The best thing about Bale is that it’s on the way somewhere. In a place like Croatia’s Istrian peninsula, where there are dozens of medieval towns and villages to explore, that’s important. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have experienced these sensational pre-sunset hues that plastered the early autumn landscape that enveloped us. And wouldn’t have discovered what is now on my short list of favorite Istrian towns.
Tucked neatly among olive groves and vineyards about halfway between Rovinj and Vodnjan –and another 12 kilometers further, the port city of Pula– Bale (Valle to Italians) was for us a dinner pit stop on the way to the latter.
A quick google search turned up La Grisa (in the center) and Meneghetti (on the outskirts), well-rated but relatively pricey slow food-style Konobas, the local word for the Italian trattoria or Slovenian gostilna. On the recommendation of a newsstand/trafika owner, we settled on the more authentic and less fussy Kod Kancelira, where locals drinking bottomless glasses of Istrian red out front greeted us warmly. The homemade truffle cheese soaking in olive oil from the proprietor’s cellar was a nice fit after a few hours in the car. I had a steak and Danijela had gnocchi, both topped with a creamy truffle sauce; when or if you go, ask for a less creamy version.
A self-guided pre-sunset circle tour followed, largely along where walls once fortified the old town center. The colors were just about perfect, made all the better coming at the tail end of Ljubljana’s darkest September on record. The light was pushing energy into my pores.
What struck us both immediately was how neat and well-kept everything was. I’d estimate that two-thirds to three-quarters of the houses on our after dinner walk –many well over a century old– have fresh facades, new windows, new roofs. The contrast with similar towns, such as the nearby and larger Vodnjan, was striking.
There were guest houses galore, with several more on the market –many of those requiring an infusion of cash-backed TLC–for those interested in trying to cash in on the AirBnB boom before it inevitably goes bust. I must admit the thought was inviting. The nearest shore, purportedly Istria’s most pristine, is just five kilometers away.
Its focal point is the central Tomaso Bembo Square, dominated by the Gothic-Renaissance facade of the 16th century Soardo-Bembo Castle (above). It’s a beautiful structure, fully renovated in 2012. Sitting opposite is the equally impressive municipal building (below) whose exquisite loggia dates back to the 14th century.
It’s quiet, laid back and seemingly out of the way –at least by current standards. Posters suggested plenty to do during the summer months. I’ll definitely be back. And will stay for breakfast and lunch, too.
A few more images below; I didn’t feel like carrying or fidgeting with my DSLR so these are all iPhone snaps.