Cooks' Tour 2007: Glen & Marg's Excellent Adventure travel blog

Outside the walled town of Groznjan. An abandoned road, paved with stones,...

This church with a porch is also outside the town wall. We...

The tree looked almost as old as the town wall...

Here's the single gate into the town.

This building was once quite grand, with its arcade that looks like...

The streets are narrow and paved with stones, with many arches over...

This building is attached by the 'plus-15' to the school of drama...

Looking down from Groznjan at the limestone hills and green valleys.

Most of the houses are carefully restored, with lovely 'gardens' on the...

Down from the town, the soil is red. Grain and onions are...

Oprtalj is another town with a walled medieval centre. We didn't go...

The green terraces opposite Oprtalj are not cultivated now.

Here's Glen getting into the picture now and then...

Another porched church in Oprtalj. The inside was falling down, abandoned.

Here is the view from inside the porch of the church.

The modern town looks prosperous and new (relatively...).

Entering the gates of Hum, the world's smallest city? Looking thru a...

Here's half of Hum...well, not quite, but it is small.

Even in Hum, the chimney pots are decorative.

This field of massive stone letters commemorates the old alphabet, and the...

A winding path takes you from letter to letter, spelling out something...

Each letter is a work of art. This is an A, or...

And this plaque tells about the artists and their project.


We went for a drive today to see a few of the old towns in northern Istria.

Groznjan is an old walled town at the top of a hill that has a very long history. It was a neolithic hill fort, a Roman town, then part of the feudal possessions of a succession of families, part of the Venetian empire in the 1500s, and more....Its recent history is most interesting. After WWII, when this part of the world was part of communist Yugoslavia, the government booted out all the Italians and expropriated their houses. Groznjan was left empty - deserted by the Italian-speaking inhabitants after their houses were taken from them. The empty houses were then being looted for their contents and for the building parts - stone door and window frames, and so on. Some clever teacher in the area had the idea of inviting artists and musicians to occupy the houses and turn Groznjan into an 'artist's colony'. So artists came to live in the town, fixed up the houses, and re-vitalized the town. Our sources tell us that the new inhabitants kept their receipts for renovations and reconstruction of the houses, and when the houses were fit to sell again, they were able to present the receipts and get ownership of the houses for the price of the renovations that they had already done. That was in the 1950s and 60s. Now it is a beautiful town that hosts a summer music school and festival, and thrives on the tourists that this brings. It is still full of artists, and many of them sell their works in the town. I'm told that there is jazz on the plaza every night in the summer.

The other very interesting place was Hum, which bills itself as the world's smallest city. It is a walled town, or perhaps a fortified farm would be a better description. There is an old town gate, with new and beautiful brass doors. The road to the town has a series of massive sculptures, all of which celebrate the old alphabet that was established by a medieval missionary (now a saint). The alphabet is no longer used for Croatian writing, but is kept alive as part of the Croatian heritage.

The countryside around these villages is quite wild, with large forests of leafy trees and a few sparse farms. It looks as though far fewer people live here than in the Italian countryside. The new farm buildings and houses look quite prosperous, though, and the fields of vines, grain, and vegetable crops look well-tended and productive. The soil in much of the area is a deep red-brown, like Prince Edward Island, and we saw lots of potatoes planted here, too.

Rovinj and the Istrian peninsula is very beautiful, and I recommend it to all travellers. Our guide book (Rick Steves of 'Backdoor Travel', on Public TV from Spokane) glosses over Istria in one short paragraph, with passing mention of Rovinj as 'quaint'. While it is quite 'touristy', and gets lots of Europeans in the summer, it is well worth a lengthy visit, I think, for the coastal scenery, the fascinating old city, and the beautiful mountain towns. On our drive through the countryside to Groznjan and Hum, we both were reminded of northern Ontario, or the mountain valleys of north-central BC. The landscapes are greener, with fewer evergreens and more leafy trees, but the feeling is the same - big outcrops of rock; high, unpopulated hills; roads with deep cuts and steep banks; high meadows and sparsely dispersed, small farms. We felt quite at home and enjoyed the landscapes as well as the towns. I was a little less enthusiastic than Glen was about the narrow, steep, gravel road to Groznjan. As we took the hairpins on the way up the hill, I kept watching for a big truck to come barrelling down the road, which was not wide enough for two vehicles. Luckily, there was a paved road down the other side of the hill, on our route to Hum. Whew! (from me) and Darn! (from Glen).



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