Discover the Flavours of Istria: Truffles, Olive Oil and Wine!

Croatia…to most people the name of this country will conjure up images of kilometres of beautiful coastline, brilliant beaches and bays, and sparkling azure water – the perfect place to go for a beach holiday. But lovely Croatia is not just about beaches and the ocean, and visitors will be delighted to discover that Croatia, and the Istria Peninsula in particular, is also home to a particularly good history of gastronomy. Istria is most famous for the wonderful truffles that come from the Motovun forests, but there is still more…! The region is also a producer of excellent Olive Oil and several Istrian wines that are starting to make a name for themselves in the international marketplace. Add to these the other elements of this very healthy Mediterranean diet, such as air-dried Istrian prosciutto (cured ham) and the enormous variety of seafood which is readily available all along the coast, and you have all the elements of a feast!

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Istrian beaches are the best known features in the area

Truffles: In Istria, the truffle (tartufi) is king! In fact, the very largest truffle ever found in the world came from this region and weighed over 1.3kg! The most sought-after truffle is the more elusive white truffle, but both white and black truffles are eagerly “hunted” from late summer to early winter, using specially trained sniffer dogs or pigs to indicate where these gems are hiding beneath the soil in the Motovun forests. To learn all there is to know about truffles and to taste some of the best truffle dishes, you should try to visit Istria when one of the truffle festivals is on, usually during October and November.

Olive Oil: Istrian Olive Oil has been produced in the region for hundreds of years, since Roman times, and has a delightful delicate flavour, making it especially suitable to add to other Mediterranean foods to enhance, rather than over-power. Beautiful Olive Oils are produced all over Istria, but predominantly in the north western parts, and the best way to find your particular favourite oil would be to go on an Olive-Oil tasting tour.

Wine: What would good food be like without a good wine to accompany it? Luckily, in Istria you need not worry, as there is plenty of great wine to enjoy with your food. Wine has also been produced in Istria for centuries, since the Romans began the tradition. Recently wine-producing methods have been modernized and Istrian wines are ready to make their mark internationally. It is believed that the unique soil found in Istria is responsible for the quality of the delicious Malvazija Whites and rich Teran Reds produced here. The best way to find your personal favourites is to get onto the wine-roads and taste, taste, taste!

Grilled meats and fishes.

Once you are in Istria you will soon discover that the dishes are mostly cooked according the Mediterranean tradition that demands for grilling. Huge fireplaces with spit roast facility are very common in Croatia. In fact along busy road it is not uncommon to see the grilling of whole pigs that will be served at the nearby restaurant. But the grill is not reserved for meat you can eat BBQ ordada (sea bream), and sardelle (sardines), and as the Croatian will say: Adriatic fish is the best. Enjoy.

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spit roast pork is ubiquitous in istria

Some Traditional Istrian Dishes to Try:

Before you leave you have to try some of the delicious specialities of the region: Beautiful Prsut ( Istrian air-dried prosciutto) is often served thinly sliced with some of the very traditional local sheep cheese as a starter…just wonderful accompanied by a glass of Malvazija. One of the most popular ways of enjoying the fabulous truffles is to grate some fresh truffle over eggs, Pasta or a grilled steak; the latter should be teamed with a glass of Teran, for a true taste of Istria. Also very popular is fresh shell fish of all descriptions and calamari. All of these are often combined in a seafood stew or added to a risotto – famous black risotto includes squid- ink and is a delicious speciality. Enjoy with a fruity Malvazija. Salute!

 

 

 

Escape Venice: discover Pula in Croatia!

Everyone loves Venice, but after a few days, especially at the height of the tourist season, you may feel the need to escape the crowds and try something completely different. Have you considered visiting Pula in Croatia? Yes, it is in another country, but it is very easy to reach from Venice by car (in under 4 hours), bus (about 5 hours) or by high-speed ferry (less than 3 hours, but unfortunately only operating during the summer). The pretty town of Pula lies at the southern-most tip of the Istria peninsula and has a very rich and interesting history, many beautiful protected beaches with crystal-clear water, a mild climate and many unspoiled spots to enjoy nature.

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The Pula’s amphitheatre

What to do in Pula

Historic Sights:

Pula has been around since Roman times, (ancient Polensium) and there is a wealth of remarkably well-preserved buildings dating back to this period. The most impressive of them all is the Arena, a Roman Amphitheatre which overlooks the harbour, and is the 6th largest surviving amphitheatre from the Roman Empire. This very large structure dates from the 1st-century and could accommodate 20 000 spectators who came to watch the gladiators fight to the death. The 30mt high outer wall has survived almost entirely and contains two rows of 72 arches – it is most impressive and imposing. These days, people come to the amphitheatre to enjoy pop and classical concerts in summer and the Croatian film festival is held there every year in July. What a wonderful setting!

