Sip and unwind
A 15-minute taxi ride north of Pula is all it takes for a drastic scene change. Vodnjan is a forgotten stage set of a town where my footsteps reverberate against the flaking facades. The photo ops are irresistible, from the stone church to the sun-faded noticeboard on a shuttered Romanesque hall to the shadowy marble-paved crescents – nobody is around to spoil the deserted feel.
Once home to 100 in-demand shoemakers, Vodnjan isn’t actually deserted today. At sundown, the townsfolk funnel into Caffe Bar Arka on the grand neo-Gothic central square for glasses of amber Karlovačko beer. As much as I’d love to stay, I’m due at Medea Winery to taste its new Malvasia whites.
At Medea’s chic new tasting room on Vodnjan’s outskirts, I alternate bites of hard Dinarski cheese with sips of the fresh, fruity, dry white, an Istrian speciality going back to 14th-century Venetian occupation. The winery’s 60 hectares of grapevines spill down into the beaches of Medulin in the south, and their product is refreshingly easy to drink.
It all feels so continental, it’s a wonder Croatia just introduced the euro this year. Anyone exploring the countryside of this heart-shaped peninsula could easily draw comparisons with Italy, a hop, skip and jump away. Indeed, even the street signs here are written in both Italian and Croatian languages. Where there are no vineyards, the olive groves take over and baroque bell towers announce medieval limestone villages. Amalfi Coast-esque seaside coves, like Fažana and Rovinj, lure in yachts on island-hopping adventures.