If you want to experience Croatia’s northern Istrian peninsula as it once was, head inland, away from the crowded coast, and to the hills.
To a village like Oprtalj for instance, one that’s largely shied away from today’s common tug towards commercialized quaintness to instead maintain its strong authentic connection to its past.
It sounds cliché, but it’s also true. That’s readily evident as soon as you reach the near-empty parking lot along its ridge top main street, see and walk among its dozens of deserted and dilapidated buildings, and feel its charming stillness and welcome quiet.
That resistance to commercialization appears to be by default rather than design, but it’s appealing.
That’s not to say that the village, which dates back to at least the late 1100s, is a ghost town haunted by its past. Located at 378m above sea level and about 7km up a narrow serpentine road from the sleepy village of Livade, there are a handful of restaurants and cafes, galleries, gift shops and century-old stone homes renovated and restored well beyond their original glory.
But it’s considerably smaller than the more developed, well-known and busy nearby artist hub villages of Motovun (11km to the south) and Groznjan (15km to the west), whose feel are almost pretentious by comparison (although, for the record, they’re not). You should visit both of those too, just be sure to combine one or the other with a stop in Oprtalj for the contrast. You’ll find it welcomingly refreshing.
The views from the ridge are sensational, overlooking olive orchards and vineyards that worm their way up the hill from almost all directions. The gradual rise makes it popular among bicyclists. So do the local wine roads.
Oprtalj, or Portole in Italian, was at its peak in the late 18th and early 19th century when the Venetian Republic’s decline handed it to Austria, but not before giving its decidedly northern Italian/Venetian feel. We didn’t stay long, but it doesn’t take long for a self-guided tour of the town which encompasses little more than a handful of blocks, most accessible through narrow arched stone streets. Don’t expect long waits anywhere. Do expect a sublime overdose of lavender.
A few accounts I read suggested that the town’s population peaked at about two thousand. Currently? About fifty in the village proper. That’s according to a local artist, a Dutchwoman who lived in Motovun for a dozen years before relocating across the Mirna River valley to Oprtalj a few years ago. From one very small town to one even smaller, a move she said suits her nicely.
Eleven more quick snaps below; I didn’t feel like fumbling with my DSLR so I hope these phone snaps will do.
And a map to help you get your bearings.
Or, pin this for future reference.
For the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the site’s 906th straight, was snapped on 20 June 2016 in Oprtalj, Croatia.