Many are aware of Italy’s culinary truffle tradition, but did you know that neighboring Croatia’s truffle industry is booming? If you’re visiting the Istria region, you can’t help but get caught up in the underground treasure hunt that is the known as the truffle. There are truffle hunting tours, truffle fests, and souvenir shops dedicated to endless products made from truffles.
Harry adores truffles. I, on the other hand, don’t see what all the fuss is about. However, in the spirit that you should try everything at least once, our goal is to guide you so you can decide for yourself! As dedicated foodies, we set out to try to experience this delicacy in the BEST budget savvy way that we could.
Here’s our insider’s guide on how to enjoy Istria’s truffle country on a budget!
Motovun often serves as a base for exploring the surrounding truffle region. Motovun was my favorite city on our tour of Istria. The Italian influenced, Croatian hill town is so dreamy that Google Co-Founder & billionaire Larry Page celebrated here on his sister’s wedding day.
Truffle Hunting or Taste Testing
With our rental car, we drove to a nearby hill town called Paladini to reach Karlić Tartufi; a third generation, family-run truffle hunting business and shop. We decided to stop by because our Airbnb host gave us a brochure advertising their free truffle tasting.
Upon our arrival, we were warmly greeted by Ivan who is the grandson of the founder. Along with his three dogs, he takes guests out truffle hunting in the Motovun forest. Although truffle hunting sounds like something we’d love to do, it is a costly activity. Unfortunately, we weren’t in town long enough to make a reservation and then have the time to participate. If we were to go, we’d definitely go with Ivan. His tours get rave reviews and he is really passionate about his trade.
During our visit, Ivan kindly gave us a behind the scenes look at the truffle business. He told us about the history of truffle hunting and showed us the truffles he had found on his tour that day.
Naively, we had originally thought they were going to let us sample actual truffles. We learned that truffles are way too costly just to sample for free. However, the folks at Karlić Tartufi did offer us a really nice (free) selection of meats, cheeses, patês, and spreads including a Nutella-like truffle spread called Truffella.
💰B$ Travel Tip – Our favorite product was the white truffle patê (~$10 USD). We purchased one to say thank you for all the time spent with us and also as a souvenir. Even if you don’t fancy the taste of truffles, it has a really nice flavor. We paired it with fresh bread, local cheese and prosciutto, and Istrian olive oil. Delish!
Where to Eat Truffles in Istria
All the restaurants in the area have truffles on the menu. The challenge is finding the best one, especially if you are on a tight budget like us. With a little research, many visitors learn that Anthony Bourdain visited Motovun and dined at Konoba Mondo. We think that due to his visit, and its central location within the hill town, tourists flock to this restaurant making it #1 on TripAdvisor. If you’ve been following us, you already know how we feel about Anthony Bourdain. (If not, you can learn more here.) In addition, if you look at reviews for Konoba Mondo they are very hit or miss! Many claim that the truffles were tasteless or appeared “old” and “unfresh.” Guests also complained of receiving just a few slivers of the costly truffle on their dishes.
White truffles only stay fresh for 5 days and black truffles for about a week. After that, they begin to lose their flavor. In theory, to get the best experience, you want truffles served ‘straight out of the ground’ fresh.
Ivan was kind enough to offer us an local, insider tip! He works closely with a family run restaurant called Gostionica Tartuf that buys his truffles directly from him. He sent us there with the promise to be served the freshest truffles in the area. The restaurant is located in Livade, less then a ten minute drive from Motovun.
We actually shopped around and the prices were considerably lower than other restaurants. For two large soups, fresh bread, two white truffle dishes, and a bottle of local Istrian wine, our meal cost a total of $62 USD. We ordered the scrambled eggs and white truffles dish and raviolis with white truffles. Just as Ivan promised, the white truffle flavor was bold and our truffle servings were very generous. Our only minor complaint? The bread service is an extra charge. Without asking, a waitress brought us another basket at the end of our meal and charged us for it. Hours are from 10-22 and the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.
Truffle Fests & Best Time to Visit
Truffles are actually a type of fungus. The fall season is the peak time for white truffles, which are more expensive and better tasting. Summer is the season for black truffles, which are milder in taste and a little cheaper.
We believe fall may be the best time to enjoy truffle country. From September through November, there are many fairs and truffle festivals to enjoy on weekends. The leaves in Istria are also at their peak making driving around the towns quite beautiful.
We stayed in a quaint Airbnb within the Motovun hill town at a total cost of $52 USD a night. It had a lovely outdoor patio with rolling hill views. Our host provided us with a parking pass so parking was not an issue. While in Motovun, we recommend dining at Restaurant Montona Gallery for its simple, affordable eats (~$10 USD per person) and gorgeous sunset views.
Please note, this post was written from our own personal experience and nothing was either sponsored or paid for.