At the top of a hill in Croatia sits what is arguably the most beautiful town in the region and at its center stands the Hotel Kaštel. Inseparably linked in my memory there’s really no way to write about the hotel, as were my initial intentions, without also telling you a little about the town of Motovun.
Surrounded by lush green land, dotted with small villages and wine vineyards producing the local specialty Malvasia and Terran varities, Motovun rises above expectation and imagination. The belfry stands out as the highest point as you make your way towards the town on small two lane roads that wind between the hills, almost forcing you to forget the industrialized world that is bringing a highway to completion nearby.
As with most of Istria (the peninsula region of Croatia) getting around is rather limited to driving oneself or being part of a tour. But with some good directions or GPS finding your destination is no problem and everyone in Istria knows where Motovun is.
In fact, this small town with around 400 live in residents bursts at the seams each year as thousands flock to the Motovun film festival. With huge screens and rows and rows of chairs set up throughout the city onlookers enjoy independent films amongst locals, visitors and breathtaking views.
The town itself is quite small and consists of only one drivable road to the top of the hill. With city walls dating back to the 12th Century the shop lined streets are pleasant to stroll while absorbing the Venetian colonial architecture that permeates the region. There are souvenir shop s that don’t come off to kitschy and a few well reviewed places to eat. Reviewed back in February 2009 by the NY Times, Mondo Konoba (which translates as Mondo Tavern) is a “nice” place to eat. My vote for good eats however is Pod Voltom in front of Hotel Kaštel, just under the passageway (You'll see a sign above the door that says "Taverna"). The food is excellent and they don’t have this air of “we’ve just been reviewed by the NY Times” about them. Keep an eye out for the waitress who looks a lot like Tammy Faye Baker!
If you’re looking for snacks or camera batteries keep your eye’s peeled for the one, small…I mean very small…grocery store on the left hand side of the main road headed up the hill. They’ll take, the local currency, Kuna, as well as Euros.
As you near the top of the hill where the city gate stands with its arched entryway, look to the valley below. Very soon an 18 hole golf course will fill a sizable chunk of land and the hearts of tourists who can’t go without golf. Passing through the gate notice the stone reliefs hanging from the walls. Most recognizable is the winged lion associated with Venice but there are also some 1st century tombstones.
Despite Motovun’s small size there are a couple notable people who were born here. The first is less well known but for those music historians out there, the composer and music printer (meaning he was among the first to print sheet music) Andrea Antico spent his early years here. A bit more popular and remembered by a plaque set on a wall near the hotel, Mario Andretti, the legendary race car driver, once raced small handmade soapbox cars through the streets as a child.
But now it’s your turn to make Motovun home for a night or two and the Hotel Kaštel is the perfect place to do that. Standing at the top of the hill near the Church of St. Stephan the 17th Century Palace turned hotel welcomes temporary residents with charm, outstanding views and hospitality with a smile.
There are 29 rooms, all with breathtaking views of the valley below. Only one has a balcony which overlooks the square in front of the hotel but the other rooms are quite spacious. Besides the balcony suit the rooms that I’ve stayed in had a living room area with a sofa and small TV as well as a bedroom with another, larger TV. The bathrooms are meticulously clean but could probably use a bit of updating in terms of hardware.
The décor in the rooms screams, “gag me with a spoon” 1980’s but if that doesn’t just add to the hotel’s charm it certainly makes looking out your windows that much more enjoyable. There is Wi-Fi internet access throughout the hotel for a charge and if it’s not in use a single computer in the lobby has some of the fastest internet I’ve encountered in Croatia.
A restaurant on the lobby floor serves up some excellent local dishes such as beefsteak with truffles and the buffet style breakfast which comes with your stay fills you up with eggs, sausages, baked goods, coffee as you like it and other standard fare. You’ll also find a small café/ bar where late night thirsts can be satisfied with the help of a very friendly and attentive staff. If the sun is shinning and the breeze is light, take your meal out front of the hotel where table service comes with even more charming surroundings. Just in front of the hotel you’ll find the local post office where you can get postcards and stamps. Plan accordingly though; it’s only open about 5 hours a day.
On the lowest level one can treat him or herself to the use of a wellness center that is equipped with just about any mode of pampering you can desire. From simple massages to a facial treatment that uses 24-carat gold the prices (as with all of Istria) make it hard to pass up. A 30 minute massage runs 150kn which at around 25 dollars is more than worth the time it will take away from exploring the rest of Croatia. When the weather is nice a small relaxation garden is just outside.
But best of all is the price for a nights stay. In the high season which runs July and August in Croatia, a low 45 Euros or around 60 US (as of April 2009) will get you a double with breakfast. You’d be hard pressed to find a dingy hotel, near an adult video store, across from a noisy train station without in suite bathrooms anywhere else in Europe for less. Although getting to Motovun might initially deter some travelers, the low price of staying here, the staff and the pictures you’ll set as your computer desktop when you return home certainly makes consideration worth it.
If you are interested in organizing a tour of Istria, with stops at local wineries, olive oil tastings and nights in places like Motovun and Hotel Kaštel feel free to contact me. I can certainly help set up a dream vacation for small groups on vacation, business retreats and anything in between. firstname.lastname@example.org