Having finally arrived in a non-Schengen country the plan was to slow down, just because we could! We found Val-travel Camping, a small campsite just outside Zagreb. What a find. The extremely friendly hosts, including the dog, came out to greet you. The campsite is a small, set up in the grounds of their home with room for 15 campers at the most. Once we were parked, the hosts welcomed us with a platter of smoked meat and cheese. They had free tea & coffee in the small kitchen and you could order bread or pastries which would be delivered fresh to your van the next morning. The hosts friendly nature was infectious and created a friendly, community atmosphere amongst the campers. Everyone was chatting to each other. Cannot recommend this place highly enough. https://www.val-travel.com/campen.htm
We had done some research and discovered a small fishing village Veli Losinj on the southern tip of Losinj island just off the coast so that’s where we headed the next morning. The plan to just stop and chill out for about 5 days. We had no idea what the area or town was really like, so we were going to suss it out, if all good we would treat ourselves to a small apartment. If not we would drive back up the coast to a better area.
We crossed to the first island by bridge then followed the coast road to a small harbour where we caught the ferry to the second island. We then followed the coast road winding our way down to the southern most point. It was beautiful scenery. Blue waters, sailing boats, cliff faces - just magical. Truly Mediterranean.
We unloaded what we needed from the van (they arranged a parking spot for us about 200m away - as the roads were so narrow, there was no way the van would get down them) and settled into our 1 bedroom, ground floor apartment. It was huge compared to what we were used to. The decor was nothing special, but it was homely. We had a large kitchen, dining area, lounge area, bathroom, bedroom and courtyard.
On another day we decided to hike up to a view point on top of the mountain, taking a picnic lunch with us. It provided a pretty spectacular 360 degree view of the town and coast.
On the fifth day it was time to get back on the road. Pete had been in email discussions with a guy in Rijeka about getting a partial wrap done on the van to repair the paint issues and provide added protection. He had been very responsive, as opposed to everyone else, and he seemed to know what we wanted. We met up and after long discussions with him, decided to go ahead, it was going to cost half of what we were quoted in Central Europe. Unfortunately as we wanted a specific colour, that needed to be ordered, it was going to be couple of weeks before we could get the work done. Time to visit the Istra Peninsular.
The Istrian peninsula reaches down into the Adriatic Sea and known for its Mediterranean charm. It is has great views, cute medieval towns scenic coastal drives and rich farmlands. This is Croatia’s answer to Margaret River, known for its wine, olives, olive oil, truffles, honey seafood and meat. (Or maybe its the other way around, as yet, Margaret River doesn’t have any thousand year old villages and cute medieval harbours) We decided to start our investigation of this region in the south west corner at Pula. Here we found a campsite right at the end of the peninsula. Went for a late afternoon swim and dinner back in the van.
We walked the cute cobblestoned streets and saw various sites such as the James Joyce statue, Triumphal Arch, the Pula Fortress, the Forum, the Cathedral and of course the market. It was starting to get overcast so we made our way back to the van where I cooked up a lasagne for dinner (and given the size, it was going to do us for 3 dinners!).
We found 2 small pastel coloured, wooden stools and a small table (it appeared they were all taken from the nearby kindergarten) right at the waters edge, we sat down just before another couple took it. Feeling a little guilty we moved over and they shuffled their stools to the water edge beside us. Now when I say ‘water edge’ I mean... stone floor> short drop> water! So close that as boat passed the waves would splash up at us. As we contemplated the cocktails selection, we heard the couple speak, no doubting that Australian accent. Pete asked them where they were from... Perth, Australia! City Beach in fact.
They didn’t have alfresco waterfront seating but the food just sounded too good to pass up. We had spied a table in a large open archway right at the front, overlooking the promenade, though unfortunately it was reserved It was a bustling restaurant and they only had space available in the back room, no problem. As we waited to be seated the waiter glanced at his watch 7.16 walked to the ‘reserved’ window table, lifted the reserved sign and ushered us over! Score!!!
Kantinon specialises in 100% local produce. I had smoked mackerel with burnt lemon, beetroot purée, marinated beetroot followed by ‘foraged’ (ie I think the chef was out with his fishing line this afternoon) baked local white fish with garlic potato purée, oven roasted olives and tomatoes. Pete had lemon marinated sardines followed by an Istrian squid stew. Washed down with a splendid bottle of local wine recommended by the waiter.
Whilst we were sitting savoring our dinner, we noticed almost everyone that passed by were eating ice creams. The area being close to Italy, there is some seriously good gelato! So after dinner, well... of course we just had to! I think I had the best ice cream I’ve ever had!! It was peanut pie - OMG to die for!
The next morning we continued north, stopped at a little winery for a wine tasting and of course walked out with a bottle wine, olive oil and jar of olives! The weather had turned and the rain set in so it was a good opportunity to do some errands, buy a critical piece of equipment (that we had mistakenly left behind at a camp site earlier in our travels), get new data SIM card and fill up the gas bottles.
We arrived in Umag, in the north west corner of the peninsula, near the Slovenian border, mid afternoon. Took a walk into town about 5kms away. It was an easy walk around the port and water front. The town itself was pretty quiet, nice, but lacked the atmosphere of its neighboring towns. It was however, hosting an international seniors tennis tournament on at the time, so we bumped into many people in their country tracksuit tops on. Didn’t inspire us though, to seek out the tournament.
Back to the camper for a relatively early night. The next day we were booked in for a very special dinner!