Motovun is the best-preserved medieval fortress in Istria. Its location provides several viewpoints overlooking the whole Istrian inland. Dense forest, green fields and hills, endless vineyards, Mirna River, tops of the Učka mountain – the view is just breathtaking! But when you reach the top of the hill and enter the town of Motovun, you won’t just be amazed by the view of its surroundings, but also by the captivating sights of the town itself.
Why visit Motovun?
Istria is the largest Croatian peninsula and the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. It is known as Little Italy because, for many years, Istria was under Italian rule. This left a great mark on the architecture of the peninsula, as well as on the people of Istria. Along with the rich history and beautiful sea and nature, Istria is full of lovely little towns built in stone. The most well-known cities of Istria are those on the coast – Pula, Rovinj, and Poreč. But there are also several lovely towns located in the inland of the peninsula.
Motovun is the most important inhabited place in Istria. Ever since prehistory, the town of Motovun has been dominating on a hill over the Mirna River valley. In prehistoric times, Illyrian and Celtic tribes built their fortifications on the site where Motovun is located today. The name of the town is also of Celtic origin. It is derived from the word Montona, meaning “town on the hill”. Surrounded by the dense Motovun Forest, rich in truffles, this picturesque town has a rich cultural and historical heritage. Motovun is the best-preserved medieval fortress with city walls that date back to the 12th century.
A local legend says that Motovun was built by giants. And not only Motovun but several other Istrian towns, as well. Legend has it that giants lived in Istria long before humans and they are held responsible for the appearance of the entire peninsula. The biggest of Istrian giants was the one named Dragonja. He plowed a furrow through which the river then flowed, the one he called Mirna. Later, he made another furrow for the river he named after himself – Dragonja. And the Pazin Cave was formed when he stomped his foot in anger and the ground opened. Each giant then took one hill and made a small town on it. And so were formed the acropolis towns of Grožnjan, Roč, Završje, Motovun, Sovinjak, and Vrh.
meters long walls
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What to see in Motovun
Motovun city walls and gates
Little as it is, the town od Motovun consists of three parts. Citadel is the oldest part of the town, located at the very top of a hill. Citadel is surrounded and protected by the first set of walls, which is the best-preserved to this day. The inner fortification system dates from the 12th century. The wall is 436 meters long and has a height of up to 15 meters.
Entrance to the Citadel is guarded by the Main Town Gate, the one connecting lower and upper square. The gate’s passage is now arranged as a small lapidary in which stone monuments from the Roman era (stelae and tombstones), fragments of medieval inscriptions, medieval coats of arms, and coats of arms from later periods are exhibited.
The second “belt” includes the two main streets leading to Motovun – Gradiziol and Borgo. The two streets merge in the city’s lower square, Josef Ressel Square. This part of the town is protected by another set of walls. On the north side, access to the square was protected by a 16th-century city gate, the so-called “New Gate”. The third part of the town was built outside the city walls on the east side of the hill.
Andrea Antico Square
The Main Gate leads to Citadel, the oldest part of the town, and a historic core. Passing through the gate you will find yourself on the upper square – Andrea Antico Square, which represents the main square of Motovun. On the main square, you will find the Parish Church of St. Stephen, built in the 17th century in the spirit of Mannerism. Next to the church stands the bell tower of Motovun. The 27-meters-high tower was built in the 13th century as the town’s main tower and observation post. Only later it was converted into a bell tower. On the opposite side, along the wall, extends the Municipal Palace, the best-preserved Romanesque public building in Croatia.
Josef Ressel Square
While the east side of the Municipal Palace surrounds the main town square, the west side of the palace surrounds the Josef Ressel Square, squeezed between the two city gates. At the very edge of Josef Ressel Square lies the town lodge – Loggia, which was built at the beginning of the 17th century on the walls of the defensive tower. It was used mainly for trials, but also for performing some public affairs. Today, loggia serves as a beautiful lookout point with a view of the Mirna river valley.
Although the entrance to the town is free, the inner part of the walls can only be visited if purchasing a ticket. For an entrance fee of 25 kunas (app. 3,50 euro), you are welcome to walk on the walls and to have the best view of the Motovun surroundings.
