It’s a real pleasure to be hosting a series of interviews with some very special Holiday Homeowners from around the world. They will share with you their reasons for loving where their holiday homes are situated, best-kept quirky travel secrets and top tips for making the most of your stay.
Nicky Anson and Phil Bryant made Istria, Croatia their home after many hectic years running their own marketing agency in Antwerp. Amidst its rocky coastline and lush landscape they discovered the more laid-back, outdoor lifestyle they were looking for; somewhere they could relax on outdoor sofas, lunch on the terrace and enjoy an afternoon swim.
After several years, Nicky and Phil realised what a fantastic holiday location this was and launched a holiday rentals business, alongside a blog chronicling their experiences, Liveistria.com. They now offer two beautiful properties to guests on HomeAway.co.uk ‘The Little House’ and a traditional stone cottage in Brnobici.
Here, Nicky talks about what first drew them to this “sweet spot” of the Med, why you should go, the region’s best kept secrets, and her favourite places to hang out.
What first made you fall in love with Istria and why should people come here?
When we first came here, Istria completely won my heart. I’d always thought the Med was dry and dusty, but Istria is green and covered with wonderful oak forests. Its rocky coastline, with pines growing down to the sea, is exquisite.
Inland, it’s full of time-forgotten, stone villages and along the coast you’ll find magnificent Venetian seaside towns. Here, the pace of life is slower and the quality of life higher: there’s less traffic and more trees, and wild flowers still grow in the hedgerows. It’s a special part of Europe, a “sweet spot” in the Med; far enough south to have long, warm summers, yet without the searing heat of further down.
What’s the best-kept secret you would tell any visitors not to miss?
I’ve just discovered Pula Aquarium, a fascinating attraction in an old fort on the coast, which is a great place to find out about the Adriatic Sea and is home to Croatia’s only marine turtle rescue centre. Also, most tourists stick to the coast, but the true Istrian gems are the inland villages. Grožnjan, Motovun and Hum are the ‘big three’ on the tourist trail, but try Draguć, Sv. Lovreč, Roč and Gračišće, and you’ll escape to a world where time’s stood still.
Another special place is Dvigrad, which was abandoned in the 17th Century when its population moved out to escape the plague. Today only local tourists seem to know about this atmospheric ruined town.
Where’s the best place to go to just ‘hang out’, people watch and generally soak up the atmosphere?
For some buzz, Poreč sea front is the place to see and be seen. Have a coffee in café Epoca and watch the world parade past.My favourite local restaurant is Konoba Monica in Žbandaj, just outside Poreč. The food’s fantastic, the portions huge and the prices unbelievably cheap. Very few tourists find it and most guests are locals. Owner Biljana speaks very little English, but will make you very welcome. Also in Žbandaj is Konoba Kaštel, one of Istria’s oldest restaurants offering locally-sourced, traditional food.
What would you recommend visitors treat themselves to while they’re there, or take home as a souvenir?
Istria has been famous for its olive oil since Roman times and it still wins many prizes today, so if you can, take a bottle home. Small bottles of various types are available in the supermarkets. Also try one of the local rakijas (‘grappa’ in Italian). Distilled from grape residue from wine production, it’s then flavoured to produce a wide range of aperitifs and liqueurs. Very common is medica, flavoured with honey, but my favourite is the jet black orahovac, flavoured with walnut. Also available are unusual biska (mistletoe), šlivovic (plum) and kruškovac (pear), to name just a few.
Finally, what are the most ‘quirky’ things to do, see, visit or experience here?
For something unusual to do, try spreading your beard (pretend if you don’t have one!) on Tinjan’s old stone table. Villagers used to elect their mayor this way. A flea was released in the middle and whoever’s beard it jumped in to became mayor. It’s a great spot to enjoy the view over the dramatic Draga valley, Tinjan is a charming little village and there’s even a konoba for a refreshing drink.
If culture’s your thing, go to see the 14th C frescos in Beram. These Renaissance masterpieces are in a gorgeous little chapel just outside the village. You may be lucky and find it open, but if not you need to go and ask for the key in the village – an adventure in itself! You can also visit the island of Brijuni which used to be Tito’s holiday island and can be explored today on a little tourist train. A mixture of safari park and history lesson, it’s definitely quirky!
Holiday Homeowner Q&A is bought to you by HomeAway.co.uk, the UK’s leading holiday rentals website with over 300,000 properties worldwide. From cute studios and city apartments to rural cottages and country homes, large luxury villas, quirky conversions and more, there are thousands of unique places to enjoy a more authentic and unusual holiday.