All paths lead to Žminj. No, it is not a cliché used by so many towns in the world: indeed, if you want to travel from the largest city of Istria, Pula, to Central, Northern or Eastern Istria, you should pass through Žminj. And while those who are lost will have a jolly good time to pronounce the name of the town, they would also be lucky to pass the city of long history and culture, with some of the best cuisines in the Istrian peninsula.
Until September 20th you will have an excellent opportunity to visit all those fiercely closed towers and churches that you usually find along the tourist paths. Every Wednesday, the Tourist Board of Žminj prepares a one-hour tour named “The Story of Žminj” (Žminjska štuorija in the local dialect), through which the tourists can find out more about the natural, cultural and gastronomical beauties of this cosy Istrian town.
We too did join this tour one hot Wednesday, following the excellent guide Mrs Karla Čerljenko Burić. She took us on a unique tour of local churches, as Žminj is famous for its sacral architecture. First of those is the Žminj’s landmark, known for its 34 metres high tower, the parish church of Saint Michael. The Archangel is the patron saint of Žminj, whose sculpture can be seen in the front wall of the church. Inside, the nave is filled with beautiful altar and picture of St. Michael, four chapels, and several adorned baroque pulpits.
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Chapel of Holy Trinity is the oldest part of the church, originating from the 15th century. Besides cool air, it gives a spiritual comfort and cultural highlights with amazing frescoes. Another small stone church of Saint Anthony the Great in a peaceful part of Žminj. The place fascinates with its frescoes, depicting the motifs from the life of Jesus Christ, Apostles Peter and Paul, and especially the heavenly coronation of Virgin Mary, one of the medieval masterpieces of Istrian frescoes art. It is almost unimaginable that this church was once desecrated and turned into a wine cellar!
If you are a fan of sacral architecture, Žminj is definitely a place for you! From the famous saint-protector from headache (does she cures hangovers, too?), depression, rheumatism, and patron of youth Saint Fosca (Foška), whose church is among the oldest in Žminj area, up to dozens of chapels along the way and in small villages, you can see and feel the fervour of religious attitude in Žminj. And you can all see it with a bike! Žminj is an excellent place for bike riding, and there are numerous cycling trails you can choose.
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Many of them pass through the old Istrian villages, a remarkable testimony of rural architecture in stone and wood. Do stop occasionally, greet the friendly locals, and have a taste of their local wine! You might also see the round stone cottages, ideal for hide-and-seek games. Yes, we did it too in our youth, but long before us, it was used by shepherds. Istrian shepherd house or kažun is a typical Istrian brand, living nowadays more in the souvenirs than near the pasturelands. But it is your ideal opportunity, as Žminj area boasts with kažuns!
Maybe some of the locals will learn you how to play a traditional game called pljočkanje (flat stone throwing game), developed from a folk shepherd’s game. It became so popular that they have even established the Istrian Pljočkanje Association! The main rule is to hit a smaller fist-sized stone called pljočkaš, bulin or balin with a larger palm-sized flat stone called pljočka from a certain distance. Not so difficult, isn’t it? Well, you might overestimate yourself… But, if you’re in Žminj for Bartulja, the St. Bartholomew Festival, you can test your capabilities!
A small stop by the old wells, which were once used as the primary source of drinking water for Žminj, reminded us on heat and thirst, which is best to solve with a sip of rakija, as we did in the picturesque city tower. It is here where our tour ended. Foreign guests were visibly pleased with it, and they’ve indulged into the history of Žminj through the exhibition in the tower itself.
But more interesting is the living heritage, represented to us by Mrs Gracijela Damijanić. She demonstrated how a typical Istrian fuži and makaruni pasta is made, in an old way. She presses the macaroons with her palm, while fuži are meticulously done with fingers. It comes almost as a surprise to us that a small stick, which forms the fuži, is rather new innovation. We always thought that was a traditional way – but, then again, we hadn’t been at the Pasta Festival in Žminj!
The Istrian Pasta Festival is probably the biggest eat&drink event dedicated to Istrian pasta. Fuži, makaruni, pljukanci, fekatići, and all other names of known and less known pasta are served here, while Mrs Gracijela also acts as an embodiment of supreme knowledge for pasta making! Guests of this festival also have an opportunity to try macaroons with homemade cream (makaruni sa škorupom), an old meal from this region. The folklore group Cere, the oldest folklore association in Istria, regularly participates at such events, preserving the local and Istrian dances, songs, dialect, and musical instruments such as roženice.
Every Wednesday you can also try homemade products and buy handicrafts in the Tower, where the Small Žminj Fair (Mali žminjski samanj) takes place. Here you can try the cheeses, curds, and yoghurts of the Latus Dairy; the Istrian sausages with harmless natural mould from the family farm Žminjski Gušti; as well as other well-known Istrian delicacies such as prosciutto, olive oil, and excellent wine.
And you might also stop at Žminjska oštarija for Žminj plate (Žminjski pjat: sausages from Žminjski Gušti, cheese from Latus, and prosciutto from Jelenić) and to have a cup of Žminj coffee (Žminjsko kafe), a unique idea for the Teran addicts, as it is a coffee with a few drops of Istrian red Teran wine. If the idea of having coffee with wine in early morning is not your thing, you might try another delicacy: coffee with Latus cream! Welcome to Žminj!
Žminj is next on your to-do-list? The easiest way to come here is to follow the Istrian Epsilon highway from Pula, Rijeka, or Trieste and turn on the Žminj exit. You will easily come to the centre of the town, characterised by a large junction. Or you might opt for country roads, from Pazin, Barban, Pula, Rovinj, practically from everywhere in Istria! Žminj sits somehow in the very centre of the largest Croatian peninsula!
Or you just contact the Tourist Board of Žminj for more information. You can’t miss it, they live in the Tower:
9. rujan 22A (Kula)
Tel.++385/0/52 846 792 Fax. ++385/0/52 846 844 Gsm: ++385/0/91 1846 251
Read more about Žminj:
Konoba Žminjka - Hearty Istrian Cuisine in the centre of Žminj!