Review by Poppy Empson, published 12th August 2016.
Situated in a rather isolated spot, away from the tourist hubbub of other Croatian coastal towns, Villa Stefanija really is a treat. Enjoy the dramatic drive as you ascend mountains only to wind back down - you’ll definitely need a car.
Finished in 2011 and built from scratch, this relatively new villa has seen a steady trickle of visitors over the years. It remains an undiscovered delight for extremely reasonable prices. The villa is named after Dushka’s (the owner) grandmother, and many of the dishes served in the restaurant are based around this sense of family and the past. You can feel she has poured her soul into this hotel. The rooms hold traditional Croatian names - again, harking back to ages of old. Luckily, the rooms themselves do anything but that. Simple, spacious, airy, light with comfy fluffy beds and balconies to enjoy the view, the rooms tick all the boxes. They are also individually themed and decorated. A lot of passion went into this place.
Step down to the pool, chillax on a sunlounger under the baking sun and tuck in to your latest summer read with some olives and a refreshing San Servolo (local Istrian beer - a must try). Plunge into the pleasingly cool waters and wade over to the infinity edge and gawp at the view of the surrounding hills and the azure of the Raski Zaljev (inlet that runs in from the Adriatic). It really is simply stunning.
Return to the room for a shower in the pleasantly large bathroom ensuite - not all have baths before supper. The menu is enormous! Pages and pages of Istrian food with a modern twist. All fresh and local produce. You’ll be surprised with delights ranging from Istrian ravioli with monkfish stew, veal risotto with young peas, local langoustines, octopus from the oven, grilled duck with citrus fruit and aromatic herbs. If you go for the jovially named ‘Jolly Menu’, await 5 courses of whatever the chef fancies for just 280 kuna (about £28). Sit outside and brave the fierce evening Istrian winds under the white pergola and inhale the intoxicating lavender that borders the pool and terrace.
First course: octopus, a white Croatian fish, caviar and samphire - beautifully salty and complimentary textures. Next, anchovies, capers, fried onions and cress all drizzled with a tangy red wine dressing. Black risotto with cuttlefish follows. Just when you think there can’t be more, sea bass, truffles, lobster, all on a bed of cress, grated carrot and zucchini. Sounds busy, but tasted wonderful. Finally, a slice of homemade chocolate, which felt a little superfluous after the delicious foray into seafood, but tasty nonetheless. All the while served by an earnest waiter, who accompanied the courses with a crisp white Malvasia and the famous Istrian red Tehran. All that’s left to be done is troop upstairs, stuffed to the gunnels, and enjoy a good night’s sleep.
If you fancy getting out and about once you’ve soaked up enough of the view, have a chat with Dushka who is more than happy to recommend or organise wine tours, boat trips, olive oil tastings, spa days (on site), town day trips - you name it! She is also very flexible, open all year round for weddings, weekend or spa packages - the whole shabang. Despite the hotel’s seeming remoteness, use it as a base to explore nearby Opatija, Rovinj and Pula - all within a 30 minute drive. Don't miss out on the little known beaches Krnica and Rakalj - both about a 15 minute drive away.
A splendid undiscovered gem with delicious seafood and a view that’s worth the trip alone.