Istria is Great

Sunset comes a little too early now, but it is nice

Thanks to Covid Mike and I are back on the Istrian Peninsula for the remainder of this year.  Luckily, we both love this part of the world.  Istria has almost 500 km or 300 miles of lovely coastline.  Along the coast you can see fascinating walled, stone towns as well as many lovely towns built or renovated during the period when Istria was part of the Venetian Republic.  The architecture and buildings in these towns are fascinating.  When you get away from the coast you see many hill top towns and medieval villages.  The homes in some of the medieval villages are still lived in today which I find fascinating.  The villages open for tourism often nearly have all the homes restored and lived in.  Other medieval villages are a combination of lived in homes and some ruins.  The artists’ colony of Grožnjan is a good example of a combination of homes and ruins.  If I was in North America and saw a street with the plaster falling down and roofs missing from some of the buildings I would probably turn around and quickly go in the opposite direction.  Here, seeing ruins and very old buildings in medieval towns is quite appropriate and just looks intriguing. 

If Mike and I ever get tired of living and traveling in our RV and want a second home, somewhere in Istria would probably be our first choice.  Thanks to Covid-19, we will probably spend our last six weeks in Europe here on the Istrian Peninsula. 

The term Istria is very confusing, even if you look at a map.  Let me try and help a little.  The Istrian Peninsula is shaped generally like an equilateral triangle with 2 sides jutting out into the Adriatic Sea.  Each side is very roughly about 75 km or a 1 ½ hour drive in each direction.  The entire peninsula is very mountainous which we love. The mountains aren’t very high, with the highest peak at about 1400m or 4500 feet. The hills and mountains run through the coastal towns into the Adriatic. Visiting these towns is great for the leg muscles.

Medieval, hilltop town of Motovun, Croatia

History becomes more interesting when you can actually see it as you travel around the various regions and villages.  Istrian coastal areas came under Venetian influence in the 9th century and officially became part of the Republic of Venice in the 13th century. This lasted for several hundred years. You can see this history in the lovely homes along the coast. Inland Istria was held for centuries by the Holy Roman Empire.  When the Venetian empire fell in 1797, Napoleon took over for a short while.  After this, the newly established Austrian Empire ruled the entire Istrian territory from 1814 until the end of WWI.  If possible, things continued to get even more confusing with Yugoslavia forming and dissolving in the 1900s.  Today three countries each own part of the Istrian Peninsula.  Some of Italy’s Trieste area and the city of Muggia are part of Istria.  Slovenia’s small coastal area is in Istria.  By far, the majority of the peninsula, about 90%,  belongs to Croatia.  Croatia has a county called Istria.  If you look up Istria in Google you normally get Croatian Istria. 

Croatian Istria’s coastline is 445 km (277 mi) long with islands making up 540 km (335 mi).  The Istrian county in Croatia is bilingual, as are large parts of Slovenian Istria with Italian being the second language.  There is a very short video called “Istria Bike Trails” that shows a little bit of the diversity of the area.  In addition to the outstanding coastal areas and medieval villages there are lots of wineries and olive groves and hills with outstanding views around every curve.  I will admit that Mike and I try and avoid some of the rougher biking trails but we don’t always succeed.  There are other, much longer videos that show much more of Istria if anyone is interested.

Mike and I have cycled to the end of the west coast of Istria and planned on continuing our route up the eastern coast.  We drove a large part of that area today and rapidly changed our minds.  The major road along the eastern coast is two lanes, busy and narrow with no shoulder for most of it. There is no bike path to be seen outside of the actual resort towns.  We decided that it wasn’t worth our safety to just extend a green line on our map.  We were enjoying having a “mission” or plan to our cycling.  Now we will just ride around and enjoy ourselves. It turns out that cycling is much easier and nicer to do at this time of the year. We were told that, in the summer season, bikes aren’t allowed on most of the paths along the coast as they are filled with pedestrians. Traffic is also much busier on the roads. I am not sure if we would love the place quite as much in summer as we do in the spring and fall.

Great views around every corner of Istria

We are currently camping near the town of Funtana on the eastern coast, in one of the few campsites that is open year round.  The campsite is quite small and everyone is a little closer together than I really like.  The campground is very well kept and family owned.  They have a lovely looking infinity pool and wading area but the water is extremely cold.  I have never seen anyone using it and I don’t expect to.  I am told that the washrooms and showers are very large, very clean, with lots of hot water and that we should use them.  That isn’t happening.  I like my own facilities.