What to do in Motovun
Motovun Film Festival
The Motovun Film Festival is one of the most famous annual festivals in Croatia, much because of the beautiful scenery it takes place in. The festival has been held for more than 20 years, and it shows films made by small and independent productions, films that stand out as innovative and powerful, ones that will make you think. The Motovun Film Festival is held in late July, with daily screenings from ten in the morning to four in the morning the next day. The whole festival lasts for a couple of days. There’s even a camp organized for visitors, which is extremely famous among young people.
Istria is a heaven for bikers! The Parenzana railway, which once connected Poreč with Trieste passes at the foot of Motovun. The 123-kilometer railway was opened from 1902 to 1935. The route crossed over eleven bridges, six viaducts and through nine tunnels. Although the railway was dismantled, a part of the route has been rearranged for bicycle and pedestrian paths. Today, MTB and bicycle races are held along the Parenzana route. The route even houses one of the most attractive mountain bike marathon races in the world. Apart from adrenaline and recreation, Parenzana also offers some beautiful natural sights.
The dense Motovun Forest is the world’s largest white truffle habitat. White truffles are very highly esteemed and are the most valuable on the market. They are also very rare. But, here in Motovun, you can try your luck in hunt of this pricy specialty. There are many tours available in Motovun and other towns of Istria. Apart from hunting truffles with professional guides and trained dogs, the tours usually include aperitive and a meal made of the truffles you find yourself!
How to get to Motovun
Motovun is only accessible by car. Since the town is located in central Istria, out of reach of major roads, the buses don’t make a regular stop here. If you are interested in taking a bus, check out Brioni Pula, the main Istrian bus operator, to find the nearest bus stop available connected with your starting point.
How to get to Motovun from Rovinj
The town of Motovun lies an hour away from Rovinj. To get to the motorway, follow the instructions in the direction of Pula/Poreč. Next, follow the road to Pazin. Take exit 3 (Rogovići) for Pazin Centar. Then turn left and continue towards the roundabout. At the roundabout, take the 3rd exit and do the same on the next roundabout (direction Poreč). Next, continue to Motovun following the instruction on the road.
How to get to Motovun from Pula
You will need approximately 1 hour to reach Motovun from Pula. First, get on the motorway (direction Rijeka/Umag). At the Kanfanar junction stay in the right lane and follow signs toward Zagreb/Rijeka/Pazin. Take exit 3 (Rogovići) for Pazin Centar. Then turn left and continue towards the roundabout. At the roundabout, take the 3rd exit and do the same on the next roundabout (direction Poreč). Next, continue to Motovun following the instruction on the road.
How to get to Motovun from Zagreb
Motovun is about 3 hours from Zagreb when coming by car. First, get on A1 motorway and keep following the instructions on the road in direction of Rijeka). After you pass Rijeka, take the right exit towards Pula/Pazin/Opatija and continue straight. Next, take exit 6 (Lupoglav) towards Lupoglav/Trst/Buzet. Turn right and continue following the instruction on the road until you reach your destination.
Motovun by car
Since the medieval town of Motovun is located on a steep hill, the parking space is provided just under the hill. This means that you will have to walk another 15 minutes to reach the historic center of Motovun. The parking is paid and secured, and there’s plenty of space even in the high season. There’s a possibility of taking a shuffle bus that will take you up the hill, but for an additional cost.
Where to eat in Motovun
Istrian cuisine is as good as Istria is beautiful! Although they are both a variation of the Mediterranean cuisine, the traditional food of Istria differs from the Dalmatian cuisine. Fish, squid, asparagus, truffles, pasta, and Istrian pršut (prosciutto) are just some of the traditional dishes of Istria.
Konoba Mondo is a traditional Istrian tavern located at the entrance to the medieval town of Motovun. The restaurant’s romantic interior, in combination with a rich menu and an extended wine list, guarantees a wonderful stay and a good local meal. In addition to truffle dishes, on Konoba Mondo’s menu, you will find beef, carpaccio with black truffle crumbs, creamy polenta with truffles, and a portion of delicious homemade pasta. The wine list includes 300 selected local wines. The quality of the restaurant is guaranteed by the Trip Advisor users, too. The restaurant holds the first place in recommendations!
Restaurant Pod Napun
Restaurant Pod Napun is a heritage restaurant serving traditional Istrian dishes. The restaurant is located in a traditional rural house. In an attempt to preserve not only Istrian cuisine, but also the tradition and heritage of Motovun, the restaurant has held to its original ambiance equipped by antique tables and chairs. The menu includes dishes such as Istrian prosciutto, cheese with truffles, asparagus or mushroom soup, ravioli, homemade pasta, dishes with truffles, meat dishes, etc. The offer is expanded with the ethno shop. The shop sells local products and is decorated as an homage to traditional Istrian house, with original furniture.
