Finding Vrh in Croatia

English: The old town of Buzet with the town g...

English: The old town of Buzet with the town gate on the left and its two churches (middle and right) as seen from the road to Kozari. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Countryside in Istria, Croatia

When you’re VERY hungry in a foreign country, and have a long drive ahead of you, you’re willing to stop and eat almost anything. Sometimes, that turns out to be a very good thing.

Elaine and I had spent the morning driving west out of Zagreb, and across a portion of southern Slovenia (hey, Elaine has a new passport full of blank pages!) After visiting a castle (more on that another day), we headed south through some ‘scenic’ routes rather than take the main highways. We had both a new Michelin map of Greater Ex-Yugoslavian CountriesTM as well as a GPS that, while loaded with the necessary European maps, tried to say all the locations phonetically. Phonetically, if you were a native American English speaker who was reading a language that contains very few vowels.  (Editor note: The Slavic-Croation-Serbian-Slovenian languages used to have a lot of vowels, but the Communists nationalized them all after WWII, and the people are still trying to get them back.)  However, the combination of old and new tech, along with great roads, led us to climb into the hills, higher and higher in the trusty two-cycle Volkswagen UP! we had rented, until we found ourselves ready to cross the border back into Croatia and head to Buzet, where we planned lunch in the Istria area. Istria is Slo-Croat-Serbi-Slavian for “everything here smells likes truffles.”

We asked a local how to get to the top, and was told we had to park and hike. While neither of us are against hiking, did I mention that we were looking for lunch and it was now after 3 pm? And that we were still jet-laggy and had already hiked one castle? I assumed any restaurant that had great ratings wouldn’t be a two-mile hike straight up the side of a cliff, so we hopped in back into the UP! (German for ‘really tiny car that needs first gear for anything over a 2% grade) and drove around this hill for 30 minutes.

It would have been a lovely view – the patio on the white building.

I may or may not have turned the car around in someone’s front yard and driven on a sidewalk for a few feet. We finally discovered that the young man’s instructions to hike up the hill were right, because the actual road was closed for the upcoming festival. Discretion being the better part of valor, we decided to try the next place on the Trip Advisor list, also reportedly 0.1 km away, called Vrh. (Editor’s Note: Vrh at one time had vowels in the name, but they lost a major conflict with Hawaii, who took them all as war reparations.)

I’d like to tell you that we found Vrh without problems, but Trip Advisor’s geo-location wasn’t working that day, and the restaurant was actually 10 km away, up winding one lane roads that looked very much like the ones on the Slovenian side. Perseverance paid off, however, as we found this lovely place.

What a treat. The village was tiny, and consisted of a church (of course), a few buildings, and the restaurant, which was small and casual, with an inviting patio. After ordering wine, we peeked over the walls into the gardens below and the hills beyond. The waitress, whose parents owned the place, brought us a plate of sheep’s cheese, olives, and perfectly smoked prosciutto (a regional specialty). This being truffle country, I ordered a plate of homemade pasta that had enough paper-thin slices of black truffle to cover the plate, and pay off the national debt of Burundi ($25 U.S.) Elaine ordered filled gnocchi, which was delicate and flavorful. After dinner, Elaine sampled one of the potent brandies the Croatians are found of (I, alas, had to drive.)

Just look at that prosciutto! And this was just our appetizer.

This simple food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten. I know that hunger (by now it was well after 5 pm, with nothing since a light breakfast early that morning), the surroundings, the glow of the approaching sunset, the cool wine, all added to the experience. But the heady aroma of truffles, and salt and smoke of the prosciutto, the conversations with my friend and with a couple sitting at a nearby table – all those things made the evening wonderful. As we drove back down the winding road, and then through the dark to our night’s lodging on the coast, we agreed that our series of happy mishaps and backtracks had led us to this place.

And that, my friends, is what traveling is about.

Categories: Food, Travel

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