
It was at Natalina’s suggestion that we spent a day travelling through Istria, driving up through the vineyards that rival Italy’s, and on to the – hold on to your hats! – Tartuffa (truffle) festival in the town of Livade. Istria is a region that honors truffles (NOT the chocolate variety) as the gems that they are. Once per year the town of Livade, where the Guinness Book of World Records –verified largest truffle ever was discovered. Mike and I had an amazing (superlative deserved) truffle-infused lunch at the hilltop town of Motovun before heading down to Livade below to admire the award-winning gigantor truffle behind glass. I was seduced into buying some local olive oil in one of the Tartuffo Festival tents, and bought some bargain truffles at a panoramic overview at the side of the road. We simply had a flavor of the Istrian peninsula, and what a flavor it is. The pungent taste of excellent truffles certainly brings a distinctive flavor to whatever dish it enhances.
Motovun truffle risotto
We had the great good fortune of meeting a delightful Canadian couple, Barb and Joe, whose stay exactly coincided with ours. We spent our days exploring the lovely historic port town together, and were happy to see that the town retains much of its integrity as a fishing port, in spite of the occasional cruise ship docking for the night. My biggest indulgence for this entire trip was the purchase of a 1940s Austrian crystal decanter and set of 6 shot glasses for the homemade Slivotica I was gifted in Kajgana (oops, dang, I haven’t described that yet) from a small antiques shop high up a hilly road in Rovinj. Of course we have promised Joe and Barb that we will come visit them in eastern Canada, and we then each set off for the next stage of our Croatian adventure.
Hilly streets of Rovinj
My greatest travel joy, bar none, is the people we meet. The world is full of amazing, interesting, beautiful, and kind people.
Oh yes, speaking of the kindness of others – one more thing – I have not yet mentioned my new role in our family, that of designated-bell-tower-climber. MikeLohnes begs off any part of this responsibility, claiming dispensation via his artificial knee and back-surgery experience. I, therefore, have taken it upon myself to climb, on behalf of our family, any bell tower that enters our sphere of experience. As I gloatingly left him at the base of the tower, Mr. Lohnes (knowingly, I believe) neglected to point out that I was proceeding to climb the Rovinj Church of St. Euphemia bell tower at 11:55 a.m. and would reach the summit at precisely noon, when the bells would initiate, in all their glory, their most magnificent and lengthy chorus of chords and chimes. When our friends Joe and Barb happened upon him at the base, and asked if I’d really climbed the tower, Joe told Mike he suspected I’d require and increased volume of conversation over the next few days – they were right. I’ve captured the bell-chiming experience in a video which I will upload as soon as I have better Internet connectivity.
MikeLohnes sitting on bench below bell tower
View of the rickety wooden bell tower steps upon which Maggie Lohnes risked her life