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Monday, 25 May 2009

Europe trip 2009 - Rovinj to Beli

8th May
After our night of wine and romance in Rovinj, we headed south and looked at two more Womo guide “free” overnight stops. The first was by a nature reserve down a long dusty dirt track and notable for an old Roman cistern by the water’s edge.
It’s a small area and really couldn’t cope with more than a couple of vans, yet is so lovely and peaceful it would tempt you to stay.

Cisterna, an out of the way spot for picnics or swimming only

However, the “No motorhomes, No camping signs” were up in force – a direct result, we guess, of its inclusion in the Womo guide. The guide is barely two years old, so it’s hard to draw a different conclusion for such an out of the way place.

To be honest I think it was a little greedy to include it in the guide as an overnighter - these off the beaten track, special places are few and far between and most motorhomers will drive by without noticing, or figure it’s not worth the effort, they can take diligent map reading and gentle exploration to find.

A single overnight by the occasional van or two in such a place will generally pass without comment, even attract a smile or a wave as we leave (an acknowledgement that we haven't outstayed our welcome perhaps) but once word gets around it’s easy for such places to be overrun. Hordes of van’s with their awnings out will soon get the local hackles up and goad the council into action. It’s the curse of the “free” camp guide or website, or any guide to "undiscovered places" for that matter.

Now the secret’s out however, and despite the current restrictions, Cisterna still makes a perfect lunchtime picnic spot and we did have it to ourselves at this time of year. (GPS: 45.0380 N, 13.6912 E)

Next up from the guide was a spot at Barbariga. We turned off the main road from Bale at the signpost but the road immediately turned into dirt track, returning to tarmac just before the village. We were excited to see a snake or two slithering across the track and, believe it or not, a tortoise trying to cross the road!
As soon as we approached the village we could see that all entrances to the beach were barred with boulders. There are two proper tracks to the waterfront but both have lifting barriers, one firmly locked, the other open, but with a notice claiming that the area is one of archaeological interest and is off limits to cars. Another one bites the dust!

Barbariga, the beach is off limits to vehicles

We did however manage to find a lumpy parking spot on one track and had a walk on the rough gravely beach. There are large areas of scrub near the beach that have obviously been parked on, but we think the Womo team were again pushing their luck here, or have themselves brought the shutters down. (GPS: 44.9879 N, 13.7499 E).

Continuing down the coast we came to Fazana, an old fishing town and also a ferry port for trips to the Brijuni islands - an exclusive holiday destination for European aristocracy from way back, and now a national park.
We thought about over-nighting in the car park there on the waterfront, but the charge was 100 Kuna (about £12.50) for 24 hours and it was tight and dusty with tour coaches coming and going.

So we moved on to Pula, the largest cultural and economic centre of Istria. It has a multi-faceted history from pre-Roman times and was once Austria’s central sea port – it’s amazing how empires have waxed and waned over the centuries.
Nowadays it is a large ferry port and marina, with a busy shipyard as well.
(http://www.pulainfo.hr/ )

The posh end of Pula's waterfront

Camping Village Stoja is on its own little headland a few kilometres out of town and is laid out around an old 19th century fort, now overgrown.
We were pleased to find a vacant pitch right on the low cliff edge with an uninterrupted view out to sea. Schools of dolphins made an appearance dawn and dusk, and at night we could see the lights and hear the generators of a laid-up containership at anchor - which made Sue happy on both counts! (GPS: 44.8571 N, 13.8100 E) (http://www.arenaturist.com/ )

Dolphins pass by, morning and evening

9th May
A fine sunny day and we kitted up for a cycle ride into Pula. Crossing via a small local road over to the other side of the peninsula we were soon passing busy parts of the shipyard and the old naval armouries.
The Uljanik shipyard had two large ships nearing completion alongside and another taking shape on its slipway. Their huge cranes dominate the waterfront.

After a stroll along the fishing quays and marina we were approached by a tout for a boat trip to the Brijuni islands - the day’s special offer: €20 each, sailing in an hour, wine included. Sue’s an easy sell for any boat trip, so after a look at the Roman amphitheatre (one of the best preserved in the world) and a bit of the old town, we returned to the jetty.

