Vodnjan | Olive Oil and so much more…

Biked with another blogger from Barbariga to Vodnjan. It’s approximately a ten mile ride with views of olive groves and the Adriatic Sea to keep you inspired as you pedal the last few miles up a moderate climb into the ancient village. This area is the unofficial olive oil capital of Croatia, so our main destination was to attend a tasting at one of the local businesses. We arrived a few hours early and casually rode around to check out this cute and interesting town. Came to discover a great juxtaposition of old structures with new art throughout the village. There are about forty modern murals painted on walls giving the town a very unique vibe.

We stopped at a café in a square for coffee and to get directions to “Chiavalon,” the olive oil business where we would partake in the tasting. Enjoyed the local color sitting in the sun watching the world go by.We determined from the accents we overheard and through subsequent conversations that Italian is the predominant language in this town versus Croatian, adding to the uniqueness factor. Next to this café we saw a small building that said Eco Museum, so since we had time we thought we’d check it out. The museum is set up to show how life in the town was in the past with a stone oven, stone “washing machine” and a working water hand pump inside. Generally a place like this holds a few moments of interest for me and I’m ready to move on, but this place had a special quality. You could somehow envision yourself living there.  The hostess, Jennifer, explained that the museum was really established by the community to help collect donations to support the last two remaining donkeys in the village that work in the local vineyard since the owner could no longer afford to take care of them. The place now truly took on this homey, community supportive environment. Jennifer offered us a taste of some local aperitifs which were delicious. She then asked us if we wanted to watch some short films about the donkeys as well as on local craft production. As we watched these fascinating and charming shorts being projected on a centuries old whitewashed stone wall we were brought a glass of wine made from the grapes harvested from the land of the donkey’s owner. She also served some plum marmalade that Jennifer’s grandmother in-law made. Wait, what kind of museum is this ???? We finished with interesting conversation sipping mint infused water that was made by her mother in-law. I couldn’t make this stuff up. Perhaps this treatment was special as we connected, I don’t know, but traveling at this time of year (late September) with less tourists can help create these magical moments. OK, now we’re going to the main event – what a day.)

We meandered the streets of Vodjnan (read that as a bit lost), and eventually came to the really charming business of Chiavalon Olive Oil. It’s a beautiful garden setting with about 150 olive trees in the backyard. (They have a total of 7,500 trees sprinkled around the local region). They are an organic grower, a term often thrown about these days but as the tour progressed learned that they go to great extents to honor this designation as well as substantially beat the standards for oil to be considered the gold standard of “extra virgin.” Our knowledgeable and personable host Tedi, explained that much of Croatia’s groves through a turn of history are truly organic. During the communist era of about forty years many of the jobs were focused in the cities, so only small family olive businesses continued and many commercial operations went out of business. The trees remained, but not harvested, etc. The positive impact of this was that most groves throughout the world in the 60’s and 70’s used DEET for spraying their trees. By not being sprayed the trees and ground have remained toxic free, a real benefit in the fast growing world of organic growing and consumer sentiment. The downside is the industry here lost forty years of marketing. Time to catch up. The outdoor walk in the grove then migrated into the visually stunning tasting room. A fun and interesting lesson on what to look for in olive oil ensued along with some new ideas for its use.

We left Vodjnan with memories of wonderful sights and tastes, and pondered these with a smile as we now got to speed downhill on our bikes what felt like almost all the way to Barbariga.

Written by guest blogger Bob Ackley