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The first truffle was discovered in 1929, and today there are 1,500 truffle licenses for hunters.That's for the men, not for the dogs who do the actual work.You look to land from sea and see a vast expanse of forest punctuated with terracotta villages and proud church steeples. I spent a week in Istria, the small peninsula a few hours' drive from Venice in early summer last year, working my way from the northern range to the southern tip, eating prosciutto, cheese, and seafood; tasting olive oil; drinking lots of wine; watching dogs nuzzle for truffles; chatting up guys in my Venetian-inflected Italian. Town names throughout the region appear in Croatian and Italian. The Illyrians settled in the Bronze Age, followed by the Romans, then the Byzantines, the Croats, the Slovenes, the Franks, the Venetians — and this overview only takes us up to the late 1700s.That's a lot of people for a lot of land, but no one has ever been able to reisist the appeal of hill towns, forests, and beaches within an hour's easy drive.I stared as the dogs moved out of the way to let their handler, Ivica Kalcic, unearth the truffles with a trowel and declare that the booty would earn about per truffle.The dogs found the loot with such efficiency that it was hard to believe the show wasn't staged.The restaurant displays its Guinness World Record plaque with pride.Zigante is the kind of restaurant that's happy to shave truffles on top of your truffles. Here's what I did not do, but I wish I had: bike, paraglide, balloon, cave, and pitch a tent and camp on the coastline.
The project is a labor of love, but their labors are paying off: Ipša regularly wins prizes and international recognition for their oils. I loved the room — the stone walls, the cauldrons, the fireplaces — but I might have preferred sitting under the trees outside.As a holiday destination, Istria is right for everyone.