Pula's well preserved Roman amphitheatre

Part of the Old Town

It soon became apparent that we would have the boat virtually to ourselves, and after a small delay we sailed with only five guests on board! Crucially, we were also allowed to take our bikes on board.

A pleasure cruise to the Brijuni islands, guests: five (and two bikes)!

The skipper was very amiable and we chatted at the wheelhouse door. The islands were Yugoslavia’s President Tito’s private fiefdom and he built a palace there - across on the mainland there used to be a naval/military complex with 10,000 servicemen (he wasn’t taking any chances).

Now the islands are a “special nature reserve” - though still used by the government hierarchy - and entry into the waters is restricted, no anchoring allowed. There is a golf course, an exotic animal safari park and an exclusive hotel with its own marina.

Coming back into the harbour after our two hour trip I was amazed to see prefabricated bits of ship dumped on the island in the middle. The skipper explained that the shipyard had nowhere else to put them, all the bits would become ships in the three months they took to assemble, and more would replace them, as they had a full order book for ten years. They must be doing something right!

"...just put those bits of ship over there, Jim"

Back in the old town we passed through the central square with its well preserved Roman forum and medieval town hall.

The old town square, with crane on the waterfront

10th May
A rather blustery but pleasant day on the campsite.

11th May
We checked out and drove the short distance to Camping Stupice at Premantura, the southernmost settlement of Istria. We struck lucky again, out of this vast, mainly wooded campsite we chose (at the receptionist’s recommendation) a place out of a single row of pitches facing the beach of a shallow cove – newly mown grass, flowers and shrubs between us and the turquoise water’s edge. Manna from heaven! (GPS: 44.7979 N, 13.9137 E)
(http://www.arenaturist.com/ )

Yes, that's us on the left hand side!

12th May
Any casual bird watchers amongst you will know that a Jay is a shy bird, normally identifiable by a flash of white, blue and black as they fly away. Here, they sit on your chairs, your bike handle bars, anywhere that suits them, even walk past you on the grass! Still not an easy photo with a snapshot camera though, they are restless birds.

We packed a picnic lunch and headed on the bikes for the Kamenjak cape, a nature reserve with bike trails to the very southern tip.

Its a small and winding path....

Pushing our bikes along the shoreline and through the sometimes dense brush we found the most perfect picnic spot - a smooth flat slab of limestone, slipping gently into the water but with a pine tree growing out of a crack in the rock to give us shade. Inaccessible except from the water or a tiny trail though the woods, we, like the many before us who had carved their names in the rock, felt we had discovered something special.

Shade by the water, courtesy of a tree growing out of the rock!

A little way back, a couple in a very nice Land Rover based camper had driven through an almost impossible track, taking a bit of pine tree with them on the roof, and settled themselves on the isolated beach. Very organised, they had created an extensive sun shelter out of what looked like sailcloth, pegged into the rock of a small inlet. Extreme camping?

Now, that's what I call a camper

(Entry to the reserve for motorhomes is 50 Kuna, about £6.25, but overnight camping is forbidden, the gates are locked and rangers do a patrol)

Moving onto the promontory we came across an information board warning us about the presence of Black Widow spiders - which are partial to the sort of stony scrubland in which we were standing.
For those that may have forgotten, the Black Widow is a lady spider with a neurotoxin in her venom which can be fatal to humans. Sweet in nature, she selects her beloved, mates with him, and to show her appreciation promptly kills and eats him. Her offspring are little better - consuming each other from birth until the remaining 10% are big enough to look elsewhere for food.

Advisedly (from the information board) they can also be found elsewhere on the southern Istrian peninsula, but only a grown female (from June to October) will bite a human, and only when disturbed in its nest, which can be found near and under rocks, walls and tree trunks, but also in the grass - so take care, or refrain from lying in the grass, picking herbs or turning stones.
The sting frequently goes unnoticed, but soon acute pain can be felt all over the body. The place of stinging does not need to be treated but medical help should be sought as soon as possible for administration of the antivenin.

Istria's "Lands End"

Having reached the tip of Istria without a nip from an arachnid, we returned hot and dusty. Later, with the bangers on the BBQ, we enjoyed a wonderfully serene seascape in the warm dusk.

