In and Around Motovun
Motovun is an Istrian hill town home to just over 500 locals and dramatically located 1,000 feet above vineyards and forest. Parking is located atop the steep, twisty road, though to reach Old Town, visitors must take a steep 10-minute walk uphill.
Where to Stay
The big, pink Hotel Kaštel is the best place to stay in town. Once a castle, the hotel now features 33 rooms, a restaurant, spa, indoor pool, cultural center and the best views around as it tops the hill in Old Town. We enjoyed a fantastic three-course meal out on the terrace which included pasta in truffle sauce, pork tenderloin, and a sampling of dessert.
The hotel is also the hub for the Motovun Film Festival which takes place in late July or early August and the population of the town explodes to 20,000 people! For a quieter visit, be sure to find out the exact dates of the event.
Top Things to Do in Motovun
Walk the Main Drag
To reach the top of the hill and Old Town, there isn’t any other choice but to walk the main drag which is lined with wine and truffle shops. If nothing else, truffle enthusiasts will enjoy the aroma that lingers from the shops.
Check Out the Various Insignias from Motovun’s History
The first of the two defensive gateways into Motovun is lined with insignia’s from Motovun’s history which include the Venetian Lion, the Latin family tombstone, and the seal of Motovun. A Venetian Lion holding a closed book means that the town or area was captured by force, while a Venetian Lion holding an open book means the town surrendered peacefully.
Look for Signs of the Giant
In 1908 the Croatian writer, Vladimir Nazor wrote Veli Jože, a story about a giant that lived near Motovun. The giant symbolizes oppressed workers of the time who fight for their freedom. Nazor wrote in such symbolism to keep safe. Different giant references can be found around town.
Visit the Cultural and Education Center
The Cultural and Education Center is owned and operated by Hotel Kaštel. Tucked into a corner, it is somewhat hidden from the wanderer. It is a very interesting place that is worth a visit. Our group started out by making pasta, then Paulina led us around the small center which tells the history of the area from milling grain, to truffle hunting, to famous inventors, to farming tools, and to the famous race car driver, Mario Andretti. I always thought Andretti was Italian. Who knew?!?
Paulina is an excellent guide who dressed in a tunic from the old days. She explained she was wearing what is known as the happiness dress as the red fabric hemmed to the bottom indicates she is single! A widow’s dress and a wife’s dress have a different color fabric sewn to the bottom.
After our tour, we got to savor our handmade pasta in truffle sauce. YUM!
Look for Mario Andretti’s Home
Mario Andretti was born in Motovun when Istria was part of the Republic of Venice and fled to a refugee camp with his family after WWII when they later emigrated to the United States. Just a child when Andretti was a famous racer, I never knew of the hardships he and his family faced. I only knew of his famous racing accomplishments. It was quite interesting to see where he came from and to see the exhibit in the Cultural and Education Center.
Take A Hike From Završje to Grožnjan on the Parenzana Railway
The Parenzana narrow-gauge railway connected Trieste to Poreć from 1902 to 1935. The railway had 35 stations, one of which was located at the bottom of the hill from Završje. Now abandoned, the railway bed offers a wonderful 5 mile walk beneath a viaduct and through tunnels from Završje to Grožnjan which is considered one of the prettiest portions.
Završje was cut off from the world with the demise of the railroad, so the small village is almost a ghost town. Trees grow in the ruins of old buildings though a few places have been refurbished and are decorated with colorful flowers.
Grožnjan, once inhabited in prehistoric times though featuring architecture from the Venetian times, experienced its largest boom during the Austro-Hungarian rule with the construction of the railway which was used for trade. After falling stagnant with the fall of Austria, the charming town is now home to many artists. An artist’s gallery can be found on everyone of its narrow, winding cobblestone streets.
Go Truffle Hunting
Istria has been known for its truffles ever since a local entrepreneur found a nearly three-pound white truffle in 1999. Truffles are a tuber which grow underground near roots of oak trees. Because they grow underground, it is necessary to use specially trained dogs to find them.
Black truffles grow closer to the surface and may be found a few inches under ground on the hills in the Motovun forest. Its harvesting season is from May to November. A black truffle, which looks like a tough, dirty pinecone sells for 300 euros per kilo.
White truffles grow a full meter below the surface and are generally found in alluvial areas from running water. Because they grow so deep and have a short harvesting season, these are also called white gold and they sell for 4,000 euros per kilo!
We visited Karlić Tartufi Shop where Radmila animatedly welcomed us! She brought out all sorts of truffle samples along with 6,400 euros worth of truffles to see. If we asked a yes or no question, she excitedly launched into a 10-minute answer while Domen, our guide translated for us. At one point, she went on so long, after he translated her passionate answer, he asked, “what was your question again?” Our experience was highly entertaining, and it didn’t stop there.
Sanjin, one of the truffle hunters who managed the dogs, took us on a hunt along with Betty and Zara. Betty is six years old and a seasoned hunter. Zara, however, is only two and found her first truffle just ten days ago.
We first walked through the Karlić’s oak grove where Betty dug up and ate half a truffle before Sanjin could get to her as he was explaining the process to us. I was under the impression the dogs would point and help dig where they found a scent. I had no idea the hunter had to hold off the dogs while digging it up so they wouldn’t eat them. No wonder Sanjin never took more than two dogs out.
After walking through their oak grove, we entered the forest and followed a path through the bushes. In open spaces, Sanjin ordered the dogs to hunt. After a handful of false alarms and an oversight where Sanjin saw a truffle on the surface but is wasn’t emitting a smell to the dogs so it wasn’t ready to be dug up, Zara, much to our surprise, found one! We had so much fun searching for truffles.
Walk the Wall
An old wall was built around Old Town for fortification. It is possible to walk a circle atop the wall around the town. The stroll provides lovely panoramic views of the valley below. It is free to walk the wall early in the morning or late in the evening. Otherwise, the turnstile requires a small fee.
Take a Side Trip to Poreč
Poreč is famous for its sixth-century Euphrasian Basilica decorated in Byzantine mosaics. We visited the attached museum, home to many artifacts, as well the Basilica. The apse is decorated in glittering mosaics depicting Jesus and the 12 apostles, 12 female martyrs, and Mary and Jesus surrounded by angels and martyrs including Bishop Euphrasius.
Try Some Mistletoe Brandy at Konoba Fakin
We were in Motovun during the quarter finals of the World Cup. We had to find a place to watch the game and enjoy the atmosphere. There was a choice of two bars, one was Konoba Fakin which is named for its wine making owner.
We joined two inebriated Croatians and three bar attendants huddled around a small TV in the corner. Soon another American couple joined us and the ten of us cheered for Croatia all the way through the last penalty kick when Croatia was victorious. A round of homemade Mistletoe Brandy was provided on the house!
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