Category - Our Travels

These are posts about our own travel experiences.

On the Truffle Hunt in Istria

Discovering Istria’s Bounty of Truffles

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Istria’s Motovun Mountains are one of the world’s largest sources of coveted black and white truffles. Only here, where Epitourean offers a range of fabulous culinary and outdoor excursions, are these delicious and pricey tubers available to harvest nearly twelve months a year. Compare that with countries like France and Italy, places that many truffle lovers associate with the pungent fungus, but that have shorter and more defined harvest seasons. This is one tasty reason that Istria clocks on our culinary radar. Here, chefs grate black truffles on pasta in the middle of June and shave white truffles over eggs and risotto in late December and January. Even during the earliest spring days of March, Périgord truffles are found here, and some cooks prefer to slice them paper thin and slide them beneath the skins of chickens before they hit the roaster.

While there are many established, family run companies and independent hunters of this regional Istrian delicacy, one in particular has caught our attention. Epitourean built a strong partnership with Zigante, a family of expert truffle hunters that procure every variety of truffle known in the area and produce over 50 different truffle products, from truffle oils and spreads to truffle salami and cheeses. Their shop and restaurant are together the epicenter of truffle culture here in Istria. It is a lovely stopover where Epitourean brings clients to shop for and taste local truffle specialties once they’ve finished a gentle downhill bike ride on the bosky Parenzana Trail.

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Looking to get in on the hunt? Take advantage of our limited-time offer to visit Istria during white truffle season at a special, discounted rate.

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Discovering Istria’s Parenzana Trail

Bucket List: Biking Istria’s Parenzana Trail

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Istria has a clutch of amazing destinations that we continue to discover and refer to Epitourean travellers. Of these are its bosky trails, which are perfect for year round hiking and biking. Most travellers tend to ignore the region’s stunning interior woodlands in favor of Croatia’s seaside resorts, beaches and boating activities. But that’s a bit of a shame, especially because there are so many stunning trails to explore. One of these is Istria’s Parenzana Trail, a moderately challenging path, that is best explored on bike, and ideal for those who are seeking gorgeous panoramas, a little activity, and small Istrain villages along the way.

The Parenzana Trail was once a narrow gauge railway that connected Trieste, Italy with Istria’s sea facing town, Porec. It operated until 1935, carrying people and goods between quaint villages and port cities. The journey was slow, around six or seven hours, because the heavy trains had to snake up and down hills, and through tunnels and towns. With the advent of more efficient modes of transportation, the Parenzana became obsolete. The Italian fascist dictator, Mussolini had the steel train tracks dismantled after 1935. They were loaded onto a boat and shipped down the Adriatic to be smelted and used toward WWII axis power war efforts. Weighed down by too much tonnage of steel, the ship sank to the bottom of the sea.

The trail’s fascinating history is obviously enlarged by the regions stunning beauty. In the summer the forests are green and lush, and in the autumn they turn gold and red like New England’s deciduous landscapes. Charming hilltop towns stand against soft blue skies, and along the way there are restaurants and shops that offer regional delicacies like truffles, honey, wines and olive oils. It is the perfect adventure, for groups, couples and solo travellers alike. Epitourean is pleased to discover and offer a range of fun, easy bike and hiking tours along this beautiful Istrain trail.

Postcard from Positano

Wanderlust: One Traveller’s Highlights of Beautiful Positano

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One of Epitourean’s intrepid travellers, Robert Everson, shared with us some of his favourite things about his recent culinary tour of Positano, Italy:  Positano is truly a dream and a completely different type of vacation than Florence. It is so laid back and easy going, and was a perfect end to our trip. Well done Edible Destinations team! One piece of advice: make sure to buy some local ceramics and ship them home. We stayed at the Hotel Poseidon, which is funky and quirky. It reminded me of the hotel from the film, Mamma Mia! The hotel’s staff were all outstanding, especially Annalisa in the bar and Marco at the front desk. The best part of the hotel was the view. Definitely reserve one of the rooms with a balcony overlooking the sea. We spent an entire day on the patio with a bottle of wine and didn’t move. It’s just so breathtaking. One of my favourite moments was a cooking class with Donna Rosa! Not the Donna Rosa in town where the hotel is, but the restaurant at the top of the town. It’s about a 15 – 20 minute drive from the hotel. We spent hours with Mamma, Papa, and Erika their daughter, learning to make several dishes and different types of pasta. This was everything we could have ever imagined an Italian cooking class to be, and a highlight of our entire honeymoon! We can’t wait to share our new cooking skills with friends and family! We also spent a day in Pompei. Definitely use a guide for your visit. It was absolutely amazing. I recommend to fit Pompeii into your itinerary when you travel from Naples to Positano since you drive right by it. Our favorite restaurant while we were there was Mediterraneo. It is only a five minute walk from the hotel. We ate there twice! Great fresh pasta and seafood. We also enjoyed Max Enoteca down in the city. It was a bit pricey, but worth it. We were so sad to leave, but have such amazing memories. A huge thank you to Edible Destinations for making our dreams come true and creating a magical experience for us. Well done! 