13th May
Finding it difficult to tear ourselves away from this beautiful spot, we headed north again, squeezing through the narrow streets of Medulin, then the little villages of Liznjan and Sisan before taking a right turn onto a dirt track to Kavran, just before Valtura.

A layby overlooking the fish farms in the bay of Luka Budava provided us with a nice lunchtime break.
Soon after we found the gravel road blocked by an accident on a tight hillside corner - a van had avoided the oncoming car by burying himself into the hedgerow. Fortunately they soon extricated themselves and no one appeared hurt, but it was a reminder to take it very slowly around these blind bends.

Take care round those bends - there's boy racers about!

From Krnicka we took the turning down to the small fishing port of Krnicka Luka – a recommendation from the Womo guide for an overnight stop. As soon as we saw the new holiday apartment blocks we had our doubts, and sure enough, on the waterfront was a large sign restricting motorhomes to a maximum 4 hour stay. There was probably no legal backing to the homemade looking sign, but we got the message and turned tail. The waterfront restaurant wouldn’t be getting our trade.

So, it was back to the main road and onto Labin, wait for it … a medieval fortified hilltop town. It’s the historical and administrative centre of eastern Istria, famous for its artists and with a major art festival, the Labin Art Republica, in the summer.

As we had had enough for one day, we headed down to Camping Marina, a newly refurbished site in the Camping-on-the-Adriatic chain.
We opted for a standard, but very rough and lumpy pitch, which had a magnificent view out to sea. We thought they had got their priorities wrong, putting the premium pitches down close to the waterfront where the view is obscured by trees, also they are overlooked by mobile homes on terraces behind, add in the noise of the diving centre plonked in the middle.... there’s no accounting for taste.

A "Standard" pitch at Camping Marina

There’s a bit of a shanty town of tatty bars and markets on the entry road, which lowers the tone a bit, and someone also had a very evil smelling bonfire going which filled our van with its stench in the still hot air, so we weren’t that impressed. (GPS: 45.0333 N, 14.1595 E)
(http://www.camping-adriatic.com/ )

14th May
Back up the steep hill to Labin. The problem for us was parking, there just didn’t seem to be anything suitable for us without a long walk up the very steep, wheel slipping, cobbled approach road.
So we had a look at Rabac, an upmarket resort town with a nice little harbour and beach. The main part of the waterfront is exclusively hotels and apartments. Numerous music events in the summer.
(http://www.istria-rabac.com/ )

Our next decision was to ignore the crowded and developed coastline north of Lovran and instead cross by ferry to the island of Cres-Losinj. The ferry goes from Uvala Brestova (a bay northwards up the coast) across to Porozine on Cres.

The coast road is having a major rebuild, so it was a slow and dusty drive, even after we turned down to the ferry. A 300 metre long queue was waiting for the boat, but we could see one approaching and we were the last vehicle squeezed on - tickets cannot be purchased in advance but are bought from a booth on the quay. The trip takes around 20 minutes and costs 240 Kuna (about £30).
(http://www.jadrolinija.hr/ )

If this ferry looks Pagoda-ish to you, it was made in Japan!

The road from Porozine soon turns to single track, but at a newly made panorama point we doubled back to go north again, on an even narrower road lined with limestone walls, where our map indicated a campsite at Beli.

Beli, how beautiful is that?

The left turn just before the town, at the sign for Auto Camp Brajdi, took us down a precipitous, barrier-less track to the tiny harbour and small, gently shelving gravel beach.

Please, please, please - don't let there be a van coming the other way!

What a super little place – on the beach front was an open air bar, well shaded with a blue and white canopy, offering the sounds of Bob Marley et al. along with the beer – a touch of de Caribbean maahn!

I think we'll have a beer in the bar at Beli Beach

Behind the beach in a small enclosed wooded valley is the campsite. Sheep were roaming about freely, presumably as an effective way of keeping the grass down, but plenty of doo doo into the bargain.