Located 8 minutes by car from the center of Motovun, Restaurant Zigante is the first Croatian restaurant specializing in truffle dishes. The restaurant is owned by Zigante Company, the leading producer of truffle products in the country. The restaurant offers a carefully designed menu based on fresh truffles throughout the year, created primarily according to the season of Istrian truffles. Dishes with fresh black truffles are offered all year round, while those with rare white truffles are prepared only between October and December. The dishes are accompanied by a rich wine cellar with the best domestic and foreign wines.
The restaurant service is at the highest level, with many interesting dishes in offer. Since the truffle market is an expensive one, so are the prices on the menu. But, dining in the heart of Istria, the land of truffles, has its price!
Wineries near Motovun
Central Istria is full of wine-growing hills. The most famous wines produced in the area are Malvasia, Teran, Merlot, and Muscat. The history of wine in Istria is a story that lasts for almost 2000 years since the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius brought the first vine to the peninsula. Numerous wineries offer wine tastings and visits to their vineyards and cellars.
One of the most prominent local wineries is Kozlović Winery, located 30 minutes by car from Motovun. It is a family winery with a long history, that has been producing the best Istrian Malvasia for generations. The beautiful estate was updated in 2012 when a new cellar with a modern winery was made. Today, the Kozlović Winery’s cellar is one of the most attractive and modern cellars in the region. The winery offers several programs with visits to the cellar and tastings of house wines and other local products. Apart from wine, the winery also produces rakija (fruit brandy made in Croatia and region) and olive oil.
What to visit in Istria
The town of Hum, located in the interior of the peninsula, is known as the smallest town in the world. Hum is, in fact, one of the rare examples of a medieval town that hasn’t spread outside the city walls. The appearance it has today, this acropolis town got back in the 11th century. The town of Hum consists of only three sets of houses and you don’t need more than 20 minutes to see the entire town. But there is still something magical here that attracts tourists to visit it and to love it.
Buzet is a lovely little town placed on a hill above the valley of the Mirna River. The town is known as the town of truffle, unique fruit that grows on the peninsula. Truffles can mainly be found in the dense forests surrounding the medieval towns of Motovun and Buzet. There’s a possibility to try your luck in the truffle hunt with the help of trained dogs and a professional guide. Buzet is also home to Aura Distillery, a company that produces exclusive products such as brandies, jams, and other traditional products. Apart from the shop where you can buy these products, you can also visit the distillery and get to know the process behind the products. Tastings are also included in the tour.
The city of Rovinj is one of the most beautiful cities in the Adriatic Sea. The old town, which is nowadays a popular tourist destination and a monument of culture, was first situated on an island, which as later connected to the mainland and turned into a peninsula. The old town of Rovinj is a typical Mediterranean town, crowded with narrow stone houses, narrow streets and small squares, all of which make it a lovely and picturesque town it is today. The Church of St. Euphemia dominates the peninsula, along with its bell tower, as it rises above the houses and the roofs.
Another historical town on the Istrian coast and another popular tourist destination is Poreč. The city of Poreč is most widely known for the 6th-century Euphrasian Basilica, one of the several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Croatia. Alongside the magnificent basilica complex, there are several other sights in the historical center of Poreč that are worth a visit. The inevitable Mediterranean architecture and traditional Istrian restaurants and souvenir shops are yours to be explored.
Pula is the largest, and, architectonically speaking, the most interesting town in Istria. The city of Pula is one of the oldest Croatian cities on the coast. Inhabited ever since the prehistoric times, Pula became an important Roman colony and port on the Adriatic Sea at the time of the Roman Empire. Until this day, the historical center of Pula houses several Roman buildings, all in perfect condition. Some of those are even among the best examples of Roman architecture in the world, such as the famous Arena Pula, a beautiful Roman amphitheater.
Brijuni National Park
From the town of Fažana sails out the boat to one of the most beautiful sites in Croatia – the Brijuni National Park. The Brijuni is a group of islands famous for its natural beauty and for being the Summer Residence of President Marshal Tito. Today, the Brijuni National Park houses several hotels, a safari park with exotic animals, several archeological sites from different historical periods, a museum and an educational center. The ticket for the national park includes a boat ride, touristic train, and a local guide.