April Hike through Istrian hinterland

Written by Taco, photos are courtesy of Francois

Camino Team:
Vida: initiator and president of the Camino d’Istria association
Nolwenn: EVS volunteer
Sara: volunteer
Me: EVS volunteer

At the end of April we organised the first event of our project: the Camino Days. Five days of discovering three short walks, our first output on the way to the long pilgrimage. During these days, twelve people from around Slovenia joined the adventure. The first day we proposed a potluck lunch where all the participants brought along some dishes they prepared. Our contribution was a big pot of nettle-lentil soup. After lunch, the first walk started towards Abitanti, a small and charming village lost in the hills and forests of Slovene Istria. There, a wine tasting was organised at the local winery (a partner of our project: eco-agrotourism in support of the local economy and discovery of the traditional viticulture).

Grondali, Abitanti

Sara and I stayed at the headquarters to cook for dinner and the upcoming lunches of the next days. Indeed, the next morning we would leave for the three day walk towards Groznjan and Motovun, two beautiful medieval hilltop villages in Croatia. We prepared big quantities of hummus, sourdough bread and for dinner we made a vegan tofu goulash (the whole event was vegan beside some truffle goat cheese here and there). After dinner we invited the participating pilgrims to a circle. A circle to present oneself to each other and to share about our dedications for these days of pilgrimage. A beautiful space was opened that evening where personal stories were told, emotions expressed and silences shared. Pilgrimage is foremost about the inner journey, the outer one can facilitate the former by walking in a beautiful natural environment (to eventually realise that there might be no boundary between inner and outer).

Hrvoji tower

The next day the group divided in two: one part, guided by Vida, would first go to Motovun clockwise and the other half, guided by me, towards Groznjan as first destination. That night I was still up until 1 to bake the first batch of bread and woke up early for the breakfast bread. I left tired but fortunately our first walk was the lightest of the three days. Finally, the three-day adventure started, weeks of preparation and organisation were finally coming to actuality, with as first milestone: the border crossing. We filed in a special demand to cross the local border as a sportive event to the Slovene and Croatian police, which would be present at the border with a list of all the names. Everything worked out smoothly. We crossed this invisible and arbitrary line in the landscape, just manifested by a fence on the road in the middle of nature.

Rain came to greet us halfway, to in the end soak our hiking socks as we arrived in Groznjan. Seeking cover in one of the two only restaurant/cafés of the town, we could comfortably appreciate the furthering of the hail and lightning storm with a warm cup of tea. For the night we stayed in an old four story house where we cooked a ‘classic’ stir fry (Vida’s speciality). The heavy rain kept on going for the whole night to finally and fortunately come to an end in the morning before the start of our journey.

On this second day we walked out of Groznjan to rise up on the ridge of the hill. Through the fog, meadows and humid forests we reached Zavrsje, another lost and beautiful village, hidden in the middle of the hills and forests. From there we descended on the Parenzana, a train track connecting Trieste with Parenzo (today Porec) built in the very beginning of the 20th century in use until 1935 and later on transformed into a hiking and cycling path. The track meanders along hills with a slight inclination down towards Livade in the bottom of the Mirna valley. It was somewhere in the middle of this trail that we encountered the group coming from the other direction. This awaited meeting filled with cheers of encouragement, hugs and a group picture (of course), gave us some more courage for the second half of the walk. Not long after we stopped to have lunch on one of the bridges.

During every day of this pilgrimage, a part of the walk was made in silence, giving the chance to dedicate one’s thoughts to a person, to a personal matter, or simply to have the opportunity to silently observe the surrounding nature. From our survey after the event, this silent part has been very much appreciated.
Coming at the end of this section of the Parenzana, we took a short break in Livade before attacking the final part: the rise to Motovun. We finally arrived at 6 pm at the Motovun House with 26 km of hike behind us. Another delicious and well deserved meal was prepared by some skilful pilgrims. Later on, the ones with some energy to spare went out for a little hike around the walls of the town and even to indulge in a glass of local wine.
The next morning, the walk down from Motovun via the Parenzana led us on our path back home. Crossing the valley in the other direction, we soon reached the steepest climb of the three days. Along our ascent we passed by an abandoned village near to being completely swallowed by sweet Mother Nature. In different rhythms we reached the surface of this sea of greenery.

Since the beginning of the three days, some pilgrims, connecting with their hunter-gatherers’ origins, lagged behind to hunt for wild asparagus. The season was on! It must be said: with great success, these were indeed part of every dinner of the last two evenings. We then gathered on top of the plateau to have lunch with a great panoramic view on the valley, Motovun and surrounding forest covered hills. Not much further, following lunch, we arrived just on time for a cup of coffee on a terrace in the little village of Oprtalj. Having walked around in its half abandoned centre, we carried on towards our final destination. With a steady pace we crossed carsic meadows, the charming bucolic village of Cepic and as a last stretch a recently renovated gravel road leading across a bumpy forest.

At the end of it we encountered our missing half that was on its way to the border, good timing. The police officers of the two countries were at the fence to greet us once more. Fortunately our passage was granted again and we could get back to our Sunny Hill to get some rest. For dinner we were expected at the truffle restaurant in Belvedur, a kilometre away (it’s not too much of a bad thing to live in the middle of a truffle region..). A beautiful sunset saluted the end of our three day adventure.

Beautifull sunset for the end of our adventure.

A good night of rest made finally space for the last Camino Day. After breakfast, the remaining pilgrims, not in a hurry to go back to denser civilisation, walked along to the Pasjak waterfalls in the valley below. More asparagus were hunted for and even ancient trails discovered before we headed back to enjoy the lunch prepared with love by Vida. The sunny afternoon bathed our tired bodies but aroused spirits from the beautiful days we just shared.
Days of blooming friendships, of met and overcome personal limits, days of communion with ourselves, our green leaved fellows and a temperamental climate. The event was a success and a good indicator that our Camino project is on the right track towards the Grand Camino in September.

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