Monday, 28 September 2015

Montona Gallery - Motovun, Croatia

Day Three in Croatia.

We decided to head out of base camp, Porec, away from coast inland to the hills on the third day of our holiday. Motovun (Montona in Italian, Istria is officially bilingual) was pinned to my 'Croatia board' on Pinterest.  A tool I love to use for generating and finding places to visit, as well as food inspiration, outfit ideas, home decor and more. D and I had been pinning points of interests for months, we saw the pin of Motovun the day before and decided that was the place we wanted to make our first road trip, it was relatively close by about a 40 minute drive away from Porec. 

To give you some background on Motovun, it is a village that lies on top of a hill 270 metres above sea level. Motovun is a medieval town, however it was established upon the another city, the ancient city of Kastelijer. In the 13th century it was controlled by Venice and a third of the village still speak Italian as their first language today. A high solid wall surrounds Motovun that was built by the Venetians, and it was used a defence against invaders. The towers and walls in combination with the high altitude it gave the people of Motovun an advantage on their enemies who they could see coming long before they would arrive at the town walls. The walls are still intact today providing a pleasant walk in which you can soak in the beauty around you. We were surprised to see that cars made it up the hill and drove along parts of the wall too, although you had to watch your toes when they came past. 

There's Motovun that small cluster of buildings in the left hand side 

Motovun is surround by vineyards and a forest, as you can see above. The drive to Motovun is a joy in itself, once you get over driving on the wrong side of the road that is. The winding roads and the way Motovun just appears suddenly as you turn the corner overlooking the valley. There is a top photo spot and viewing platform as you approach (and a cafe too) for you to take a selfie with Motovun in the background. 

The forest below Motovun is home to one of the world's most expensive food delicacies. The Truffle. The truffles are found underground and so it takes a team of specially trained dogs to find them that are also worth their weight in gold.  The smell of truffles engulfs the town.  The town's restaurants and cafes utilise and showcase their supplies and you can buy truffles in the local shops. If you're really in to truffles you can even embark on a truffle tour. I personally find truffles too rich for my palate and can only handle them in small quantities or in truffle infused oil, again on the mild side. 

The car park is situated at the bottom of the hill and there is a shuttle bus to the top but if you're of reasonable fitness walking up the hill isn't too tasking (even in 30 degree heat). Plus if you take the bus you'll miss all the interesting architecture and quaintness of the town. 

As mentioned in my previous post, our research in to food establishments before arriving in Croatia was sparse... we did a lot more research whilst in Croatia. I like to rely on local blogs for giving me insider tips on areas/countries/cities but I struggled to find many Croatian blogs. One blog I referenced time and time again was Frank about Croatia. A local couple who live in Porec their blog became my first point of reference (and almost bible) for places to eat, beaches to visit and things to do in villages, towns and cities in Istria. 

The one restaurant/cafe which was the top pick for Motovun was that of Hotel Kastel's. It has a prime location situated a few metres away from the Gothic bell tower (approx. £3 for a trip to the top). Split in to a more formal restaurant and a less formal (but smaller) cafe. We didn't want a restaurant-esq meal but instead a light bite and as the weather was particularly hot on this day we wanted to sit outside. 

Me at the top of the bell tower

Unfortunately there was no room outside in the cafe and only the restaurant was an option for outdoor seating.. so we passed in favour of one of the restaurants/cafes along the medieval wall. Although bound to be a tourist trap they had great views over the valley, and you would be eating lunch on a medieval defence wall. Life doesn't get much cooler. 

Out of the two eateries based on the wall we opted for Montona Gallery as it looked a little more informal and it didn't have the smell of Truffles gushing out of it's kitchen to an almost suffocating level. We had to wait a few minutes to get a table which was donated to us by a lone cyclist diner. 

Once we sat down we were given menus pretty speedily and we ordered drinks. I opted for freshly squeezed orange and D went for a Coke Zero (for some reason Diet Coke doesn't appear to exist in Croatia). 

The orange juice was refreshing on a hot day and I felt I had made a good choice. We perused the menu and struggled to find many items that could constitute a light lunch. 'Toast' was advertised, a popular lunch item in Croatia which is basically a toasted sandwich held together with cheese aka a toastie. Struggling to find something lighter and not wanting to lose our prime position on the wall we opted to share a pizza, and then greed took over and we ordered a side of chips too. 

After 20 minutes or so our knives and forks arrived, hopes were up as we'd been slowly sipping on our drinks to savour them for the meal. The chips arrived first and we expected the pizza would follow. 

Not wanting to let the chips go cold we began to nibble on them. Soon the chips were finished and we still had no pizza.. 

I looked around trying to gauge whether anyone else who arrived before or after us had received their meals. I quickly straightened up as I saw two pizzas being carried towards us only to sink back down after they were taken to the table behind D, to a family who had arrived after we had. 

Another 20 minutes or so passed and we began to think we had been forgotten and that our pizza was not to be. No waiting staff were around apart from one stood in the door way of the kitchen, we stared her down for a further 20 minutes until finally our pizza was brought out to us. 

Sliced in half rather hastily and placed on two plates we were just glad to be fed, our drinks now gone, we didn't bother to order more in case it took a further hour out of our day. The pizza wasn't memorable and was simply a brick for a hole in our bellies. 

D left our table to request the bill which was then brought to our table with no immediacy to take our money afterwards. You'd think they didn't want a free table, there were several people walking on by as they couldn't find a table. I guess they have a steady stream of tourists so they see no point in extra effort. 

Whilst in Motovun we visited the tourist office and spoke to a young man from a nearby town, we asked him his suggestions for places to go in the area and he recommended a place called Groznjan. 

It didn't take us an entire day to walk around Motovun so we headed to Groznjan late afternoon. Groznjan again, like Motovun, has a medieval wall surrounding the village that was built when it was under Venetian control. In more recent history Groznjan was left to ruin and decay after many of its Italian inhabitants emigrated back to Italy when it transferred to Yugoslavian control. The artists regenerated the town, and although many of the Italian's left Istria Groznjan is the only town in Istria to have an Italian Majority. 

Groznjan is much prettier than Motovun, in addition to this it was much more peaceful with far less tourists. The village contains a number of art and craft shops, and should our luggage allowances have been a little more generous we would have bought much more than Gelato when visiting. One of my favourite shops was an antique clock shop, not only selling a number of antique clocks but a fascinating range of items including enamel ware, jewellery, military wares and other intricate items. 

Motovun and Groznjan was one of the highlights of our trip and I would encourage anyone touring Istria to pay both places a visit. The road to Groznjan isn't a simple one. At one point I thought our sat nav had taken us down a wrong turn but after reading through other accounts it would appear that the single track road that appears to be leading you to no where is the main road to the town. 

We parked in the top car park (parking was free) and just as you walk in to town there is a small bar with seating along what remains of the medieval wall. It's a sun trap and the perfect way to wind down after a day of exploring. 

Free wifi hotspots are available in both towns, if you visit be sure to tag me in your photos on Instagram or Twitter so I can relive the joy of these gorgeous places. 

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