Truffle Hunting in Motovun
During our stay in Rovinj, we took an overnight detour to do some truffle hunting in Motovun, a gorgeous hilltop town in the middle of the Istrian Peninsula.
Truffle Hunting in Motovun with Miro Tartufi
With nearly two weeks in coastal Rovinj, we wanted to spend a little time in the inland portions of the Istrian Peninsula. Doing some research, Jenna discovered Motovun, a hilltop town built within the walls of a medieval fortress and surrounded by acres of vineyards.
As a wine mecca, we wanted to check out Istria’s wineries. But, the peninsula’s known for another culinary delight: truffles. Apparently, in the world of restaurants that regularly incorporate these taste bombs into dishes - typically at quite the premium - Istria’s forests serve as a key source of truffles.
For visitors, this prevalence creates a pretty unique opportunity: truffle hunting. Truffles are notoriously difficult (if not impossible) to harvest. Instead, people use specially-trained dogs or pigs to sniff out naturally occuring truffles buried in the woods.
Miro Tartufi, a husband- and wife-run operation, covers pretty much all aspects of the local truffle business. They sell directly to restaurants, produce and market their own truffle products (olive oils, cheeses, spreads, etc.), and offer truffle hunting excursions. We jumped at the opportunity to join one of these trips.
Mid-morning, we made the hour-ish drive from Rovinj to Motovun, winding through the Istrian hills. Arriving at Miro Tartufi - a beautiful home/shop/deli in the low ground beneath Motovun’s hilltop citadel - our hosts welcomed us with two shots of homemade brandy, one mistletoe and one honey. Great start!
For the first part of the day, we drove up into the woods surrounding Motovun with the husband and his two dogs, Bella and Lila (the former a fully-trained expert, the latter a goofy pup still learning the ropes). Istrian truffle hunters use dogs instead of pigs, as pigs have a habit of eating the truffles they find.
After a couple hours, our canine companions had found three black truffles (the white ones grow later in the year). Watching them work is absolutely fascinating. Guided by their human, the dogs sniff around the base of trees, frenetically shooting back and forth. When they eventually catch the scent of a truffle buried a few inches beneath the ground, they’ll start pawing at the dirt. This is when our guide would jump in, using a wooden stick to prod around in the dirt and snatch the truffle before a misplaced paw damages it (which cuts into a truffle’s market value).
Like all trainees, Lila needed some help up in the woods. After Bella caught the scent and started digging for our first truffle, Lila jumped in right as our guide grabbed it, seeming to say: “Look what I did!” Okay, not quite a genuine find - assist definitely went to Bella on that one!
A Decadent Truffle Tasting - and Bottomless Wine!
While we strolled through Motovun’s woods, our guide’s wife prepared a gluttonous spread back in Miro Tartufi’s tasting room. Working up an appetite (and thirst) in the hills, we couldn’t have asked for a better-looking “sampling.” We use quotes here because “sample” implies a limited amount - not the case with this smorgasbord.
Olive oils, cheeses, salami, pâté, tapenade - all flavored with truffles and accompanied by fresh-baked bread. To drink, bottomless carafes of local malvazija - Istria’s crisp, dry, and perfect-on-a-hot-afternoon white wine.
Doubting we could finish this array of truffle treats, we were surprised to find that this was just a starter. After diving into the snacks on the table (and washing them down with plenty of wine!), our guide’s wife called us over to a little table and hot plate. We were about to discover one of the most economically-impractical (at least outside of Motovun) breakfast dishes imaginable - truffle scrambled eggs.
Using the three truffles we’d just found, we watched as our hostess finely shaved an entire one into some local olive oil, with the tiny pieces gradually infusing into the hot oil. Next - and after a thorough whisking - she poured farm-raised eggs into the saucepan. As the eggs slowly cooked, another truffle was shaved into the mix along with some Parmesan cheese and a healthy dash of salt. Last but not least, this culinary wizard shaved potato-chip-sized pieces of the third truffle over our entire plate of piping-hot scrambled eggs.
Armed with healthy buzzes and full stomachs, we browsed in Miro Tartufi’s market, bought some truffle-infused olive oils for the road, and said our goodbyes. We couldn’t have asked for a more entertaining/informative/delicious way to spend the day - high on our list of things to do again!
Doing the Colin Firth Love Actually Thing
We mentioned it in an earlier post, but Istria has two official languages - Croatian and Italian. To date, most of the locals we’d met spoke a little bit of English, allowing some combination of English/Croatian/Charades to communicate (Jenna - far more linguistically inclined than Chipp - had picked up some basic Croatian). Not so much at the room we rented here.
