Croatia has become the hottest vacation destination in recent years. With a rich, dramatic history dating back to ancient times, Croatia boasts gorgeous beaches, crystal clear seas, more than 1300 islands and a long list of must-see cities. It’s also a yachter’s paradise, but if you’re only viewing this inspirational, Mediterranean coast from the deck, then ooh sistah, are you missing out!
Last year, after my first visit to Croatia and the Dalmatian coast, I was hooked, and swore I would be back! There was just way more to see and do than I could squeeze into the three weeks I had gifted myself. There was still the entire northern region of Istria I had yet to discover! And my biggest discovery was what a culinary kingpin the area was becoming.
One definitely must tour the medieval towns and castles, take in the wonders and beauty of the national parks, but make sure to also hit the wine tasting routes through more than 300 famous Croatian vineyards, and to seal the deal – the food!! AND… (in prayer like reverence)… the truffles!
This year’s experience came again through the rose-colored glasses of the historic, yet luxuriously restored and renovated hotels and resorts of the Croatian brand, Stories Hotels. Each of their seventeen properties is famed for seamlessly blending historic charm with sophistication and lavish contemporary luxury, all while offering a unique story to travelers looking for authentic experiences. With excellent locations and highly personalized service, the hotels are located in palaces, manors, villas or perched in the rocks above the sea.
Known as the Tuscany of Croatia, Istria captivates with scenery that rivals anywhere else in the world. Enhanced by the amazing food and wine, and with many of the Istrian chefs being educated in Italian and French culinary schools, it’s almost a race to see how many can get back to Croatia to make their mark. Michelin Stars and Gault Millau Guide recommendations are being awarded to Croatian restaurants with increasing frequency. My culinary bucket list pièce de résistance this trip? Truffle hunting!! What the whaaaat?! I didn’t even know this was a possibility!
The locations of these diamonds of the gourmet world are usually a closely guarded secret and for good reason! Why the fuss over fungus? Truffles grow in very few regions of the world. The time and effort they take to produce, plus difficulty in finding them make for a very expensive elusively sought after world commodity. This fungus has a symbiotic relationship with tree roots from specific tree species and grows in very special conditions. The trees only produce for 30 years, and it takes 8 to 10 years after seeding the spores for them to grow and be produced. The heady odiferous combo of dirty socks and balmy musk is weirdly intoxicating and believed to replicate the scent of male pheromones, making it an aphrodisiac. Well, I don’t know about all that, but I know that the inside of my purse smelled pretty wonky for about a week and a half after I had those little ugly nuggets tucked away in there for about an hour wrapped in paper towels.
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Truffle hunting is quite the event, and any spot in Istria is within easy reach. “Tourist” hunts are done in the morning when it’s still cool, so the dogs are breathing through their noses with little panting, for the best chance at finding the scent. These “hunts” take about an hour and take place in the forest on well-worn paths. Truffles are tubers of habit and tend to show up just off of the same trails and tree roots, but playing hard to get by always being in different spots. Thanks to the Zigante Tartufi company and their knowledgeable hunters, I was introduced to Sarah and Lola, my canine truffle slayers, who adeptly covered the forest floor. Within about 15 minutes and some hacking away of roots…bam! I had myself a handful of black gold!
As you might guess, this is the bite-size fun version of truffle hunting. The real version takes about 3 hours and takes place in the pitch black wee hours of the morning so that the dogs’ vision is more obscured, and with fewer distractions, they have to rely even more heavily on their sniffers. Whether you do a real hunt (invite by owners only) or a condensed fun hunt, bring your bug spray and cover completely! There are so many mosquitoes that it’s not a matter of IF you’re eaten alive, you WILL be eaten alive!
Whether you’re hunting spring truffles, summer truffles or the most prized gourmet fungi, the fall white truffle, a hotel in Istria should put you within a 30-60 minute day trip range, and in the heart of all the other spectacular settings, sips and savorings of culinary Croatia. Check with your hotel’s concierge to arrange for a truffle hunting excursion and then reservations at a fabulous restaurant to sample cuisine featuring local truffles! Hopefully, with a heightened sense of appreciation for this delicacy!