Mind the sheep - they're a bit pushy around here

Talking to a German couple, they said the drill was just to park up where we wanted and a lady would come around in the morning. In fact she came about an hour later – talking fluent English with an American twang (born in Beli, lived in Chicago, now home running the campsite).
The fee was 97 Kuna a night, plus another 20 on the first night for the “registration fee” - apparently an inescapable surcharge - so that if we were stopped by the Police we could prove we had stayed in a campsite, i.e. hadn’t been free camping.
In fact we had managed to escape this charge most of the time by staying on ACSI campsites, still, she was quite firm on this point, blaming it on “Uncle Sam.”
Amusing to note that she immediately switched to Croatian to chat to her dog – well it was a Croatian dog.

A tripper boat was moored with its bow in the harbour entrance and its cargo of excited school kids were enjoying the beach. It felt like our first really hot day and the draw of the water was irresistible. Cold, but not breathtakingly so, it felt great to be swimming again - memories of last year’s sojourn in Greece.

Back on the pitch the sheep kept us entertained, one in particular, a black one no less, chasing the others all evening, smacking into them with headache inducing thuds, then running himself into a wall in a tantrum.

After clearing away our late barbequed meal, I noticed a huge white glare in the sky behind the beach huts.
On the beach, looking out onto the glassy sea, there was a fleet of squid fishing boats in vee formation, their upper decks blazing with rows of high powered floodlights to attract the squid.
The actual boats were invisible apart from the red and green of their navigation lights, but the glare from the floodlights reflected in the water like a searchlight beam, creating a silvery, watery path back to the sound of the vessels engines. Clearly audible in the still air, the throb of each boat's exhaust merged with the others to become an even, powerful drone. The whole scene felt surreal, like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind - so amazing I didn't think about trying to take a photo.

We curled up with the sounds of the sheep baaarking at each other, a racket they kept up well into the night.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Europe trip 2009 - Novigrad to Rovinj

26th April
The political aftermath of the 1991-1995 Bosnian - Croatian - Serbian war (known to Croats as the Croatian War of Independence) wasn’t really concluded until 2000, when 300,000 Serbian refuges who had fled their homes were allowed to return.

Croatia now has a population of around 4.5 million, mostly Croats but with minorities of Serbs, Bosnians, Slovenes, Italians, Hungarians, Czechs and Albanians.

Another legacy of the war, the landmines, still remain. Up to 2 million mines were laid along the front lines, athough none were placed along the coastline. Since then a massive mine clearance operation has taken place and the remaining areas in Slavonia (obviously well marked and blocked off) are hoped to be clear by the end of 2009.
Latest reports from the Croatian Mine Action Centre (http://www.hcr.hr/ )

Istria, our current regional location, has had a very chequered history - the Romans, the Venetians, the Austrians, the French and the Italians have all had their hands on it over the centuries, before it was absorbed into General Tito’s Yugoslavia in 1945.

Sitting in our Novigrad campsite, watching the rain belt down, we flashed up the MacBook to watch the F1 Grand Prix on Croatian TV. Finding that BBC World was also booming in, we saw our first news of the Swine flu outbreak.

27th April
More rain – BBC World occupied us for half the day.
Later we walked along the coast path towards the town as far as the next campsite - very cramped and crowded compared with our green and spacious Camping Mareda site.

28th April
Croatia has a huge coastline, a source of inestimable wealth to the country through tourism and fishing. Along the mainland there are 1,777 km of shoreline and a further 4,058 km around its one thousand one hundred and eighty five islands and reefs - forty seven of which are inhabited.

Novigrad from the coast path

A break in the rain seemed to be holding, so at long last the bikes came off the rack and we rode into Novigrad along the coast path. First into view was a huge new marina on the edge of town, a lavish looking development, full of large yachts.

Novigrad's well protected harbour

The small enclosed harbour adjacent was packed with a rather idle looking fleet of fishing boats, but on the whole the town is quite a pretty place, a few Venetian features in the architecture.
There is a new museum on the Austro-Hungarian navy which looked interesting, but because of the intermittent rain we gave it a miss.
(http://www.istria-novigrad.com/ )

After a wander around and a visit to the tourist office, the darkening skies suddenly let go an almighty cloudburst. We sheltered in a baker’s shop where we consumed a couple of very chewy doughnuts, then decided to make a move.
Minutes later Sue was drenched by a speeding car and ended up on the pavement, collecting a grazed elbow. Fortunately the only other injuries were her pride and composure.

