Most visitors to Croatia go to Istria, our largest and westernmost peninsula, for its coast, for Roman amphitheatre in Pula, for Brijuni Islands, for beautiful Rovinj, or for Unesco-protected Basilica in Porec, but not everybody thinks that they should venture into hinterland, oblivious to all the beauty it hides.
Last December my husband and I went to Istria for a weekend, and once again we decided to stay at the coast overnight, but to focus our interest on the interior of the peninsula, on the sights and paths that we had missed on our previous trips. This time the route was to take us from Opatija to Rovinj via Svetvinčenat and Dvigrad.
We are always happy to revist Istria for its colours, architecture, cuisine and its proximity and semblance with Italy, but this is the first time we got a chance to see it in winter time; its land dry, trees fruitless, branches swept by winds, but the warm sunshine that day painted the remaining leaves nice golden shade and we were happy leaving the smog of the capital behind.
Our first unplanned stop is by the road where I spotted a traditional shepherd’s hut, made of stone (drywall). Kazuni have been in use for centuries, once as shelters (for shepherds), later for storing agricultural tools, and reportedly the same type of structures were used as dwellings in prehistory.
On the other side of the road stands a small country church built in the same style as many Istrian sacral buildings. Still, it was unusual to see it placed along the road with no villages or houses nearby.
Half an hour later we are already in Svetvinčenat, a fascinating little town featuring a regular, square piazza closed in by the Parish Church, city loggia, several Renaissance houses and the monumental Castle Morosini-Grimani. This Medieval jewel was built as a square fortification with round towers and simple façade. In the 15th ct it was owned by the Morosini family who enlarged it while adding it some Renaissance features. On the other side of the square the quaint Parish church of St Mary’s Assumption is decorated with a distinctive Renaissance trefoil façade.
A shooting star ornament on the church was signalling that Christmas was just two weeks apart, but the place was magically quiet, with no people (and much less tourists) in sight, and we felt as the only breathing people there.
The sunlight was harsh and glaring, contrasts too strong, and I knew that photos would be nothing to brag about, but I was excited to be finally exploring what seems to be one of the most scenic places in Istria.
I love winter, its quietness, crisp air and low-lying sun, but the day is getting too short and we have to move quickly to make time for other stops on our way.