Croatia’s Istrian peninsula is a treasure trove of tiny hilltop towns. Sprinkled across green valleys and luscious vineyards, each town is unique, and has its own story to tell; this makes them ideal day trip destinations.
I highly recommend stopping over at the artists’ colony of Groznjan. Mind you, it isn’t as easily accessible as some of the other more frequented towns around Istria; maybe it’s the way of the artists, or its just lazy town planning, but you have to negotiate a long, narrow dirt road to reach Groznjan’s town gates. More than once, we were inclined to turn back, but when we did get to the top, the added effort seemed well worth the trip.
With a view of the sea and a stunning valley spread below it, Groznjan is a beauty. It has, till this date, retained its medieval features, with its urban core still intact. The town-gates throw up a labyrinth of tiny, crooked cobblestone streets. These lanes veer off in a dozen directions, like nerves, some slipping past arches, others over slopes. Each little lane holds lopsided art galleries and art studios. Open courtyards make way for workshops, where in place of a flower bed, you’ll find bits of molded plaster and clay. Unlike the other towns in this region, it’s not the scent of spring that you’ll catch in the air, but turpentine, fresh paint and musical notes. Even the churches here come with an artsy twist: the Baroque parish church on the main square has art works from the 17th century and in the Chapel of Saints Cosmas and Damian you can enjoy paintings by Croatian artist Ivan Lovrencic.
It is easy to lose hours gallery hopping, interacting with local and international artists and browsing through a great collection of art. I found myself reaching for my wallet a little too often! But Groznjan wasn’t always an artistic stop. In another life, the town was known as a Venetian fortress. Imprints of that time can be seen along the town wall, the town gate, and loggia even today.
The town went through a fairly torrid spell before embarking on its second act. As the Italian influence in the region declined, many Italian residents began to leave Groznjan and the town fell into a state of decline. It was crumbling away when the first artists arrived in 1965. Since then, a popular music and arts program has resulted in a number of famous international and local artists performing in the town, and with the artists, comes a large audience; people who’ve revived the town, and made it such a pleasant stop on the tourist trail.
The best time to visit Groznjan is during the summer months. Between June and September, you can enjoy the open-air concerts held every night along the town squares. I was lucky to catch a jazz performance by Croatian artist, Nina Badric. In addition to the art and music, cafes are set up around the squares, where you can sample mouth-watering Istrian specialties and wines under the star-lit sky.