29th April
Guess what, the sun came out and stayed out, the chairs came out again and Sue sunned herself. Later we had a longer walk around the campsite and their sports facilities. If you’ve ever wondered how to make a pedalo more appealing, they have the answer here – pedalo’s come complete with four seats and their own water slide (must be for kids, obviously).

30th April
Time to move on, we had a lot to see.
There is plenty of Autogas in Croatia and we found some straight away at a new OMV station in town.

A short drive south along the coast brought us to Camping Lanterna. This is a vast campsite which encircles an entire bay the size of your average Cornish Cove. It was voted best in Croatia by the German DDC camping club in 2007, it has two swimming pools, sports centre and any number of restaurants. Free wi-fi is available at reception. (GPS: 45.3101 N, 13.6028 E)
(http://www.camping-adriatic.com/ )

We picked a pitch right on the waters edge (at standard rate) at the extreme northern end which, as I found out later, entails a 25 minute walk back to reception! The only drawback was a stone quarry across the bay which was clanking and banging until late in the evening.

If only the quarrymen would go home it would be perfect!

1st May
The day started out warm and sunny, with gentle breezes coming off the water. Our pitch now seemed perfect, especially as the quarry opposite was having a Mayday holiday.
Every time we looked up at the road from Novigrad across the bay, we would see 2 or 3 motorhomes driving by, literally hundreds over the course of the day, most of them Italian, I suspect.
Later the wind whipped up, bringing a thunderstorm, and a hurried stowing of the awning.

2nd May
We moved inland and north again to escape the crowds and stopped at Brtonigla, an old and dilapidated hilltop town in the process of renovation. It had a Tuscan feel, which is not surprising as most of the Istrian region of Croatia was part of Italy until the 1947 peace agreement. If you’re looking for a nice old villa to buy and have the funds to put it to rights, there are a few here up for grabs.

There is a new public car park by the San Rocco Restaurant - very highly rated in one of our free tourist guides. We poked our head in to see if it was ok to stay the night and were assured that it was no problem at all. (GPS: 45.3790 N, 13.6268 E)
(http://www.istria-gourmet.com/ )

Later we returned for an evening meal - scrambled egg with black truffles followed by veal roasted in a wood oven with sauté potatoes and carrot and spinach on polenta. I’m afraid I really couldn’t determine any flavour in the flakes of truffle, perhaps they were a bit old. The veal was tasty but a bit overdone. With a bottle of Teran wine, water and some very nice hot bread, the bill came to 370 Kuna or about £45.
The boss is Italian, a dead ringer for 007 Daniel Craig and looked like he knew it.

The early morning sun hits the San Rocco restaurant

3rd May
We had a peaceful night in the car park and awoke early to the sound of cockerels, wood pigeons and songbirds all vying to outdo each other’s dawn chorus. Otherwise the village was hushed and the air wafting though the back window from the vineyard had a lovely fragrance to it – I wonder how much that overgrown villa is?
(http://www.istria-brtonigla.com/ )

Gateway to your new villa?

Our next stop was Buje, a larger hilltop town and the centre of the most well known wine and olive growing district of Istria.

Again very dilapidated in parts, even in ruins, and part lovingly restored elsewhere. Some of the narrowest streets we’ve ever seen in its medieval citadel.

Some clever artwork on a partially restored townhouse

Next up, Groznjan, called “the City of the Artists” by our brochure, it is a tiny medieval town plonked on top of a steep hill, with fantastic views all around. Its centre, accessible only on foot or by bike, is littered with small art and craft galleries and felt very peaceful and pleasant in the warm sun.
(http://www.istria-groznjan.com/ )

The pleasant intimate streets of Groznjan

The main car and coach park for Groznjan is actually higher than the town and even has a sign displaying parking for motorhomes. An Austrian couple in a campervan appeared to be finishing off their breakfast when we arrived.

As in so many countries, the official line in Croatia is that free or wild camping is illegal and punishable, but our view is: as tourists bringing in valuable foreign currency we are unlikely to be tackled as long as we don’t make a nuisance of ourselves or outstay our welcome, at worst we are likely to be asked to move.
An approved car park, especially one like Groznjan with fantastic views, is ideal.

