The Slovenia Times

Land of Olives, Vines and Hospitality



Beautiful Slovenian Istria, situated between the Adriatic Sea, the Croatian border and Crni kal, invites you to indulge in its alluring charms. This warmest part of Slovenia includes the coastal towns of Piran, Portoroz, Izola and Koper as well as their hinterland. It is actually the hinterland with its picturesque hilltop villages that we will focus on in this article. The colourful history of Slovenian Istria, with its ever-changing landlords and distinctive architecture, enhances its characteristic charm. Mother Nature has blessed the region with a mild Mediterranean climate as well as its many natural wonders and, in tandem with the hardworking hands of the Istrian people, has produced its neatly cultivated fields and its numerous vineyards and olive groves. The Region is its People The name Istria (or Istra) is derived from Histri, an Indo-European tribe that founded a colony in this area around the 11th century BC. The history of the people of Istria has been shaped by the regions numerous rulers; from the Romans, who made the strongest impact on these lands, to the Byzantines, Avars, Langobards, Slavs, Franks, Venetians, Austrians and, in the last century, the Italians and Yugoslavs. In the 19th century, Istria was economically dependent on Trieste, where many Istrian workers found jobs and for which the rural hinterland produced goods in exchange for industrial products. A typical nono and nona or Istrian grandpa and grandma could, in all likelihood, recount the times when Istrian farmers used to go to Trieste with their donkeys to sell eggs, chickens, vegetables and wine to the townsfolk of Trieste. The region has always tended to be rather ethnically mixed, with Slovenes, Croats and Italians, who have developed a strong regional identity over the years. Regardless of their nationality, the feeling of being "Istrani" or "Istriani" remains very strong. They are known to be stubborn - the saying goes: "An Istrian man is as stubborn as an Istrian ox"; they are also strongly attached to their land and extremely hospitable. They are hospitable to the extent that they will not let a guest leave their house before he/she has drunk at least a glass of wine and eaten at least a few slices of their smoked ham or prsut. Mouth-watering Delights Istrian cuisine is unique and has managed to blend in the best of the culinary influences that the region's various rulers have introduced throughout its tumultuous history. In the coastal areas of Slovenian Istria there are numerous seafood specialities, for example brodet, a fish stew, while in the hinterland a variety of other typical dishes exist. While visiting this part of Slovenia, it would almost be a crime not to sample the aforementioned and delicious prsut, ideally with some home-made cheese and a few olives. Then there is the range of exquisite pastas with Istrian fuzi being a real speciality and njoki topping the list. Every Istrian meal calls for minestra, a vegetable stew or soup, served at the beginning of the meal, but often being the main course. Another famous dish is jota, a sauerkraut and bean soup usually served in winter, while the cornmeal porridge polenta is also often found on the table. The jewel in the crown of Istrian cuisine is the truffle or tartufi, a fungus that grows under the ground and is collected by specially trained dogs. It is also well known as an aphrodisiac. Moreover, Istrians are famous for their love of wild asparagus, which is prepared in a myriad of ways, one of them being as fritada - an omelette with asparagus tips. Glasses Full of Sunshine An inevitable accompaniment to these various home-made dishes is wine. Wine in Istria is almost regarded as sacred; it is not only a drink but also represents necessity, life and love. Istrians have really made a cult of it and the most famous varieties are Refosk, Malvazija, Merlot, Teran, Muskat, Cabernet sauvignon, Chardonnay and two varieties of Pinot. In short, while visiting Slovenian Istria, one should not, under any circumstance, miss tasting the autochthonous wine varieties in some local canteen or, better still, enjoy a delicious homestyle meal and a glass of wine in an ostarija, a typical Istrian pub. Another way people who visit this part of Slovenia can enjoy the specialities of the region is in an osmica, a typical farmhouse where the farmer sells his own home-made products, usually cheeses, wine, olive oil and meat products such as prsut. If you like to dance as well, you should come during a sagra, a village festival dedicated to the local saint or patron, which usually involves the entire village and their innumerable guests. Simply Too Fascinating There are so many reasons to fall in love with Slovenian Istria. One can enjoy in its natural beauty, the astonishing views from its hilltops and its picturesque valleys shaped by the Dragonja, Rizana and Rokava rivers, among many others. Furthermore, Istria reveals its colourful past through its numerous historical attractions and its characteristic architecture such as the old, stone houses with their typical baladur or fenced terraces. But it is the Istrian people with their kindness and hospitality and their exquisite food and wine that are the heart of this beautiful region.


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