After exploring the Arena, you should take a walk towards the centre of the town to see the Arch of the Sergii, a Roman triumphal arch, before going to see the Temple of Augustus, a Roman temple built to honour the first Roman emperor. This is the only one of a group of three temples to have survived until today, although it required extensive reconstruction after WWII when it received a direct hit and was severely damaged. There are also some remaining ruins of the Temple of Diana.

Beaches: Pula has over a hundred km of coastline with some superb beaches waiting to be discovered. The beaches are generally pebbly, unfortunately, but at many beaches concrete terraces have been built out to the edge of the water, so that you can slide into the clear, warm Adriatic sea without walking over the pebbles! The one exception is the Bijeca Beach in Medulin, where there is a sandy stretch, making this the best beach for children. Some of the best other beaches are in Punta Verudela, Banjole, Fazana and Premantura. If you have your own transport just drive along the beautifully scenic coast and find your own favourite beach. Many water-sports are available, such as windsurfing, kayaking and snorkelling.

Accommodation in Pula: Pula has plenty of accommodation for visitors and you will find many hotels all along the coast, and some excellent luxury resorts, and a few hostels. The mild weather makes camping in Pula very popular; there are several campsites right on the beach for campers to enjoy.

Food: Pula has an interesting selection of restaurants where you can sample the local Istrian cuisine, which is a bit of a fusion of Italian and Croatian traditional dishes, with a large emphasis on fish and meat, while pork, seafood and wine feature very prominently. (Many local wines are produced in Istria and you can drive along the Istrian Wine Roads and visit some of the cellars if you enjoy wine). There are plenty of family-friendly restaurants, making Pula an ideal holiday destination for families.

 

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Istrian beaches

 

Easy Beach-hopping from Cinque Terre

I am sure that everyone has heard of the lovely Italian Riviera, a more commonly-known term used to describe the coast of Liguria, between the Cote d’Azur in France and Tuscany in Italy.  This almost crescent-shaped stretch of coastline is possibly the most beautiful in Italy and has been attracting visitors for many years; it is often referred to as the Golfo dei Poeti (gulf of poets) in honour of the many famous poets who have lived here for some part of their lives, such as Byron, Shelley, Hemingway and DH Lawrence.  The stretch of coast is backed by the Maritime Alps and the shelter provided by this mountain range means that the Riviera has a very mild micro-climate; in short, it is just perfect for a beach holiday and today I am going to let you into a well-kept secret and tell you about 3 wonderful beaches to visit which are little known to anyone except the locals.

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lerici beach at night – source

Lerici

If you are holidaying in the area, choose Cinque Terre as your base – a stretch of about 18km of rugged coastline and home to five most beautiful and characteristic pastel villages that just seem to pop out of the sea, tightly hugging the rocky coast.  From Cinque Terre, it is easy to reach the wonderful beach at Lerici, just a few kilometres south.  Here you will find a long stretch of protected beach, crystal-clear water and a new promenade for enjoyable strolling along the coast line.  You can drive to Lerici from Cinque Terre, but in season the parking fills up very quickly; you can also take a ferry from Cinque Terre to Lerici.

Baia Blu

After you have enjoyed the attractions of Lerici, drive North around another impossibly beautiful section of coastline to Blue Bay (Baia Blu) beach “club”.  This is a great place to spend a day in the sea and sun, (or in the shade if you prefer – umbrellas available!)  There is plenty of parking and although you have to pay an entrance fee and extra for hiring an umbrella or deck chair, you do get access to two lovely rim-flow pools (one for children), the beach, solarium (tanning area off the beach) and there is the opportunity to take swimming, diving and aqua-aerobics classes.  There are 300 “sites” with umbrellas and sun beds just waiting for you!

Palmaria Island

For a very different beach experience, be sure to visit Palmaria Island, situated just off the coast and accessed by ferry from Porto Venere.  Palmaria Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and although most visitors come to hike around the island, (which you can do in about 2.5hrs) there are some good beaches on the island where you can relax and enjoy the fabulously clear water and the sun and scenery; the most popular beach is Gabbiano Beach where you can enjoy surfing and jet-skiing, in addition to lazing away the day!  When you tire of the beach (is that possible?) you can go on a boat trip to see some of the caves on the island or visit some of the many WWII military relics.

Beach hopping tour for your group

We would love to organise your days our around Cinque Terre and pack them with activities such as hiking to the best beaches, beach hopping, gourmet tours and cooking classes along with fishing day out on the boat, just email us and we will have the best itinerary ready for you.

 

3 Reasons why Lucca is a Visitor’s Delight

Lucca has such a lot to offer visitors! This lovely town is one of Tuscany’s most outstanding medieval walled towns and a walk around the almost completely intact 4km stretch of ancient fortifications will transport you back in time, as well as help you work up an appetite for some of the lovely Tuscan food you can sample in the town. Lucca also has some outstanding art and architecture to show off, but most people who visit Lucca come to see the walls, the towers or to attend one of the many summer festivals, so we will have a look at these three attractions in more detail.