Unless overnight parking is specifically restricted, that’s all we do, park up - no awnings, chairs or BBQ come out, the blinds go up at night and from the outside we might as well be an empty van - “parking” versus “camping”.
Inland is always easier, especially away from the water - many coastal areas, across Europe, now have total bans on motorhomes at any time.

The coach, motorhome and car park at Groznjan

Despite many vans arriving during the day and some lingering till early evening, we shared our hilltop overnight with just one man and his dog in a Dutch panel van.

4th May
We slept like babies until the sun's rays hit the curtains around six - one of those mornings that really make you feel glad to be alive. By eight the air was warm and sweet with blossom and the vista from our pitch was sublime - a few workers tending the vines, just the birds and us enjoying the sunshine.

Groznjan basks in the morning sunshine

The road south of Groznjan becomes a tortuous dirt track, so we looked for another route to Motovun. Driving through a series of tiny villages and more lush countryside we came across yet another hilltop town and a string of isolated churches.

Why did the Hoopoe cross the road?

I stopped suddenly as a Hoopoe was crossing the road in front of us. It remained transfixed, uncertain what to do, until I inched gently forward and it took to flight.
Then the road turned to gravel for a few kilometres, but we carried gently on, past vineyards, forest, rows of beehives and the occasional field worker, one of whom gave us a vigorous wave.
Hitting the main road again we felt, regretfully, that we had just emerged from another world, as indeed we had.

Istarske Toplice spar appears in the Womo guide and although fronted by an impressive limestone cliff, it is basically a hotel and a modern "wellness" centre for those who want to be pampered with exotic mud packs and the like.
They have “No camping” signs up in the car park, so we would be reluctant to use it for an overnight.

A small detour to look at Butoniga lake, a newly formed reservoir. No access to the water's edge was visible, though construction work was still going on.

Motovun, a fortified hilltop town with amazing views

On to Motovun, an ancient fortified hilltop town with fabulous views from the top of its perimeter wall. Obviously gearing up for the tourist season, it was still very quiet.

The usual tourist stuff and overpriced wine and olive oil were on sale, there are a few small cafés, and the hotel has a pleasant tree shaded terrace if you fancy a nice lunch.
(http://www.hotel-kastel-motovun.hr/ )

It’s pay parking only, a couple of hundred metres lower down the hill (15 kuna), though guests at the hotel are given passes to the automatic barriers and can park directly below the hotel. (http://www.istria-motovun.com/ )

Truffles, olive oil and wine, the gourmet staples of Istria

Heading on south, through acres of vineyards, we passed through Karojba and Visnjan to Nova Vas. Here there is a cave to see, along with a heritage museum with huts and a collection of ancient farming machinery.

At Womo’s recommendation we parked up on the picnic area away from the musem/cave entrance area. We didn’t feel particularly comfortable however and late in the evening a car passed us, tooting aggressively on his horn, which was unsettling.
I think we would have been better off in Visnjan a few kilometres back, which has a large tourist car and coach park, empty as we passed by.

5th May
From Nova Vas it is only a short drive to Porec, a former Roman colony on a small peninsula, which was probably inhabited as far back as Neolithic times. Its old town streets are lined with Venetian gothic houses, but its key monument is the Euphrasius Basilica, built in the 6th Century in Byzantine style, with fantastic mosaics on the front and interior – now a UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Well preserved mosaics inside the Euphrasius Basilica

The waterfront is littered with excursion boats, cafes and restaurants and a major hotel renovation is going on at the head of the peninsula.

Porec's waterfront is developing apace, park your yacht here!

The whole of the old town is fully geared up for tourism - perhaps too much for our taste. There are various other historical monuments to visit and in the summer season much street art and live music.
(http://www.istria-porec.com/ )

Now firmly back on the coast we chose Camping Valkanela, an ACSI site. This is another campsite on a huge scale, encompassing two complete peninsulas and the enclosed bay. We found ourselves a super waterfront pitch at no extra charge off season. Out came the awning, chairs and BBQ, time to relax. (GPS: 45.1659 N, 13.6024 E)
(http://www.maistra.hr/ )

Our best waterfront pitch so far

6th May
It’s only a short bike ride into Vrsar from the campsite. We seem to have a thing about hilltop towns and villages, but really it’s hard to avoid them, that’s where people settled and lived. This old fishing town has some particular blind alleys and took some exploring even on a bike.
Apparently no less a personage than Giacomo Casanova, lover and bon-viveur, visited the town twice and included it in his memoirs.