For 750 € or less than $1,200 Canadian you can winter in this campground for seven months (Oct 1 – Apr 1).  Even though we didn’t arrive until the end of October and are going home for a few months, I think we will take up this offer.  We will be able to leave our car here and have our RV plugged in and set up all winter.  The owners have said that, if we leave them a key, they will come and check on our RV every week which is great.  We will be here for five weeks this year and possibly a month next year which is all covered in the one rate.  It seems like a good deal, especially since we haven’t seen any storage areas that store motorhomes or campers with engines. They only store towable caravans.  We will have to move just outside the campground gate but the alcove we will park in is actually larger and easier to access than where we are now.  Many of the camping spots, including the one we are in, are already booked for the Christmas holidays.  There are quite a few people in this small campground that are staying for the winter. 

We met Gerd, a German who is staying in a tent for the entire winter.  Gerd has a car and one day went out and bought everything he needed, including all the spices, to make us mulled wine in true German Christmas tradition.  He brought wine and all the ingredients over to our RV one evening.  He and Mike heated everything up and cooked mulled wine on our stove.  I was surprised, I quite liked it and I wasn’t sure that I would. 

The campground has a number of small “mobile homes” as they call them.  These are not campers but small units each with one or two bedrooms and a living area/kitchen.  If it really gets too cold Gerd will move into one of these for a night or two.  There is a nice communal room open for the campers with a log fire and a stack of wood.  Gerd often uses this area to read in and work on his computer.  Tonight we are having drinks with a couple of Britain.  They didn’t plan to be away for the entire winter but they like the idea of staying here during Covid better than going home.  Given the Covid-19 restrictions that we will encounter when we return home to Canada, I can understand that.

The other family we have been talking to are from the Czech Republic.  Martina and her husband started traveling a few years ago, not full time but for a month or two at a time.  Both can work from their van.  They spent much of their time mountain climbing and wakeboarding.  This changed when they had a child who is now two.  The three of them are living in the van but I think that it has started to feel much smaller with a two year old toddling around.  Thanks to Covid at home, they have also decided to winter here in Funtana.  In her “spare” time, Martina keeps a blog.  She interviewed us for almost two hours recently for an article.  She has been taking pictures of the RV and once took a picture of us before I had had my first coffee.  I am not sure what that will turn out like.  Her website is https://pohled-za-hranice.cz/ but you will need Google translate to read any of it as it is in Czech.  Initially Martina took a photo of our camper and posted it on Instagram.  She told her readers that she was going to interview us and did they have any questions that they wanted answered.  Apparently she got quite a few responses and had a long list of questions for us.  She said that the most common request that she got from her viewers was to take photos inside our home and then post them.

Another town discovered while exploring

Today is one of the few days when we haven’t gone out for the day before lunch.  Almost every day we are either biking or touring in the car.  Our bike rides often involve quite long drives to a new area to cycle through.  We actually don’t see that many campers because we are never around during the day.  It gets dark before 5 pm or 17:00 h.  This is very good for being out and taking pictures of lovely sunsets but it does cut into our bike riding time and it definitely cuts into our time to wander around the campground in daylight and see who is here.  While I am sitting writing this in the RV on my computer, Mike is out actually talking to other campers for once.  The other day we saw a vehicle from the Netherlands as we were driving out.  It was gone before we every looked again in the daylight.

There are some problems living out of a mobile home away from Canada.  Recently I discovered that most of Croatia has never heard of Grand Marnier, which is one of the few liqueurs that I drink.  Beer, wine and liquor is sold here in grocery stores but they don’t stock Grand Marnier.  Gerd has been looking for us when he visits other towns as well.  We did find a local liquor distributor online that actually delivered except that their system couldn’t take a credit card with a Canadian billing address.  After looking for a bottle for more than a month, Mike and I drove over an hour to this distributor’s warehouse on the other coast of Istria.  Now to be honest, we had planned on driving over to that coast anyway and will do so more than once over the next few weeks.  Other issues while traveling include trying to order items from the internet when you don’t have an immediate delivery.  This can cause major problems as you don’t even know what country you might be in by the time the delivery occurs.

Trying to find out the local status of the coronavirus is very confusing.  One European and one Belgium website show Croatia as a red or hot zone.  A Croatian website shows all areas of Croatia as either green or yellow, with Istria in the green.  Yet another local tells us that most of Croatia is red but we are in the only safe area which is Istria.  It is extremely confusing.

I think that I will leave the description of our visits to some of the hill top villages, medieval inland towns and coastal resort towns for the next posting.  You will have to wait to hear about us cycling through an area with hunters, guns and hunting dogs: NOT comfortable.

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