The Prettiest Hilltop Town! (Grozjan, Croatia)


Thursday, October 8, 2015

We knew we were going to love Grozjan the second we spotted it on the drive up: a beautiful, tiny medieval town sprawled on a hilltop with stops on the side of the road to taste and buy local olive oil. We parked next to a gorgeous olive grove and that sealed our feelings before we even started wandering down the old cobblestone streets past colorful doors to the main, small square. Each corner we turned I told Cam, "oooooh!"  Everyone we spoke to and every detail we took in was lovely. I loved the terrace cafe overlooking the hills with a view to the Adriatic and where we ate dinner in the square. We were the only ones there minus a couple on the next restaurant patio drinking wine. What really makes a place is the people. Everyone we talked with in Istria was relaxed, friendly and warm. I would not describe most Zagrebians that way when you first interact, but once you start to build a relationship, it's almost overwhelming how kind and warm they are, and bring you in like family.

I wasn't quick enough to park the chariot and capture it, but there was a point when the main attraction in Grozjan wasn't wandering the cobblestone streets or sitting on a terrace drinking wine or kava while taking in a beautiful view. It was stopping to awe over and say hi to the cutest little munchkins! We met two sweet couples from Italy who told us that coming to this region of Istria made their hearts beat again. They even whispered that they enjoy it more than Tuscany.

Cam was talking with a couple and when he turned around, John Shea was happily eating a gelato, given to him by the doting owner of the small restaurant and gelateria.

We ate pasta with local truffles (you can't miss it when in Istria!), shepherd's salad, and the most delicious beef with mushrooms in a creamy sauce while on the terrace in the charming main square under the shade of centuries old trees. Our waiter brought us the owners' Malvasia to try, made from their vineyard no more than 100 feet from where we were sitting. Somewhere inbetween drinking that amazing wine, walking through the darling streets, chatting with some of the lovely people who live there, and taking in the views over the hills at sunset, we fell in love with Grozjan!


If you ever travel to Grozjan with children, you may want to ask if there is free wifi available where you eat- most cafes and restaurants in Croatia offer it, because let's be honest, Curious George on is the only chance of us being able to sit and eat with our wild man John Shea.

Also, Italian is one of the official languages of Istria, so if you speak it or atleast understand it better than Croatian, you'll be able to get around well in this region!

Harvest Pumpkin Soup and a House in Istria


Thursday, October 1, 2015

In the heart of Istria sits the stunning hilltop town of Motovun. Looking out from its medieval walls high above is a breathtaking sight of miles and miles of vineyards, rolling hills, olive groves, church steeples built over a thousand years ago... and if you look really closely, at the end of a gravel road headed into the Mirna Valley, nestled in the forests where the ubiquitous local truffles are hunted, is Casa Lucia. A fairy tale stone house and fairy tale setting. Our precious children's meltdowns and middle-of-the-night shinanagins served well to remind us that this was indeed still real life. You can't go anywhere from Lucia without first walking (or driving) through vines, olive trees, Fakin Winery and their loveable labrador who followed us each time we came and left, and who found a new best friend in a smiling, affectionate two year old.

Istria must be breathtaking in the spring and early summer, but being there during harvest time had it's own kind of magic. Just up the gravel road at Fakin Winery were truckloads of grapes being brought in each morning, as we watched the family and their hired hands work hard until the sun started to go down past the rolling hills. Dark red juice trickled down the road as they de-seeded and pressed the grapes. The lavender bushes in and around the village were all done flowering, but the fig trees were full of juicy fruit each morning that we gladly picked with foraged roses. We walked up to Fakin one afternoon (and the next, too) to wine taste and were welcomed by Mr. Fakin, a totally unassuming, down to earth, warm man, playing with his toddler grandson on one of their tractors.  His son handed us a glass of the freshly pressed juice to try and it was the sweetest thing we have ever drank. We were blown away by how good their wine is. We didn't have enough kuna on us to pay for all of the bottles Cam picked out (this is one of his love languages), but Mr. Fakin told us, nema problema, we could come back the next day. It was the same with the home restaurant we ate at further up the road. Toni sent us home with a makeshift to-go plate and the shepherd's salad still in the big ceramic bowl he served it in and said, nema problema, come back tomorrow to pay. When we walked home, one of the grandmothers in the little village rolled down her car window as I waved. When I asked her how she was, she told me, "Ide. Polako, polako." It goes. Slowly, slowly. A common phrase that describes the pace in Istria perfectly. It's even said in a slow, drawn-out way.

When we came home to Zagreb after two weeks of traveling, the start of Autumn was here. The mornings are crisp, the days have turned cold, Croatians on our street tell me I must be American because I'm the only one still barefoot while out in our yard. We also came home to our furniture and closets and things!!

Last night, John Shea ran over to his usual spot at the fence where he can peer into our neighbor's small vineyard, little garden and big German Shepherd named Rex. Our neighbors adore him. They came to the fence, and as they do regularly now, started handing over apples from their trees, bell peppers, tomatoes, a jar of homemade marinated peppers and one of ajvar (an amazing spread of bell peppers and eggplant) and a huge chocolate bar for their favorite toddler. John Shea took a bite of each which made them roll with laughter. Earlier that day they gave us a plate of homemade pita. They are absolutely wonderful.

So, our kitchen is back to being fully stocked of pots and pans and dishes, there's a delicious pumpkin soup on the stove, a pile of produce gifts from our neighbors and warm pumpkin muffins to return to them on their pretty china plate; our babies finally let us sleep longer than a one hour increment for the first time since moving here (hallelujah), and our house is really starting to feel like home.

My heart is singing praises!

Harvest Pumpkin Soup
(serves 4)

1 large hokkaido pumpkin or about 2 lbs / 1kg variety of choice, de-seeded and roughly chopped
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2-3 small potatoes, roughly chopped
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, (about 1/2 TBS when chopped)
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped (about 1/2 TBS when chopped)
2 C chicken broth
2 C whole milk
fine sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
1 TBS chili powder

In a large pot on medium heat, pour in a good glug of olive oil with the chopped onion and saute for about 1 minute. Add in the pumpkin, carrots, potatoes and chopped fresh herbs with a couple glugs of olive oil (about 1/3 C) and a very generous pinch of sea salt (about 1 tablespoon). Cook for 15 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add in the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the milk and chili powder and puree with a blender. Return to the pot and taste; add in more salt as needed.

It's wonderful served with a crusty bread with nuts and a crisp, white wine. We ate our soup with red wine the second time around but it was best with a white Croatian Malvasia. Enjoy!!

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