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For a taste of Istrian interior, visit Motovun, the most popular and charming hilltop town in the region full of them.
- How to get to Motovun and get around
- 5 things not to miss
- Where to stay?
- Where to eat?
- Top 3 day trips from Motovun
- 5 things you didn’t know about Motovun
Motovun sits on top of a hill towering over the valley of Mirna, the biggest Istrian river. The location was settled since Celtic times, but the town we know today was mostly built under Venetian rule in the Middle Age. Its centuries-old walls and buildings are the best preserved in Istria, giving the place a unique charm. Yet Motovun is more than its quaint architecture and the breathtaking view. It is the Croatian capital of truffles and hosts a famous film festival.
The closest airport is the one in Pula. From there, the best option is to get a rent-a-car or a private transfer, as public transport connections to Motovun are almost non-existent. Another close airport is the one in Rijeka, about one and a half hours away by road. Trieste’s airport is also one and a half hours away, but watch out for possible traffic jams at the Croatian-Slovenian border.
Motovun is located in central-to-north Istria, next to road 44 which connects two parts of the Istrian “Y” motorway via the town of Buzet. If coming from Zagreb and Rijeka, best to exit the motorway at Lupoglav and continue onto road 44. If driving from Slovenia or Italy, leave the motorway at Nova Vas and continue onto road 44. Same applies if coming from Pula. An alternative way from Pula is to take road 21 to Štuti, then turn left onto the road to Motovun via Karojba. This is also an option if traveling from Rovinj – take road 303 to the intersection near Brajkovići, then turn onto road 21. These are the slower routes, but will let you experience Istrian interior.
Motovun itself is easy to get around by foot. Just note that you will have to exercise a bit if not staying in the old town itself. Exploring the town’s surroundings will take a car or at least a bike.
Motovun is surrounded by the eponymous forest, famous for the abundance of truffles growing there. And it’s not only the spot for common black ones but also one of the few places in the world where you can find the more delicate white ones. Truffle-based dishes are readily available in most local restaurants at very affordable prices.
For those who wish to experience more, try truffle hunts with dogs. Check out Miro Tartufi for that. Another great place for truffle hunts is Karlić tartufi in Paladini village. It is some 20 minutes away from Motovun by car, but you’ll be in for some nice views of Istrian hills and Butoniga lake. Both establishments also provide a truffle brunch and offer various truffle-based products.
If you find yourself in Motovun in October, check out the Teta Festival – festival of truffles and teran, local red wine.
Istria happens to be Croatia’s most developed wine-producing region, and some of its best winemakers reside in Motovun area. The ones to check out are Benvenuti, Tomaz, and Fakin. All are located in Motovun itself or in the nearby villages. They mostly make wines from Istrian varieties, Malvazija and Teran.
For something funkier, namely heavily aged red and amber wines, try winery Roxanich in the aforementioned hotel. Their forte are heavily aged red and amber wines. If organic is your thing, check out Ipša in the nearby village of Ipši. If there, make sure you taste some of their olive oil made, which ranks among the best in the world!
In 1902, the Austrians built a narrow-gauge railway between Poreč (called Parenzo in Italian) and Trieste, which passed right below Motovun. Its main purpose was exporting wine, which Istria at the time produced even more than today.
Winding through numerous tunnels and over numerous viaducts, it was agonizingly slow – the journey of 123 kilometers lasted for about 7 hours. The railway was dismantled under Italian rule in 1935, but its viaducts and tunnels were preserved. Today, most of the railway route serves as a biking or hiking trail. For more details, see the official webpage.
Motovun Film Festival
Founded in 1999 by director Rajko Grlić and producer Boris T. Matić, the festival helped turn then-sleepy Motovun into a popular destination. The festival itself became one of the most renowned Croatian movie festivals, attracting big names such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Vanessa Redgrave, Ken Russell, Stephen Daldry, Terry Jones, among others. It is usually held in late July or early August, with the entire town being turned into an open-air cinema. The movie shows are accompanied by rich additional programme, making Motovun one of the coolest places to be in Croatia at the moment. Make sure to reserve accommodation in time if you want to attend, as finding a place to stay can be mission impossible otherwise. For any additional info, check the festival’s website.
Istarske toplice (Istrian spa)
Below the rocks of Mirna river’s canyon, you will find the only Istrian spa. It is renowned for its sulfur-rich mineral water, used for the treatment of rheumatic and skin diseases. This is a place to be if you are a healthy tourist but is also open to those who simply want to relax in pools and saunas. The place is located some 15 minutes away by car from Motovun, and is also very close to the aforementioned konoba Dolina.
There are numerous private apartments and rooms in the old town. It’s best to book them well in advance, as in peak season it might be difficult to get a room. The only hotel in the old town is Kaštel. Its plus is that it comprises wellness and spa, and a good restaurant. At the base of Motovun you will find Roxanich hotel, located in a fancily refurbished old winery – and, as mentioned, comprising a winery too. A good idea is also to look for a villa with a pool in Motovun’s surroundings – it is a common choice among visitors to Istria. Some agrotourism offer accommodation too.
