In the last two days, with Pula, Rovinj and Poreč, we had covered the major coastal towns of Istria. It was now time to visit the gorgeous hilltop towns of Istria that we had read so much about. The first hill-town that we visited was Buje. This town, situated on a 222 m high hill, is just 10 km from the Adriatic Sea and four km from the Slovenian border.
ARRIVAL IN BUJE
After spending the morning amidst the stalactites and stalagmites of Baredine Cave, we reached Buje by 12:15 p.m. We were quite surprised to find parking space in the main square itself. This meant that there was almost no one apart from us visiting the town at that time, thus, we were able to get some superb shots of the town without any tourists cluttering the frames.
The main square, called the Liberty Square (Trg Slobode), was the site of two important buildings. The first and more prominent was the Church of Mother of Mercy built in 1587 and its 17th century bell tower. The exterior of the church was quite plain but the interior had some beautiful sculptures and paintings. The second building, right opposite the church, was the Ethnographic Museum which was not of much interest to us. Of more interest was a small defensive gate from 1674 known as St. Ursula’s Gate above which the museum was built.
After quickly exploring the square and the church, we collected the town map from the tourist information centre which was located just a few metres away from the square and set about to explore the old town.
WANDERING AROUND THE OLD TOWN
In the centre of the old town and at the highest point of the hill is the St. Servulus Square, where stands the imposing Parish Church of St. Servulus and its bell tower. The church was built in 1272 on the foundations of an ancient Roman temple of Jupiter and was later completely renovated in 1784. Except for the ornate portal, the facade of the church remained unfinished which gives it a stark look. The church was closed when we visited, hence we couldn’t check out the interiors. The 15th century bell tower of St. Servulus, at 50 m, is among the tallest in Istria, and it said that on a clear day, one can see four countries from the bell tower – Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and Austria. Unfortunately, we could not verify this claim as the bell tower was also closed. Due to its strategic position, the tower served as the watchtower for the entire area in medieval times. This led to Buje being given the epithet ‘The Guard of Istria’. From behind the church, there was a panoramic view of the surrounding areas but it was nothing worth writing about.
The St. Servulus Square is also home to a few more important structures. To the right of the church was a neoclassical palace with a large Venetian lion on its facade. This building housed an Italian elementary and middle school. To the left of the church was a Gothic Venetian House from 1495 which served as a seat of the court for some time.
From the square, we started walking west along the stone-paved streets of the old town. Soon we came across the 18th century Chapel of St. John – a small building with its red facade standing out amidst the pale stone structures. At the western edge of the old town, we found the Pentagonal Tower of St. Martin. This tower is one of the few remaining defensive structures from the Venetian era.
Beyond the western boundary of the old town was a medieval cemetery which is the site of another small church – Church of St. Martin built in 1598. There is a viewpoint from the cemetery too.
From the cemetery, we walked back to Liberty Square. Our tour of the old town took just about an hour and finished at 1:30 p.m. From Liberty Square we further walked downhill to the newer part of the town to have lunch at Restaurant Rondo. We eventually left Buje at 14:40.
We had read a lot about the charms of Istrian hill-towns but the old town of Buje had a bare and austere look about it which left us slightly disappointed. Overall Buje was a decent town, but of all the places in Croatia that we visited, this was the only one we felt we could have skipped. That feeling was further strengthened when we reached our next hilltop town – Grožnjan.