Elemental music on Croatia’s crinkly coastline

Costa Rica

I wrote my original piece in 2011 - my list of attractions then included traditional toy-making, a sea and sun-powered music and light show, ancient Greek fields, Roman marvels galore and lighthouse stays on remote islands. That complemented the enduring appeal of the place, 1000 miles of crinkly coastline lined with rocky coves and beautiful pine-fringed beaches. So I was pleased to see the New York Times feature Istria on its list of 52 places to visit in 2017. The Times refers to new boutique accommodation, in such places as the fishing town Novigrad. The other attractions, notes the newspaper, such as those Roman ruins, truffles, wines and seafood — are “timeless”. Photo - (c)

Heart’s desire

The region of Istria stands apart at the very top of Croatia, a heart-shaped peninsula close to Trieste and Venice. The New York Times featured Istria on its list of 52 places to visit in 2017. The Times refers to new boutique accommodation, in such places as the fishing town Novigrad. The other attractions, notes the newspaper, such as those Roman ruins, truffles, wines and seafood and a “romantic, medieval and charming” interior — are “timeless”.
There are lots of easy beach holiday options on the shores of “toned down Tuscany”. (It’s the same all down Croatia’s long crinkly coast, and over a thousand islands.) Or you could escape to the region’s green interior, where narrow roads spiral up to remote fortified medieval hill towns and villages. Stay in a rural B&B and dine in restaurants under horse chestnut trees. Cycling is said to be 'world class” - for recreational riders and the serious alike. Holiday firms route you over well-signed paths, while they whisk your luggage to your next stop.

Truffle hunting

One culinary feature of Istria is the white truffle, found in the dense oak forests, and, experts say, a match for the far better known truffles of Alba in the Piedmont region of Italy. There are truffle tours around, for example, Motovun (an ancient hill town), which are extending the tourist season into November.

The truffles here are described as premium grade, and are widely used in local cuisine. Try them in omelettes or mixed into wild boar croquettes.They are part of the reason Istria is establishing a reputation for good food, a lower-priced alternative to “overpriced” Tuscany and Provence. Writers commenting on the NYT piece picked out Istrian olive oil - “the best in the world” and the great wineries.

Nature’s show

Sea and the sun combine to give a virtuoso music and light performance on the promenade in Zadar, the pretty and historic town now served by budget flights. The Sea Organ is 35 pipes of different lengths, diameters and angles built into the steps over which the Adriatic washes. The tide pushes air down the tubes to produce a haunting and unpredictable symphony. Architect Nikola Basic has added Greeting to the Sun, a glass circle set on the quay at the exact point on the waterfront from where you see what is said to be the world’s most beautiful sunset. Photovoltaic plates absorb solar energy by day, and produce a show of dancing lights by night (and enough to power to light the entire quay.) Zadar’s other attractions include boutique hotels, and Maraschino cherry liqueur.

Toy story

There is a heartwarming alternative to mass-produced, often mediocre toys, and you can find it in the region of Hrvatsko Zagorje, north of Zagreb. They’ve been making toys here by hand for ages, applying wonderfully simple skills that never died out. The men carve 50 types of toys from locally grown willow, lime, beech and maple, and the women decorate them in eco-friendly red, yellow and blue paint. UNESCO has put this admirable calling on its World Intangible Cultural Heritage List. The best villages to see toymakers in action are Laz Stubički, Laz Bistrički, Tugonica, Gornja Stubica, Turnišče and Marija Bistrica. Other Croatian traditions on the cultural heritage list are two-part folk singing in the coastal regions, and lacemaking in Pag, Lepoglava and Hvar.

Elysian fields

There is a new, and very old, reason to take the short ferry trip from Split to sumptuous and magical Hvar, the longest of the 1000 Croatian islands. UNESCO have just made the island’s Stari Grad Plain a world heritage site, recognising it as the best preserved ancient Greek landscape in the Mediterranean. Greek settlers started farming here 2400 years ago, and nothing has really changed in the quiet routine of cultivating grapes and olives, on the same parcels of land marked out by the original Greek surveyors. You can walk or cycle through this timeless horticultural grid, divided by ancient walls, dotted with beehive-shaped stone shelters. Another thing to do on Croatia’s islands is rent a lighthouse apartment.

Split–the difference

Croatia’s prodigious Roman remains are one of its many calling cards. Split, with budget flights from the UK, and an easy ferry journey from Italy, is a good short break location at any time of year. There’s the rare thrill of staying in a boutique hotel or apartment inside the 1,700 year old walls of Roman Emperor Diocletian’s vast palace. Thousands still live and work here, among the mediaeval architectural glories on a maze of marble pedestrian streets. Then dress your best and take a turn on the Riva, the promenade along the Adriatic to the pine-forested peninsula park. Just 20 miles away is another marvel, the outstandingly well preserved town of Trogir, with beautiful Venetian Renaissance buildings on a pre-Roman street plan. Fazing is “a gem”. This pretty waterside town was an important economic centre in Roman times.

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