The medieval hilltop towns are a landmark of the inland part of Istria. The towns were strategically built on top of small hills from the prehistory until nowadays. Rent a car or stroll on your own (there are even bike trails to reach those towns all around Istria) to beautiful hilltop towns surrounded by vineyards.
You can choose between a variety of them: Hum (supposedly the smallest town in the world, but definitely the smallest in Croatia), Buje, Buzet, Labin, Motovun, Grožnjan, Oprtalj, etc.
On one of our first days in Poreč, we planned a one-day trip and visited two of the most famous hilltop towns: Motovun (the largest one) and Grožnjan (the most picturesque one).
Motovun is a popular hilltop town in inland Istria, only 30 km from Poreč (our starting point). It's located on a hill 270 m above sea level, so you'll have a stunning view of the river Mirna, Motovun forest and vineyards surrounding it.
Motovun forest has moist soil where truffles grow successfully. This is why this whole region is rich with black and white truffles, which you can find in any restaurant. People look for truffles with the help of specially trained dogs or even pigs. In the Art In Situ shop and atelier in Motovun, you can buy funny T-shirts and bags with an image of “Kiko, the truffle pig”.
The price of a plate with traditional Istrian pasta with truffles in Motovun is about 120 kn. You can also have meat with truffles, truffle soup or pizza with truffles (in Caffe Bar Bistro Montona Gallery with a view). There are many small shops all around Motovun selling truffle products. Prices are varying from pure truffles being the most expensive (more than 150kn) to truffle pasta mixed with Istrian olive oil, mushrooms, etc. (60-120 kn).
It's believed that in ancient times, giants inhabited Istria. Croatian writer from the 20th century Vladimir Nazor wrote a story about a good giant Veli Jože, who supposedly could move church bells with his hands. Veli Jože is a popular motive in inland Istria, so it's not a surprise that the writer Vladimir Nazor and his character have a plaque dedicated to them in Motovun.
If you come to Motovun by car, there is a parking lot under the hill, which costs 20 kn/day. From there, you can follow a 15min road by foot until the top of the hill. I was afraid of riding uphill, but there is also a closer parking space only 5min walk from the town gate (also 20 kn/day). You can also take a shuttle bus uphill from the first parking space, but I'm not sure if it's worth it. You'll pay the price of a bus for nothing. I'm sure you're able to walk 15 min uphill enjoying the scenery on the way.
Just follow the road, pass the cemetery and the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the 16th century to reach the entrance to the city. You can try traditional Croatian sweets called fritule from one of the stands near the bus station in Vladimira Gortana Street or enter one of the many art and souvenir shops along the street. Before the Town Gate, there are a few nice restaurants (some with a view of the surrounding vineyards) offering meals with truffles (Konoba Mondo, Restaurant Fakin, Restaurant Pod Voltom).
When you enter the City Gate, you'll find yourself in a small square. You'll see a bell tower from the 13th century, a trademark of Motovun, right next to the Church of St. Stephan from the 17th century (you can take a peek inside the church for free). There is also a picturesque well from the 15th century on the square, a post office, a restaurant of the hotel Kaštel (where we had lunch) and a ticket office for the city walls.
The entrance to the city walls is 25 kn. However, you'll still have a miraculous view of the surroundings for free from the outer walls on the west side of the city.
Follow Borgo Street down the hill to get back to the parking lot. On your way, stop to take photos of charming stone houses adorned with colorful flowers, a typical image of the Istrian medieval hilltop towns. You'll also find many cats lying on the cobbled streets and relaxing in the shadow bellow plants or bushes.
Take a peek into people's backyards and listen to neighbors gossiping or complaining about the weather. Maybe you'll notice some curious look coming from behind colorful window shutters (called škure around the Croatian Coast) on old stone houses.
Movie lovers will be glad to hear that the international Motovun Film Festival takes place in the city since 1999. It lasts for five or six days in late July or early August and it shows movies from small production studios and independent film production (from Europe and the USA). During the festival, you can watch about 70 movies from different genres. The best movie gets Propeler Motovuna award.
The propeller is a symbol of Motovun Film Festival since the inventor of one of the first working ship's propellers, Josef Ressler, spent some time in Motovun working as a forester in Motovun forest.
Motovun Film Festival became popular especially among the young Croatians and international backpackers. There is a camp area for the visitors under the Motovun hill every year during the film festival.
A medieval town with cobbled streets and squares, old stone houses, the Town of Art and the Town of Music... Those are all attributes that make this charming little town even more interesting.
Grožnjan is one of the Istrian medieval hilltop towns with less than 800 inhabitants and area of only 68 km2. It's located about 35 km from Poreč and only 18 km from Motovun.
If you enter the town from the north, from Buje side, there is a paid parking lot (7 kn/hour) near the main Church of St. Vitus, Modest and Crescentius, an original Gothic Parish church reconstructed in the time of Baroque. You can also park about 200 m before the paid parking lot for free on a dirt road, as we did.
Grožnjan is nicknamed the Town of Artist in 1965 since his cobbled streets are “decorated” with almost 40 small art galleries. You'll find them on every corner of the town with colorful paintings and other artworks on display near the galleries. Every year in September, there is an event called Ex Tempore in Grožnjan, when local artists create their work on the spot, on the town streets. The whole town becomes one large exhibition.
The International Centre of Croatian Music Youth is placed in Grožnjan since 1969. Musicians from all over the world come to Grožnjan to perform or educate young artists. While strolling the streets of Grožnjan, you'll hear classical or more modern melodies coming from some hidden corner of the town. No wonder that the town is nicknamed the Town of Music.
Grožnjan also hosts an International Jazz Festival every year in July called Jazz is Back!. If you come in the time of a festival, you can enjoy a great jazz performance every night under the bright summer sky.
What makes Grožnjan one of the most beautiful small towns in Croatia, are its cobbled streets, stone houses with colorful windows built one next to another and the stunning view behind the medieval city walls. Trust me, you'll stop in every street and on every square to take a photo.
You can sit in one of the town cafés on a hill slope and have a coffee with a view of olive gardens, vineyards, green forests, and surrounding hills. Breathtaking! We chose the café Vero to enjoy our last coffee in Grožnjan before heading back to Poreč.