To Istria - in search of a story

We left Trieste to head into the wilderness (sat-nav speaking) of Slovenia and Croatia.  Unless you pay an extra fee, the sat-nav goes blank as soon as you approach the border.  Road signs are rather more miss than hit and don't always agree with the map.  So it wasn't surprising that we got just a bit lost as the city faded in the rear view mirror.  There's a lot of new infrastructure, now that Slovenia and Croatia have joined Europe, and there are lots of new roads with hardly any vehicles on them (and they're not on the maps either!).


This area of southern Croatia (and a tiny sliver of Slovenia) that sticks out into the Adriatic towards Venice, is called Istria.  It used to be part of the Veneto, was part of Italy between the wars, and then became part of Tito's Yugoslavia. More recent history has been traumatic, and it's now Croatia, though the second language is still Italian.   Istria has its own character and is a country within a country.



I chose to set my new novel, The Centauress, in Istria partly because of its turbulent past, but also because the country fascinates me.  Istria is still wild and lightly populated with a beautiful sea coast and fortified hill villages that remind me of Italy.  I've read about it, watched films, and looked it up on the internet, but a personal fact-checking visit was essential.  Part of the story is set in a small fishing village called Rovinj - a location with a lot of history and great beauty, but only an hour's drive from Trieste (with a good map!).


The cobbled streets of the 'centro storico' are so narrow the houses almost touch each other.


There are tiny piazzas,


washing strung across balconies


and people make gardens wherever they can.


At the top of this dome of rock, is the baroque basilica of St Euphemia, a Roman martyr, thrown to the lions in the 3rd century, who was apparently washed ashore in a stone coffin in 800 ad after appearing to a young boy in a vision.



St Euphemia's coffin being dragged from the sea

But, although Rovinj was very seductive, there were other locations I needed to explore. The central character in the novel, Zenobia de Braganza, lives in one of the fortified hill villages, Kastela Visoko, just inland, but within sight of the Adriatic. The village is entirely fictional, but based on the historic villages of  Grosjnan and Motovun, which also have a tradition of housing painters, musicians and poets.  Just the kind of place an unconventional artist would choose to settle.

Motovun, Istria.
Like Motovun and Grosjnan, Visoko too, has a gated citadel and a tower and winding cobbled streets.



It's been great fun matching up the story and the landscape.  Istria has wonderful sea food and glorious wine and - since they wisely decided not to join the euro - it's incredibly cheap.  We were very sad to leave Rovinj, where we stayed in a small hotel near the sea.  This was my last goodbye shot, but maybe if people like the novel - I'll be able to go back! No harm in dreaming. . .



Comments

  1. Hello! I am going this year to Istria! I love it there! I usually go camping, so I think this year will be the same, I just need to gather my friends
    !

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