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An ecofriendly taste of Istria

An ecofriendly taste of Istria
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After decades of struggling with its tourist identity has this Croatian peninsula found its niche in the holiday market with agritourism?
 
Within an hour of landing in Croatia we were sat in the outdoor dining area of the old stone farmhouse, shaded from the midday sun, and lapping up the homemade soup our hostess had prepared for us. With a glass of wine in hand and a growing sense of contentment I looked at my boyfriend knowingly – this was what we had come to Istria for.
 
We were still congratulating ourselves five minutes later when our hostess, Mira, laid down in front of us an eye-watering platter of fresh tomatoes, artichoke and a selection of hams and cheeses. I’d barely set foot in the country and already I felt at home and Mira with her openness and generosity was like a surrogate mum…except my mother can’t cook like this.
 
Mira and her husband Mario have opened up their home, Skabe, to guests under a scheme known as agritourism, which gives tourists the chance to experience rural life and sample authentic local food. For food lovers this is the ultimate way of travelling, while for the families involved, it means more money generated from tourism goes directly into their pockets.
 
We were staying in a cosy apartment in one of two farmhouses – the other is the family’s home – and we had full reign of the property’s grounds, including the small pool, the
An ecofriendly taste of Istria
traditional porch area and a garden with vegetable patch and a chicken enclosure. Looking out over the stone rooftops of the neighbouring houses from our balcony that afternoon we marvelled at the rustic beauty of it all – this was the perfect antithesis to our hectic London lives.
 
Istria, a large peninsula in northwest Croatia has strong links to Italy – it remained under Italian rule until the end of WWII and many towns close to the Italian border are bilingual – and its cuisine is fairly typically Mediterranean. Fresh olives, tomatoes, cheese, and homemade pasta and bread are staple ingredients here, but there are also some nice Istrian twists, such as the regional specialty of truffles and a penchant for rich stews and casseroles. However, its approach to tourism is far removed from that of Italy’s and there persists a nagging sense of missed opportunities, with locals seeming slightly baffled at the influx of tourists.
 
There are two sides of Istria – Blue Istria, which lies along its pretty and expansive rocky coastline, and Green Istria, the inland heart of the region where the rolling hills are home to small communities where most of the area’s produce is grown. Our base in the tiny town of Muntic, 20 miles inland from the nearest main city of Pula gave us access to both of these worlds.
 
Back at Skabe, Mira’ told us how many of the dishes that she cooks today have been passed down by generations, all using the freshest of ingredients; the idea of using foods that are out of season is completely alien to Istrians. Even in Muntic, where there is just one tiny local shop and a scattering a houses, every household grows its own vegetables.
 
The following day after a breakfast consisting of warm palenta, strong Turkish coffee and some more cheese – scuta is a personal favourite – we caught the local bus to Kamenjak, a national park, which is home to numerous hidden beaches. Agroturism houses are often in remote locations so hiring a car is advisable, but if you are patient enough to stand the rather erratic timetables, catching the local bus can give good insight into rural life and our route took us through lush countryside where olive groves and tomato vines vied for position.
 
After a long day at the beach we returned to Skabe for a delicious fish dinner, which had been cooked in an outdoor brick oven. After draining a bottle of the family’s white wine we decided to try some of the red, a delicious deep and full-bodied wine, made at the family’s nearby vineyard. 
 
One of the benefits of agritourism is you can choose how much or how little you would like to eat or drink at the host house so you don’t feel obliged to eat there every evening. That said, the food prepared for us by the Radesic family was superior to anything we ate anywhere else, and it wasn’t just Mira who did the cooking. One evening after we’d eaten in town Mira’s son Robert arrived at our door with a huge dish of mussels – in his mother’s absence he’d prepared too many for some new arrivals. We both had full bellies but I forced myself to try them and I was glad I did – they tasted as though they had been plucked from the sea that very minute and I devoured as many as I could until my stomach screamed for mercy. 
 
After five days of gorging it was time to return home but far from feeling bloated from over excess, we felt reenergised – we’d clearly eaten well. And although I think Mira’s claim that Istria’s olives are the tastiest in the world may have been tinged with a touch of bias - a Cretan told me the same about his region’s olives – we nevertheless stocked up with a couple of bottles of the family’s unmistakably delicious olive oil. And I don’t blame Mira for her unflinching sense of pride, there’s clearly a lot to be proud of.
 
Skabe
www.skabe.net; 00385 (0)52 212 511
Price: A double apartment with kitchen and a balcony costs from £40 per night. Food costs extra, with breakfast at £10 a head and a three-course dinner starting at £30 each, plus £10 for a bottle of wine. If you visit in September you can even help out with grape-picking.
 
Agritourism in Croatia is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in Istria. Most of the homes provide simple but pleasant accommodation and offer local dishes as well as selling their own wine, cheeses and olive oil. Go to www.istra.com/agroturizam for a list of rural homes in Istria offering accommodation and meals. As the name suggests, agritourism refers to holidays that take place in agricultural places, such as farms or ranches. The scope of these types of holidays varies greatly, and while some may simply give you the opportunity to taste homegrown food and try your hand at fruit-picking, others go further and encourage guests to feed animals and help plant crops.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 


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