A Love Affair with a Castle
The beautiful countryside and the uncrowded coast of Istria, the western-most province of Croatia, is one of the best-kept secrets as a holiday destination. You may be reminded of Tuscany but pretty soon you'll notice the absence of hordes of tourists. You can stay in a Castle and hop in the car and you'll be by the seaside in twenty minutes with the Adriatic lapping at your feet.
In the late 1970s Palazzo Portole fell into ruin until it was restored in the early 2000s by a Scottish/Austrian family who were captivated by the romance of the place. It was always an important building standing at the northern side of the town, its north wall forming part of the original town defences. The tower has Roman stonework. Napoleon passed through this part of Istria and he’s supposed to have stayed in town - it can only have been in the Palazzo.
A lovingly created garden surrounds the Palazzo. Inside the walls of the property and hidden from view is the swimming pool and the Loggia, a shaded outdoor dining area with a barbecue.
View from the Loggia across the formal south garden towards the entrance gate
The table in the Loggia is one of the many original pieces added by the owner who collected the antique tiles which make up the table top. A local artisan made the iron frame into which the tiles were set.
White rose, green beetle, front garden, June
Lavender, white agapanthus and hydrangea, front garden, early July
Inside the Palazzo there's space for 10 people at least. It is possible to accommodate more if the sofa bed is used in the Tower bedroom. There are two twin rooms and two doubles in the main house and another bedroom with twin beds and a sofa bed in the Tower, which is an integral part of the building. The bedrooms can be reconfigured with one of the double rooms becoming a twin room if requested. For photographs of the interior of the property please go to the Photos page of this website.
Retreat to the well-stocked library and admire the views to the Ucka mountain in the east and the Slovene border in the north. Climb to the top of the tower on the internal spiral staircase and enjoy 360 degree views of the town and surrounding countryside. Up there, sunbathe in seclusion or watch the sunset with a cool glass of the crisp local Malvazija white wine. At night stargaze under the clear, dark skies free of city light pollution.
In the large, light-filled living room and kitchen/dining room there are open fires and plenty of comfortable places to sit and relax. The thick castle walls provide coolness indoors in the summer and warmth in the winter.
Oprtalj is surrounded by terraces of vines, olives and lavender. Walnuts, chestnuts, figs, apricots and pomegranates grow everywhere. On the town square there is a typical Istrian konoba - taverna - which is very welcoming and offers an excellent range of local organic food. For more information please see details of Konoba Oprtalj on our Food page. There is also small bar with a terrace and a limited menu under the town’s Loggia, the Venetian market building.
Many of the town's archaeological finds are displayed in the Loggia including a stone plaque of the lion of St Mark, the patron saint of Venice. Buy a drink from the konoba and sit outside in the square under the chestnut trees and watch the sun setting from the town ramparts. In the shop, which is open every day, you can find all you need to throw together a meal with an Istrian twist.
The Venetian town Loggia View west from the town ramparts
We recommend several local restaurants close to the Palazzo. The details of these are available in our information pack when you arrive and on our Food page on this website.
Istria holds the record for the largest white truffle and it was found 6km from Oprtalj near the small town of Livade. The truffle season is from October to December. This is gourmet paradise. The autumn truffle festivals are a sumptuous celebration of the elusive fungus’s short season. Wild mushrooms are another feature of autumn menus.
The two regional grape varieties - Malvazija (white) and Teran (red) - are excellent and perfectly complement the fine Istrian beef, pasta and charcuterie - all of which is invariably served with white and black truffle.
In the spring the wild asparagus is abundant and delicious. In the summer rucola (rocket) grows by the roadside. Seafood is fresh and local. You can be sure that whatever you are eating comes from just down the road.
Oprtalj is terrific. It is a fortress town which looks like a film set so you may not want to move much when you get here. It's easy to get to know people so settle in and breathe out. There's no traffic - the medieval cobbled streets discourage cars. No light pollution either, so clear views to the Milky Way. Listen to the Little Owls calling after dark - spine-tingling. Watch the sunset from the town terrace with a view from the Alps to the Adriatic. Children run in packs through the arches and alleys and speak a Babel of languages. The place is full of music, bells, musicians and artists.
If you do want to see more of the beautiful countryside and historic sites you will need a car. All the hilltop towns in northern Istria are worth exploring and Oprtalj sits amid a chain of them. Two of the most famous are either side of the town.
Groznjan, an artists' colony, has been extensively restored and has many shops and galleries. It is known for its summer music school with outdoor evening performances during July and August. Its winding cobbled streets, shaded squares and restaurants in hidden courtyards make the town a welcome retreat in the heat of the day in the summer and a lively place to spend an evening.
Motovun is known for its film festival in late July and has a beautiful square at the top of the town attributed to the Venetian architect Palladio, father of neo-classical architecture. There are many bars, restaurants and small shops.
Pula in the south has a well-preserved Roman amphitheatre and forum.
Porec, one of Istria's ancient ports, is a World Heritage Site which includes the basilica where Roman mosaics have been excavated.
All over the region there are Venetian ports, towns and villas, baroque churches as well as deserted villages to explore.
Close to Oprtalj there are several great places for family outings.
Istralandia, a water park at Brtonigla about 20 minutes drive away has slides, chutes, flumes and a pirate castle. Reports from young visitors to the park have been very favourable. Half-day tickets are available and cost about 10€ per head. www.istralandia.hr/en/
The Route of Veli Joze, another favourite, is the 'train' ride on part of the Parenzana route from Motovun to Vižinada http://www.parenzana.hr/en/the-route-of-veli-joze This is a trip with model train carriages pulled by a small tractor/engine following the route of the old narrow-gauge railway - the tracks were removed many years ago. For more information about the whole Parenzana route please see our Kids page and the Parenzena website - http://www.parenzana.net/
We can offer our guests all the advice and assistance you need to make your stay at the Palazzo special. It also helps that there are many English, German and Italian speakers in Oprtalj.
You can get to Oprtalj by air to Trieste (90 mins away) or Venice (2 hrs 30 mins away) in Italy, to Ljubljana (2 hours away) in Slovenia and Pula (1 hour away) in Istria. Cars can be hired or airport transfer arranged. There is also public transport from Venice, Trieste and Pula to Buje 18km away. Taxis can be hired in Buje. Please go to the Contact/Transport page of this website for more details.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Since Croatia joined the European Union in July 2013, as a citizen of an EU member state the usual rules apply should you fall ill while travelling in another member state.
For visitors who are non-EU citizens there is a dedicated Tourist Health Clinic in Poreč, 40 km away.
All medication, including generic analgesics (aspirin, ibuprofen, paracetamol) and antihistamines, is expensive in Croatia and only available in pharmacies which have limited opening hours. The closest pharmacies are in Motovun (10 km) and Buje (18 km). Their opening hours are variable, they close early on Saturdays and don't open on Sundays. For more information please check the following link: http://www.coloursofistria.com/en/destinations/buje/hot-spots-list/health-care. There are also pharmacies in Buzet (19 km), Umag (28 km), Višnjan (29 km) and Poreč (40km) which have similar opening hours.
Oprtalj lies at the heart of a rural community surrounded by forests and it is worth being aware of the environment and its wildlife.
When driving in the area look out for deer, which are liable to jump out of the woods onto the road, particularly at dusk and at night.