After the International Day of Peace, another sunny Sunday, and having done very little physical activity since arriving (unless eating counts?), inspired me to go exploring. Near our house is a walking and cycling route called ‘La Parenzana’, or the Trail of Health and Friendship. This is the route of a former narrow gauge railway, which ran from Trieste in Italy to Poreč in Istria (the Italian name for Poreč is Parenzo, hence La Parenzana) that has been restored for recreation. I had previously walked short distances along the path; to the town of Triban, and to take some photos of the sunset over Buje (check out http://www.flickr.com/photos/sparlo_d/ for these). During one of these trips I met Nina, who explained that it was possible to reach Grožnjan in about two hours of comfortable walking, so this was my destination. Unfortunately for a route of friendship, neither of my fellow volunteers wanted to come, so I set off alone.
From Buje, La Parenzana is exposed, and in the early afternoon sun I regretted not bringing a bottle of water, and was relieved when it entered the forest, giving some welcome shade. The route reaches its highest point at Grožnjan so between there and Buje it is quite high, giving views over the surrounding valleys and the vineyards and olive groves these hold. There are also two tunnels, which have been used to grow mushrooms at times.
La Parenzana was mostly used to transport agricultural products (grapes, wine and olives); fish and salt to the markets in Trieste and Koper; with some industrial and quarried products also being transported. It opened in 1902 and the last train ran in 1935; after WWII there were numerous plans to reinstate it, mainly for tourism purposes. This restoration has not happened, but, for the centenary, work started on the recreational trail it is today.
Grožnjan was one of the stations on the railway, and the location of a quarry, as well as many farms. This meant it was a flourishing town during the early 20th century due to the connection with Trieste; in the subsequent rule of Italy, when the railway was shut down – partly because it was not as profitable, but also as a way to persecute the Croatian and Slovene population – and early in the rule of Yugoslavia emigration reduced the population by two-thirds.
In 1965 the Town of Arts was founded, when artists from Croatia, Slovenia and Vojvodina were given houses, and later, in 1969, more were given to the Cultural Centre of the International Youth Music Federation. Today there are still large numbers of artists with open studios and galleries in the town, and large gatherings of young musicians.
It is a beautiful town, with medieval charm – tiny alleyways leading to hidden treasures, whether an amazing view, a charming artist’s studio or just another attractive stone house. It was quiet when I was there enjoying a coffee under a tree, with a view over the valleys and out to sea, but this may have been because it was towards the end of the tourist season, in the summer there are many music concerts, arts courses and seminars.