As mentioned, Motovun is famous for truffles, but Istrian cuisine is much more than them. Motovun area is not the place to try seafood, but the traditional food of central Istria, simple yet tasty. Think rich soups, local pastas and juciy meat cuts.
The most famous restaurant in the old town is konoba Mondo, once visited by Anthony Bourdain. Another recommendable eatery is konoba Fakin, whose owner is the aforementioned winemaker, where you can try a selection of his wines. If willing to drive some 10 minutes to Gradinje village, you will find konoba Dolina, one of the best traditional food restaurants in Istria. Agritourisms, abundant in the area, are also well worth a short drive from Motovun. Check out Tikel, Štifanići, Toni or Matijašić for homemade food served in idylic surroundings.
The Seven Waterfalls of Mirna
Only 20 minutes away from Motovun, next to Buzet town, you will find easily the most magical hiking trail in Istria. It runs next to rivers Mirna and its tributary Draga. These two intertwine in the forests and hill, forming the 7 waterfalls, along with countless cascades, lakes, ponds and rapids. Additional attractions on the route are old mine shafts, old mills, and a refurbished old village named Kotli. There you can treat yourself to a meal in restaurant Kotlić.
The trail’s starting and ending point are located near Buzet’s brewery (Buzetska pivovara). Its length is some 15 kilometers and can take over 5 hours to cross. Make sure to bring suitable footwear and keep in mind that the trail takes some effort and skill.
Croatia’s closest Italian city has a rich history. Up to the end of World War I, it was Austria’s main harbour and one of the most vibrant cities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After its dissolution, it was, like Istria, annexed by Italy. When World War 2 ended, Yugoslavia tried to annex it as it did Istria. This led to a dispute with Italy, which resulted in the city being proclaimed a free state. It existed until 1954 when it was ceded to Italy. For Yugoslavia, it became the place where its citizens went to buy consumer goods not available in their socialist homeland. This intertwining of Italian, Slavic, and Austrian cultures created a unique city, resembling Vienna, but located by the sea.
A drive from Motovun takes less than one hour and a half unless there is a jam at the Croatian-Slovenian border. The city is definitely worth a visit for sightseeing, shopping or simply going for aperitivo, as Italians call bar-hopping after work.
One of the gems of Istria’s west coast, Poreč is, alongside Rovinj, the most visited place in Istria. The town is over 2000 years old, and was built in Roman times as a castrum, a military camp. Its forum and main streets, Cardo and Decumanus, are still visible. The most famous local landmark is Euphrasian basilica, a fine example of early Byzantine architecture, a protected UNESCO’s World Heritage site. If staying in Motovun, you might wish for a swim in the sea – Poreč is famous for its beaches too. A drive from Motovun lasts for about 40 minutes. Find out more about Poreč in our Poreč in a Page article.
The town boasts easily the longest staircase in Croatia, leading from the town’s base up to the top. A popular local challenge is to count them all while climbing – see if you can! (Just to help a bit, there are over one thousand of them.)
For a while, Motouvun was the residence of this Austrian forester and inventor, known for the invention of ship propeller. A story claims he got the idea for it by watching propeller-shaped maple seeds flying in the Motovun forest. Be it true or not, Ressel is the reason Motovun Film Festival adopted propeller as its main symbol and the name of its main award.
One of the most famous American racing drivers was born in Motovun. When he was a kid, he and his brother would build wooden carts and race down their hometown’s steep streets. Like many Italians, the Andretti family left Istria for Italy after World War II, finally emigrating to USA in 1955. There, Mario became the only driver in history to win Formula One World Championship, Indianapolis 500, and Daytona 500.
Zamask, a village close to Motovun once used to be a local version of Cold War Berlin. Since the Middle Age, Istria was divided between Venice and Austria, and Zamask was located at the often disputed border. After a war in 1508, the border cut the village in half, dividing even the local church. This led to bickering between the citizens of Venice-ruled Motovun, who owned land across the border, and Austrian governor based in Pazin town. Looting from inhabitants on the other side also wasn’t uncommon. The feud lasted into the 19th century, even after the Austrian takeover of the entire peninsula.
Local legends say that a long time ago giants dwelled in Istria, and built a number of old Istrian towns, including Motovun. This inspired famous Croatian writer Vladimir Nazor for one of his most popular novels, whose title character is kind-hearted giant Veli Jože. He works as a serf for the citizens of Motovun, who exploit and mistreat him, leading him to pursue freedom. Do not worry, the people of Motovun are nothing like the villains described in the novel!
Motovun tourist board’s webpage: https://www.tz-motovun.hr/en
To follow the latest news from Motovun, check out the dedicated TCN page.