Who is this tiny little town in Croatia’s Istrian region liking all my Tweets? I remember the morning I typed “Žminj” into Google Maps and thought to myself, “When would I ever visit Žminj? It’s in the sticks!” Well, the invite came and my presumptions couldn’t be more wrong.
As much as I love living in Zagreb, I also enjoy escaping from the city I call home and one of the greatest luxuries of living in the capital city of Croatia is that I am always less than 3 hours away from the coastline. Along with the girls from Putopis, I packed my overnight bag and this time headed to the westernmost county of Croatia, one I also refer to as my favourite part of the country, Istria.
Our journey to Žminj took around 3 hours from Zagreb by car, we stopped at Opatija for a few hours but due to torrential rain, I prefer to forget that visit. I will be back to experience Opatija in it’s true glory on a sunnier day.
Here are 5 things to do in Žminj
(Rain, Hail or Shine)
One. Wander around in old town in Žminj
Žminj is not at all a large town, the city centre calls home to approximately 750 people and is also known to have a local dialect that is fairly different to the Croatian language, it’s even more foreign to me, someone who already struggles with traditional Croatian. We were fortunate to have a tour guide, Kristina, who showed us around the old town, that is distinctively visible from the highway due to it’s location on a hilltop.
The Parish Church of St Michael is the epicentre of the town and moments from what was known as ‘the ghetto‘ long ago when a strong Jewish population was slowly being expelled during the Second World War. To the left of The Parish Church of St Michael is a tiny little cottage type house called the Church of the Holy Trinity that was built in the 15th Century. Inside, frescoes portraying the life of Christ are well preserved and kept, entry is only allowed with permission by the local vicar.
A third Church, Church of St Anthony The Abbot can be found a little further down the road past the main church. This is the only church we enter and inside are surrounded with more frescoes of the life of Christ and I am mesmerised at how fresh the energy is inside considering it’s quite old and no longer in full use.
The streets of Zminj are easy to navigate by foot or by car. Paved with cobblestones, off streets from the main road lead to many homes with a ‘tuscan feel‘ to them, decorated with flowers in pots out front, often brightly coloured doors and walls follow suit. It really does feel like you’re in another country, until you hear someone say something in Croatian and are brought back to reality.
Two. Stop by Mljekara Latus Milk & Cheese Bar
*Vegan friends, scroll down to three, your eyes will not appreciate this.* However, for any cheese lovers, continue reading.
Istrian dairy producers, the Latus family, have opened up the farm that has been producing local milk and cheese for over three generations to anybody interested in learning more about their products.
Our morning started with fresh yoghurt, followed by a cheese tasting platter with five slices of cheese at different maturities, all made from local Istrian milk. My favourite level of maturity was a year old and also the winner of Croatia’s best cheese a few years ago, but I also enjoyed the truffle cheese which was a lot younger and softer.
“Cheese and wine are the best two combinations,” I must agree and sadly I’ll never be able to indulge in this combination together again. It is times like this that I do miss a glass of wine but knowing me, I would have already finished a bottle to myself before midday in this instance so I watch the girls from Putopis enjoy their cheese and wine.
We were also able to walk through the store room where the cheeses by the Latus Family were kept. You can watch what I refer to as “Cheese Heaven” on my vlog.
Address: Gornji Orbanići 12D, 52341, Žminj
Three. Eat at Konoba Puli Pineta
Our visit to Zminj was not going to be the same without visiting the best restaurant in town, Konoba Puli Pineta. Even as we entered, the local gourmet tavern was full of guests dining on the finest istrian cuisine. In theme with Zminj’s Festival of Pasta, the restaurant had a set menu of three different pasta dishes. One option was pljukanci with rocket and pancetta, another was ghocchi with sausage and the final was interesting and something I’d never tried before; homemade pasta with the skimmed layer from fresh milk cooked until a fine golden brown. It was great until I could no longer trick my body that I was eating dairy and sadly had to stop.
Our mains were then followed by a plate of grilled cheese, local pršut and olives. You can quickly gather that Istria is all about dairy products and wine.
The highlight? Dessert. Why?
Firstly, it’s delicious. Secondly it has a cool back story. So, UN Secretary at the time Ban Ki Moon was in Zminj and taken to Konoba Puli Pineta for dinner. He then asked Chef PinoKuhar to come up with a traditional dessert from Zminj. A little taken back and challenged, Chef PinoKuhar obviously wanted to make his special guest never forget his experience at his restaurant and suddenly came up with a new dessert combination- ricotta cheese (from Latus Dairy Farm, of course) with walnut ice-cream on top, separated by a drizzle of local honey. What do you know, the dish was a success and now the dessert of Zminj.
Address: karlov vrt 1, Žminj
Four. Visit Cave “Feštinsko Kraljevstvo” (aka Kingdom of Festini)
While visiting Zminj, don’t forget to stop by “Feštinsko Kraljevstvo,” a cave located underground and made entirely from natural limestone. There is a safe path in the interior of the cave so that you can easily roam through without getting lost. In moments of silence, you’ll hear water drops fall and in-between hear theories of what each limestone sculpture resembles. You’ll be taken to a whole new world, one that will help you forget whatever troubles you above as you wander through a whole new energy.
Upstairs and back to reality, visitors have access to a large park, perfect for children to play in, mini bar and farm.
Address: Feštini bb, 52341, Žminj
Five. Visit Rovinj, Pula, Motovun…
As mentioned before, I assumed that Zminj was in ‘the middle of the sticks.‘ What I would end up learning is that Zminj is in fact the heart of Istria, with main roads leading to Pula, Motovun and Rovinj only a 20 minute drive away. Zminj is the perfect place to escape and rejuvenate your energy for more faster paced cities such as Pula and Rovinj or truffle territory, Motovun.
We spent a lovely afternoon in Rovinj and although when we arrived the weather looked like it would storm, it would clear up and the sky showed off with the most epic sunset I’d ever seen in my life. Read more about it here.