 

The Walls of Lucca.

Nowadays the walls are a popular meeting place for locals, and thronged with walkers and cyclists in summer, but this was not always the case and they have had a turbulent history. The original walls were defensive, and built during Ancient Roman times, and few traces of these are visible today. The original Medieval walls were built in the 11th and 12th century and in the 14th century they had to be extended to accommodate the growing population of the town. The walls you see today were commissioned in 1504 in order to keep up with “modern” military advances, to ensure that Lucca could remain safe from the Medici. These walls were extremely advanced for their time, and required the collaboration of many Military architects from other parts of Italy. They were never breached! Along the 4 km stretch of walls you will find 11 bastions (all different from one another in design) and 3 gates. Inside the ramparts were large rooms to house soldiers, horses and munitions. The walls are always accessible to visitors and children especially will love exploring these ancient fortifications.

The Towers of Lucca

Lucca once had about 130 towers – representative of the power and wealth of the families who built them. Sadly, only 2 important towers remain today, the rest having been demolished long ago. The most recognizable symbol of the city is the Guinigi Tower which has a huge Oak trees growing from its’ roof top garden! You will have a wonderful view of the town from the top of this tower if you can manage the 235 steps to the top!

In the town you will also find the Torre delle Ore, or clock tower. This one is taller than the Guinigi Tower and has provided the citizens of Lucca with a clock since 1390! It is open to the public if you fancy climbing to the top for another great view.

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Festivals in Lucca

The lovely Piazza san Guisto is home to many festivals throughout the year. Some of the most important are the Summer Festival, where live music concerts featuring world-class bands are held every July, the Winter festival featuring Jazz and soft rock, the Comics Festival – all you ever wanted to know about comics – and the Puccini Opera festival in July each year – (Puccini was born in Lucca and is greatly revered in this town.)

Lucca guided tours.

If you have only few hours it makes sense to hire a local guide. By doing so you can explore on the highlights of the city and discover the long history that characterised Lucca. The guides are professional individuals who are trained by the local government, the town can be explored on foot in 2/3 hours. You can reach Lucca from Pisa, Cinque Terre, and Florence and it the the ideal destination for a day trip while you are on vacation in Tuscany.

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Brescia – Italy’s secret lake and wine destination.

Brescia is located in the Lombardy region of northern Italy; not very well known outside of Italy, this commune (and town) is a fabulous region to visit with a great many attractions for visitors, which is probably why the Italians would like to keep it to themselves!  The area is situated at the foot of the Alps and in close proximity to both Lake Garda and the lesser-known Lake Iseo, providing a very beautiful backdrop to enjoy all that the region has to offer, from sporting activities, art and culture, food and wine, and relaxation.

What to do in Brescia: 

The city of Brescia has deep roots in the arts and culture.  Within the town there is plenty of interesting architecture to admire, including the Piazza della Loggia, the Old and New Cathedrals (Duomo), as well as the Broletto (Medieval Town Hall) and the Monastery of Sal Salvatore.  Also be sure to visit the Museum of Santa Giulia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. and the Roman ruins at Tempio Capitolino.

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A lovely evening in Brescia – source

Lovely Lake Iseo: 

After a good dose of art and history, head out to Lake Iseo and enjoy some of the many water related sports on offer.  Explore on horseback or bicycle, go fishing, rowing, swimming or sailing.  Once you have had enough exercise, lie back and be pampered at the Spa or just relax in the sunshine.

Wonderful Franciacorta Wines:

Lake Iseo is the gateway to the Franciacorta wine region, and touring the beautiful birthplace of this fine wine is one of the most compelling reasons to visit.  Franciacorta is an excellent sparkling DOCG wine produced only in this area.  It is made in the classic method from Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Blanco which come from low-yield vines to ensure maximum flavour, and the terroir – cool lake breezes and gravely soils rich in minerals – ensures that this wine is Italy’s foremost rival to French Champagne.

Exploring the Franciacorta region:  It is possible to drive yourself along the Strada del Vino and see some of the best known wineries in the area, including Berlucchi, Bellavisa, Castaldi Contadi and many others.  However, if you do not speak Italian you may have some problems and  the best way to experience the wines of the region and visit some of the cellars would be to go on an organised tour.  Not not all the wineries are open to the public and some require an appointment; besides, you can enjoy more of the lovely bubbly Franciacorta if you are not driving!   There are plenty of lovely restaurants in the area serving traditional local specialities and excellent international cuisine.

Getting to Brescia:  It is easy to reach Brescia – fly into Milan airport and either hire a car (the best way to explore the area) or travel to Brescia by train and then hire your car there after you have explored the town.

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