Depart Dublin airport and straight for London. I don’t wish to stay there as the weather is almost as bad as in Ireland. America and Australia are possible destinations I’ve been to before, but Oz is too far away and the States has that live to work way of doing things that I wanted to escape in the first place. I’m looking for a place where work to live is the predominant ideal. Europe seems the natural choice but the north end of it is a little too sensible for me. The south has a coast but a lot of it is overdeveloped and I just have to live by the sea. I’m also looking for something that’s new or at least new for me. Looking at a map and Croatia has almost entirely the other side of the Adriatic to Italy. My choice of where on this coast, is for me the simplest of decisions – the north end and Istria. Here we have hot summers but not boiling hot, and it’s green in the winter. We are close to Italy, Austria, Slovenia, the Alps, the Croatian capital Zagreb and IKEA when needed! Maybe I follow James Joyce’s path to Pula but I want to be out of town a little. So just up the coast, opposite the paradise national park of the Brijuni Islands, I set down my roots. The only thing was that none of this had ever been a plan, it just happened this way by chance.
Socialism ruled here for almost 50 years, and as much damage as it did to the economy, it did prevent the over development of the coast so typical of southern Europe. Another key influence was the myriad of ruler this region has been under including the Romans the Venetians, the Austrians, Yugoslavs and Croats, many who added great culture and architecture. However if you ask any of the older generation here, they still are and always were Istrians. The result is that time remains in internal suspension here. Olives grow and are harvested, wine is harvested and drank, and life is celebrated. So is this the reason to come on holiday here? Well part. The land is old and its people still reap fresh and abundant produce from it, because it was always respected and cared for. However it is for me the way people live here that gives the place its real holiday edge.
I guess there are really only two ways to do a holiday; spending your time having and doing more than you usually do (staying in a 5 star hotel in Vegas) or spending your time having and doing less than you usually do, chilling out in Istria. I remember going camping as a kid in France with my family. For years I thought it was because we couldn’t afford anything better and maybe we couldn’t at the time, or maybe my parents were onto something. Camping is for the poor right? And then I see them; the Germans, Dutch and increasingly every other nationality who have finally come to their senses. They may be sitting at a simple table, but beside that table is a minimalist but state of the art trailer (and an Audi A8). They are not ordering room service because they enjoy the process of learning about and buying what they are consuming in one of the many local producers of fresh food and drink. Buying local produce and holidaying in a simple manner was not a budget solution but a choice, and their kids are running around happily with not a security fence in sight, or for that matter an animator, to help kids do what they normally do when in a safe place.
That’s what this place is – simplicity. There are only really two things heard about Croatia, transitional country and beautiful holidays. But here is the trick; if you are on holiday, you don’t have to deal with the transitional bit, especially in Istria which is effectively more Italian influenced than Croatian. Start a business here and you’ll have a sort of interesting time – for everybody else what you get here is a safe place, a friendly place, a place with competitive prices and where things are not just about ripping you off , but about allowing you to just chill. Everything is here and in the magical town of Fažana every week of the long summer, there is a festival that is family friendly but goes on late into the sultry warm evenings. It is for me the best version of utopia I can find. Many compare the region to Lombardy or Provence in France. Personally having visited both; I think they have little in comparison. If you have money to burn and want to pay for the illusion of natural beauty and peace there are plenty of places I can recommend. If however, you want a holiday for the soul, for the senses and the family, this is the place to come.
See you over a great wine, eating great food listening to great music, in front of an immaculate sunset.
Paul O’Grady 2012