Hum. Hummmmmm. It’s such a cute little name! Perfect for the town that’s allegedly been named by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the world’s smallest. However have a poke around the Guinness website, and you’ll find no such record. Perhaps the townsfolk decided on its smallness themselves? It’s also difficult to ascertain the number of residents in Hum. It ranges from 14 to 30 online, but during our week in this adorable tiny town in Istria Croatia, we saw a total of four. Two girls working in the one open souvenir shop, and two women raking and burning leaves. We also saw two tourists who rolled up, took some photos and left. The rest of the town was closed up, and blissfully silent.
Continuing with the unsubstantiated facts about Hum, according to legend the town was built by giants with leftover rocks from towns in neighbouring valleys. Hum (pronounced Hoom) looks like a little Italian hilltop town from Umbria or Tuscany with terracotta roofs but built with Istrian stone.
The silence in Hum was profound. Even on a quiet night in Australia, there are buzzing bugs, or rustling trees. Distant dogs, trains, neighbours watching MAFS just a bit too loud. Here, especially at night, it was absolutely, perfectly silent.
Our apartment’s owner’s son Drazen plied us with biska Hum’s local mistletoe liqueur when we arrived. He was already about three deep and shared another 3 glasses with us, telling us tales about the area and his world views. His family’s kindness was overwhelming, delivering us home made wild-boar sausages, olive oil and bottles of biska over the next few days, and insisted we drink whatever we pleased from the liquor cabinet. All I had to offer in return was a Caramello Koala I had squirreled away for our Caramello apartment rating system. I will explain that to you in a future post. It’s VERY high tech.
Wandering around Hum takes approximately 10 minutes, but we managed to stretch that out each morning and evening, watching the comings and goings of each town cat (there were more cats than people), checking what the town dog (a little terrier) was up to, and imagining how busy this town must get in summer, with the car park by the cemetery big enough to fit about 20 tourist coaches. This time of year however, we had the whole place to ourselves.
Our apartment was dreamy, all renovated by Drazen’s dad who restored it from a pile of rocks into a warm, inviting family home. Opening the sky blue shutters every morning to see in the new day and how many people WEREN’T in town became a ritual I loved. The lower floor of our apartment had walls built from heavy rocks with a huge open fireplace in the corner. We lived down there every night, with the girls scrapbooking, me typing and Cam sorting out the next day’s adventure. With a little Monopoly Deal thrown in for good measure.
Hum is considered one of the most important Glagolitic centres in the world, where an ancient Slavic glagolitic alphabet was created and used from the 9th century to help spread Christianity in the area by Greek monks, brothers Cyril and Methodius.
There are old glagolitic tablets on the wall under Hum’s clocktower. An “attraction” in the area is “Glagolitic Lane” which according to the brochures is “a significant and exceptional monument complex commemorating Glagolitic heritage erected in 1977 along the road to Hum.” There are 11 of these monuments, a concrete collab between a poet and a sculptor. In winter at least, they looked more like a pagan ceremonial sites. Fairly spooky and VERY 70’s.
At night the old hilltop town of Buzet, Hum’s closest city, is all lit up and looks stunning. During the day however, most houses were boarded up with just one small store open. It’s clearly buzzing in summer, but hotel balconies this time of year had outdoor umbrellas wrapped up tight and stacked neatly away for winter.
Close to Hum was Kotli, a near-abandoned town with dilapidated ruins just waiting for somebody to throw a couple of million Kuna at it. If I had the kuna, I’d buy the whole town and turn it into a hotel complex. What a project!
Apart from its amazing Roman Arena, Pula was not very kind to us. We arrived too late for the fresh food market, there were only a couple of stalls open in the alleged antiques market, and the attendant at the Tourist Information office clearly didn’t like tourists or giving out information. Again, restaurants were all shut up for the winter, there were no bathrooms anywhere, and as a bonus we received a parking fine. Genuine 1992 Australia prices however at $30.