Vsrar from its large and well equipped marina

The large marina in the bay is in the midst of some extensive improvements and is definitely aiming up market. This part of the coast is the most indented in Istria, with islands, bays and inlets aplenty for the yachting fraternity to enjoy.
All along the marina walls are stone sculptures, the product of summer sculpture workshops at the nearby Montraker quarry.
(http://www.istria-vrsar.com/ )

At the end of the jetty we came across a crowd of German tourists in fits of laughter - the guy behind the counter at an ice cream parlour was tossing scoops of ice cream across the pavement to a waiter, who was catching them in his mouth, at ever increasing distances.
The scooper was obviously a juggler of some skill himself, throwing ice cream balls up into the air and dropping them without fail into an open cone. Did rather make you wonder though, what was in the ice cream to hold it together like that?

Note the white ball of ice cream just entering the mouth!

Nonetheless, Sue decided she would like the Croatian equivalent of a Pineapple Surprise, which of course turned out to be bigger than her belly, so I was recruited to help finish it off – not the best ice cream we’ve ever had.

7th May
Reluctantly, we tore ourselves away from Auto Camp Valkanela, but there was so much more coast to see.

The Limski Kanal is Croatia's only genuine fjord - 11 km long, it is a protected nature area and cultivating ground for mussels and oysters.
We thought we might be able to get a look by visiting Vrsar's private air field which is very close by. There were only a couple of light planes on the field, but a series of small helicopters, looking like models, were circling around.
There was a car park past the field and a 200 metre walk to a café overlooking the canal, but as a crowd of workmen were busy lopping branches off the trees we thought it safer to leave them to it. Potential overnight spot though.

Further on we came across several pig and lamb roasts sizzling away at the roadside in a haze of aromatic smoke, but as we’d had a hearty breakfast we declined that as well, despite the beckoning vendors.

On a corner overlooking the canal we finally got a glimpse of the emerald green water. Several stalls were set up selling grappa, honey and olive oil, we were obviously on a coach tour route.

The Limski Kanal, the photo doesn't do the emerald colour justice

At the bottom of the hill there is direct access to the waters edge, several restaurants, more stalls and the terminus for boat trips to and from Rovinj and Vrsar.
This is one of Womo’s overnight stops and looked suitable to us (GPS: 45.1314 N, 13.7355 E)

A tripper boat docks at the end of the Lim Canal

Our next destination was Rovinj, billed by the tourist brochure as the most romantic place in the Mediterranean.
Looking for Auto Camp Borton Biondi, some French campers, who we had been following at every stop that day, indicated to us to use the car park above the town. We checked it out, but it was 5 Kuna per hour up till 2300 and then again from 0600. I don't think the French had noticed the pay and display as they had no tickets up.

We opted for the campsite and found a nice pitch on this wooded and steeply terraced site. (GPS: 45.8884 N, 13.6451 E)

When the afternoon had started to cool a bit we strolled into town along the waterfront.

Rovinj, "the most romantic place in the Mediterranean"

The old town sits on a small peninsular, with the church of St Euphemia on top of the hill in the centre. The narrow streets are cobbled with limestone, polished to a slippery shine by billions of footsteps.

The cobbles are slippery, even when not wet!

After climbing to the church to find it barred and bolted we descended a steep street on the other side and stopped for a pizza at a tiny restaurant.

The sun sets out to sea

As the lights started to come we wandered around the harbour, packed with small boats, and through more tiny streets full of intimate bars and softly lit restaurants, very romantic indeed. If you're still feeling romantic after your meal, the jewellery shops stay open till late!
(http://www.istria-rovinj.com/ )

The capacious harbour

The other side of town

Back at the campsite, the Scops Owls that we have heard at every site in Croatia were in full song, calls (which sound like the electronic beep of a vehicle reversing warning) echoing backwards and forwards through the pine trees. Dreamy enough for us!