After our truffle bonanza, we headed to a tiny village in the hills opposite Motovun - not in the medieval town itself. We’d found a guesthouse - Soba Gracijela - there. Nothing fancy - just a bed and bath in a quaint country home - ideal for our plans.
When we arrived, an older gentleman came out to meet us. From the online listing, we gathered this was the host. He lived in the main part of the home with his wife, and they leased out a couple ground-floor rooms converted to flats. Welp, apparently we missed the language memo - our man only spoke Italian.
Next to useless, Chipp reached into his pop-culture repertoire to pull some of the only Italian he remembered:
Gesturing awkwardly at the beautiful valley below us: “Bella… Bellllla!”
Yep, it was just about as ridiculous as Colin Firth’s Italian/Portuguese attempt in Love Actually. Fortunately, though, our host was extremely kind and patient (even bringing us Italian coffee and homemade cake for breakfast the next morning!). Improvising, he called his daughter - a fluent English speaker - and had her translate everything for us over the phone.
Checked into our room, we attempted some - poorly pronounced - grazies and took a much-needed nap!
Some Good Fakin Wine and Chipp’s “Shortcut” to Motovun
After an afternoon nap/coma, it was back to exploring. From our spot up on the hillside to Motovun itself, you could take the roads or a more circuitous route via a winery in the valley. We opted for the wine route.
With just some basic Google-ing, it was readily apparent that a trip to Motovun wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Fakin Winery. A family-run operation, the home, tasting room, and sprawling vineyards sit in the low ground beneath the citadel. From what we read - and the family’s self-aware marketing campaign - they made some pretty good Fakin wine!
Not having the foresight to make a reservation, we strolled through the vineyards, hoping they could accommodate us. Despite hosting a private party, they graciously offered us a seat on the back patio.
For the rest of the afternoon, we worked our way through Fakin’s full wine tasting, capping it off with a bottle of their malvazija, the local white that had treated us so well at Miro Tartufi several hours earlier. And, chatting with the server, we learned that, in addition to the winery, the family owns a restaurant - Konoba Fakin - within the walls of Motovun itself.
We’d initially planned on exploring the town the next morning. But, fortified with delicious wine, we found inspiration. Why not walk up to the top and catch a sunset dinner? Great idea!
Well, as these good ideas go, it proved to be a better idea in theory. Our server tried to dissuade us from a walk, claiming that the winding path to the base of Motovun would take far too long. Convinced that he could find a shorter, more direct route, Chipp set off - Jenna following with some hesitation.
Did Chipp find a shorter route? Yes. Did it take us through 100-ish yards of dense, jungle-esque vegetation to complete that shorter route? Also yes.
Chipp several times: “I think it thins out a bit up ahead…”
Slightly worse for wear, we emerged on the far side of this “obstacle,” looking up at Motovun’s towering citadel. The hilltop town is arrayed in tiers, with flagstone footpaths winding their way up through ancient stone buildings and archways, terraced gardens, and cliffside promenades. At the top, a castle-turned-hotel and church tower offer stunning views of the valley and, in the distance, the Adriatic Sea.
Despite Chipp’s poor route planning, these views more than justified our little adventure. Konoba Fakin has tables on one of Motovun’s cliffside promenades, with western views perfect for sunset dinners. As the sun set, we drank more wine, ate more truffle-heavy foods (strike while the iron’s hot - and reasonably priced!), and tried to just soak in our incredible surroundings.
What a day.
Motovun Mornings and a Benvenuti Tasting
The next morning, rejuvenated by our host’s Italian coffee and cake, we headed back into Motovun to explore in a slightly more clear-headed state.
The castle ramparts, which we’d only seen from beneath the night before, provide 360 degree views from atop Motovun. Visitors can climb onto these ramparts and follow a footpath all the way around the castle. Naturally, the views out into the surrounding valley and hills are unbelievable. But, it’s also fascinating to peer down from this highground into the little courtyards, patios, and gardens that climb steeply up the hill - boggles the mind imagining building these structures.
After a delicious breakfast back at Konoba Fakin, we meandered down to our car, parked at the bottom of the hill. We had one last stop on our way out of town - Benvenuti Winery. Whereas Fakin sits in the valley beneath Motovun, Benvenuti is perched on a hillside across from the town.
In no rush to get back to Rovinj, we wanted to see Benvenuti, having heard high praise from locals and foreigners alike. As expected, the wine was outstanding. But, more importantly, the winery also has its own rental property - Villa Benvenuti. The gal who curated our tasting generously offered to show us around this beautiful spot.
Our words won’t do it justice, so we won’t try - better to just look at the pictures on the website. Suffice to say, we’re committed to staying there on our next visit. And, with three bedrooms, we’re looking for friends and family to join!