All that aside Pula’s Roman Arena, one of the best preserved amphitheaters in the world was gorgeous. It was built in the first century AD around the same time as the Colosseum in Rome and once held around 20,000 spectators for gladiator fights. It’s still used for concerts, film festivals, and as a meeting place for lunch for local teens. It was beautiful seeing the ocean and neighbouring parklands peaking through the hundreds of perfectly formed arches.
Motovun was one of the towns I was really looking forward to visiting. High on a hilltop. Winding alleyways. Little artist shops everywhere. Tick, tick, tick. The views over the tiled roofs and across the horizon were beautiful, but unfortunately everything was shut. The church was shut. The restaurant recommended by a work mate was shut. There were only 2 truffle/olive oil/liqueur shops open, all specialties of the area.
On that, I need to have a serious discussion with you about truffles. Not the chocolaty kind. The sniffed out by a dog and plucked from the earth kind.
“It is not easy to describe the truffle’s aroma – thus associations vary from ‘forest floor’ and ‘chocolate and soil mix’ to ‘old socks'”. This description comes from a magazine published to push the sale of truffles. And they’re described as OLD SOCKS. I find the smell and taste of them repulsive. I love mushrooms, but to me truffles taste like mushrooms that have been left in the basement for 10 years and then rolled in dust. I tasted truffle pasta, truffle cheese and the abomination that is truffle chocolate (that’s grated truffle inside chocolate). Do I have a basic palette? Do I have some off taste buds like people who think coriander tastes like soap? Or are truffles in fact absolutely rank, and like in “The Emperors New Clothes”, everyone is SO convinced what they’re seeing (or in this case tasting) is so top shelf because everyone else says so, they feel foolish thinking otherwise? If anyone HONESTLY like truffles, please write to me and explain why. In detail.
Like much of Istria, Porec has been owned by the Romans, the Venetians (from mid 1200’s -late 1700’s) and then the Habsburgs, with clues to each of its owners on display in the town’s architecture. A Roman gate here, Venetian style windows there. There are enough beds in Porec to house 100,000 tourists in peak season, but the only 4 tourists in town today were us.
The draw card in Porec is the world heritage Euphrasian Basilica. Most of the church is simple without the many painted and ornately decorated alters found in most European churches. The jewel is the gold mosaic covered alter area, with its stunning, intricately detailed saints.
Rovinj is perhaps the prettiest town on Istria’s coastline. The contrast of fishing boats with winding laneways; Italian style houses balanced up a steep hill with the sounds of water lapping against buildings and seagull squawking messed with my head. There were gorgeous views out to see from the top of Rovinj. I would have loved to stay and brush past others in laneways, poking my head into souvenir shops, but everything was closed. Even the enormous albatross-like gulls were desperate for a feed, stealing Avalon’s cheese burek straight from her hands!
Dinner in Gracisce was at a local konoba (inn) hidden in the old centre. Our waitress was lovely and patient with us fumbling through the all-Croatian menu with some help from Google Lens. While the place was absolutely gorgeous, our meals were a bit oversalted and not the excellent example of Istrian cuisune we had hoped for.
It sounds like I’m moaning a lot here, but I guess I was just a little disappointed. While we didn’t get to experience the buzz I’ve heard Istria has in the warmer months, we got to see the towns in an almost a raw state. There were no queues, we were assured a park, and we were the only ones in many of the top attractions that will be heaving in the summer. I’d love to know where all of the shop owners go during this time? Are they on holiday elsewhere? It was interesting to see the eyes of St.Mark’s lion overlooking the people in most towns in Istria, a reminder of Venetian rule years prior.
Many shuttered restaurants and konobas also meant lunch and dinner were often thanks to “Plodine” our local supermarket. Singing “Plodine, Plodine, Plodine, Plodiiiinnnneee” to Dolly Parton’s “Joeleen” will forever be a St.Clair family highlight.