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How the Istrian Shrimp Killed The Romance by Anna Tucker

Croatia Week’s roving blogger Anna Tucker reminisces about her recent romantic weekend in Istria and how her love life was brutally smothered in a ten course meal somewhere between the shrimp salad with olive oil foam and the cream of potatoes with black Istrian truffle on squids…

Buzet

The peaking summer season brings about hundreds of stories of things to do and visit in Croatia. However, stuck in the capital, swamped with work, and still brooding over the fact that, due to a repeating chain of unfortunate circumstances, I have not made it to the coast for the ultimate summer party, I thought I’d be left with little topics to write about.

Fortunately, though, 2 articles on, incidentally, my favourite topics – travel & food – brought about a memory that served as a perfect inspiration for a substitute piece, which takes place in Istria, a few months back and during the time of the year when this part of the neck becomes a sleepy peninsula forgotten by the rest of the world. More specifically, it takes place in the laid back town of Buzet, which, for those who follow current Croatian social affairs, recently came into the spotlight due to some rather unlikely visitors – Mr. Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, and a wedding party.

How he and his company came about choosing Villa Vela Vrata, where, according to the local media, some of them stayed, is a mystery to me, and I can hardly imagine Mr. Page googling accommodation in Istria to come upon this fantastic little gem in its very heart, just as I did in hopes of finding THE hotel that would match the romantic expectations of a perfect weekend getaway, but I am sure that the recommendation came from someone who is well versed in all the subtle allures of the Istrian mainland.

When it comes to hotels in the area, Villa Vela Vrata is an epitome of Istrian charm: an unpretentious beauty that offers a perfect opportunity for idling the weekend away in subdued luxury and tranquility.

Hotel Vela Vrata

Discreetly situated above the city’s arched stone entrance, the hotel’s elegantly designed interior, although petite, offers all the high-end perks expected from a luxury hotel with an extra star, including an indoor pool, and a spa. Our spacious room of stylish modern décor, accentuated with a few exquisite antique pieces and a charming little balcony overlooking the picturesque green valleys of Istria, was exactly what I had in mind as a perfect recluse that would spark true romantic indulgence.

Speaking of indulgence, though, a wise man once said: “If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.” In retrospect, if it was romance we were seeking, we should have opted to stay in and enjoy, for starters, the alluring en-suite Jacuzzi bath over a bottle of Muscat that we brought back from the sleek new Kozlovic winery we visited in the nearby village of Momjan. Instead, after a perfect day of exploring the highlights of the surrounding area, we headed down to the renowned restaurant of St. Rocco in the nearby village of Brtonigla for dinner.

Experiencing all the tastes and flavours of Istria through their lavishly prepared tasting menu turned out to be a huge overstep in these bounds of moderation. In fact, it was a true tour de force of courses whose number and exact content, in their abundance, have become blurred over time.

What I remember perfectly though, is our rapidly diminishing appetite for romance further vanquished by each new course that kept arriving at our table in, what seemed to resemble an endless procession of Istrian gastronomic delights. In fact, this bleak notion became blatantly apparent somewhere between the shrimp salad with olive oil foam and the cream of potatoes with black Istrian truffle on squids.

Istrian shrimps with olive oil foam, San Rocco

At this point, stuffed like two ducks about to become foie gras, unsuccessfully resisting the urge to tackle yet another stunningly presented dish, I was overcome by a growing sense of panic at the realization that we were to become victims of our own overindulgence. It was then that I fully understood Anthony Bourdain’s diatribe against tasting menus in Medium Raw and the expression “moderation in all things”.

The more obvious point of my learning experience here was to steer clear of multiple course tasting menus, unless they are the sole purpose of an adventure, for which one must be both physically and mentally well prepared. More importantly though, as I am not likely to embark on a similar gastronomic adventure anytime soon, is that I learned that it is better to savour great things one at a time.

Istria offers plenty of opportunities for those who enjoy a more intimate and relaxed rural holiday, but its full beauty will reveal itself gradually, as it did to me over the course of several years. Packing it all in two short days turned out to be…shall I say, a bit more than we could swallow.

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