Our Favorite Istrian Wineries

Istria’s burgeoning wine business is something that locals will tell you is a tradition dating back millenniums. The region supplied Roman emperors, popes, Austro-Hungarian diplomats, and wine consumers throughout the wider Mediterranean. Today, this Istrian export is traded globally, and many of the region’s wineries have established tasting rooms, some in 19th century farm houses, others in modern, design driven spaces. Epitourean has strong relationships with many of the regions best wineries where we bring our clients on group or solo excursions. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Kozlovic Wine Estate is a family run business that has been making award winning red, white and dessert wines since 1904. These forth generation wine makers focus on producing native Istrian varietals on their 62 acres of vineyards. Their wines are delicious and seem to taste better when tried on site in their new modern tasting room. Don’t leave without sampling their white Valle wine, a crystal clear and fruity wine and one of Kozlovic’s classics.

2. Kabola Wine Estate produces one of the most unique wines in Istria, if not the world. They are of the few wine producers globally to make a wine fermented in large clay amphoras that they keep buried in the ground and allow fermentation to occur from the circulating natural yeasts in their environment. The result is a pleasantly unusual wine, best for drinking after dinner or by itself, and persimmon in color. Kabola is situated in a gorgeous valley that seems like a Tuscan landscape, and hosts daily wine tastings.

3. Bale San Tommaso Wine Estate sits on a 150-year old estate in Istria’s quiet village, Golas. Wine tastings happen in the winery’s recently renovated 19th century farm house. It’s a cozy wood clad room with tables and benches, and an upstairs loft that doubles as a sort of museum with an assemblage of antique farming and wine making equipment. Istrian delicacies and nibbles are offered to pair with the estate’s tipples, and the staff is incredibly warm and welcoming, not to mention wonderfully knowledgable of the Istria’s pantheon of wines.

4. Matosevic Wine Estate seems to always be bustling with eager oenophiles passing through to try the house’s latest vintage. The estate where the wine tastings happen is small, but charming, and has a large back yard planted with fruit trees and furnished with tables and chairs where tastings happen during the warmer months. These first generation wine producers are best known as the founders of Vin Istria, one of the region’s most important annual wine fairs.

5. Degrassi Wine Estate is probably Istria’s most prodigious wine making family, producing a whopping list of 30 different wines. Hidden off a busy road in northern Istria, this family run winery is blessed with a lively and animated sommelier who explains with clarity and detail the company’s wine making philosophy and the tasting notes of each Degrassi vintage. The tasting room is charming and rustic, and flanked on either side by a large fireplace and family-style table where the tastings are presented.

 

 

24 Hours in Pula

Walking through the historic center of Istria’s capital, Pula, is like leafing through a  ledger of the region’s layered and complicated history. This beautiful Adriatic city on the southern most tip of Istria is well know for its large port, its mild climate and its long standing traditions of fishing, shipbuilding, and winemaking, just to name a few. But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Pula is that, over the centuries, this bustling port city has been coveted my one tribe or another, and mostly empires of extreme power and might. And nowhere is this more evident than in the architectural footprints that each civilization left on their way out.

Even though Pula’s history dates back over 3000 years, the Romans left an indelible mark on the city. Their domination of Pula changed the city forever; its urban planning, from roads to sanitary and public services, were left vastly improved. And though the Roman empire eventually fell, you can still see what it left behind:  ancient forums, Roman columns, a temple to the Emperor Augusts, and a breathtaking colosseum near the edge of the city’s port. These are just a few of the colossal architectonic reminders that great powers have passed through here. Later empires left equally amazing urban relics.

Anyone travelling by foot through Pula’s center will immediately notice that the Venetians, the Austro-Hungarians; and fascist and communist regimes were also here. Instances of these are found in brick and stone throughout Pula’s main square, Piazza Foro. Here you find examples of ancient Roman temples and stonework; heavy Austro- Hungarian buildings; rationalist architecture, and blocky Venetian brick work buildings. These are all clumped together in a pastiche of public building that tells the story of how Pula was and continues to be amazingly cosmopolitan. Literary luminaries like Dante Alighieri and James Joyce passed time in Pula, and during a casual stroll though town you will see placards and statues that mark where they and other artists once lived.

Beyond architectural wonders and a fascinating history, Pula has a trove of rollicking bars and innovative chefs. Their menus are inspired by their back yard larder: fresh fish and shellfish, Istrian wines, truffles and local cheeses and herbal breads. Epitourean has spent years exploring Istria, and more closely Pula, to create historical, adventure and gastronomic tours and unforgettable experiences for their clients.