Bolara 60 – Bolara Šešanta in local dialect – is a c.250 year-old stone farmhouse nestled in inland Istria, in the north-west corner of Croatia. We stumbled across this beautiful building and stunning location while visiting Istria in 2012. The original house and walled vegetable garden had been abandoned for 30 years and fallen into ruin, but its natural beauty remained and we fell in love with it.
Set in a peaceful, rural location surrounded by gentle hills, vineyards, olive groves and forests, nature lovers will find it the epitome of rustic escapism. Just a few other houses dot the nearby landscape and only one, our friendly and knowledgeable farming neighbours, is in view.
Bolara 60 is not your average holiday villa. It is a destination for anyone looking for an idyllic, nature-lover’s paradise, where great food is celebrated. Within easy reach you will find remarkable medieval hilltop villages, numerous walking and cycling routes, and restaurants serving local specialities; and only 20 minutes away is the Adriatic coast with its rocky coves, Venetian towns and fresh seafood.
Getting here is easy. Click here for a map and information on nearest airports and travel in the region.
Our aim? To create a home that is also a fantastic destination for culinary discovery for people who, like us, want to indulge their love of finding, preparing, learning about and of course eating great food.
Originally a small working farm, Bolara 60 had been left vacant for decades with the environment slowly laying claim to the house and surrounding grounds. Renovating it was going to be a monumental challenge.
We wanted our restorations to be sympathetic to the original style of local buildings and landscapes, so we used traditional and eco-friendly materials as widely as possible: old oak beams, roof tiles, doors and shutters salvaged from the house, traditional lime plaster, and limestone dug from our own garden.
We were lucky enough to have some of Istria’s best stone masons, carpenters and iron workers work on Bolara 60, under the guidance of the talented Branko Orbanić of Kapitel.
Each room in the Kuća (main house) and attached Kućica (small house) has been carefully finished with vintage pieces such as cast iron baths, wood-burning stoves, butler sinks and enamel lamp shades, found in Croatia, nearby Slovenia and Britain.
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Given our love of all things food, we focused on creating areas for growing, cooking and eating: a walled vegetable garden for our own produce, chickens for eggs, indoor and outdoor spaces to run a variety of seasonal cookery classes, and plenty of communal places to relax and enjoy our spoils – and surroundings – with our guests.
And, being in such a beautiful location surrounded by nature makes us even more determined to look after our environment too. We try to keep our energy consumption and environmental footprint as low as possible.
Heating and hot water for the house come entirely from solar energy and a powerful log-fuelled boiler, and we collect rainwater from the roofs in underground tanks to use in the vegetable garden.
In the hot summer months, the house uses natural ways to keep cool. Rather than energy guzzling air-conditioning, the thick stone walls and shuttered windows keep the heat out during the day and allow the breeze to flow through the house when the sun falls.
In the winter months, like most big old farmhouses, Bolara 60 can get a little chilly. But the spectacular, traditional style open fireplace keeps our main living area cosy when the temperatures dip. All bedrooms have cast-iron radiators and some have individual wood-burning stoves. And guests can get cosy in old-fashioned style with our selection of snuggly blankets and old copper bed heaters.
We named the house after its address – Bolara number 60 – because we see the venture as part of wider life and work in Istria, not as something kept separate like the typical holiday villa seems to be. Indeed there used to be more than 60 residences in Bolara spread over the hillside, sadly now almost all abandoned due to significant emigration over the last century. We have brought the vegetable garden back to life, planted lots of fruit trees, installed chickens and do our best to manage the forest and meadows around us.
While the ever-encroaching forest feels wonderfully wild and natural, we are keen to play an active part in rural Istria’s social and economic life. So we’re developing a range of links with local farmers, food and wine producers, foragers and cooks – to support their ventures, develop friendships and of course benefit from their expertise and high quality produce. We encourage our guests to do the same and can provide tips on where to shop and eat and who to meet. Our neighbours are very important to us. We try to help out where we can, for example with their grape and olive harvests, and guests are encouraged to join in too!
Anna, also known as the Culinary Anthropologist, is a cooking teacher, food writer and academic researcher. Originally from the UK, she spent several years living in San Francisco where she trained as a chef before gaining valuable experience at Alice Waters’ outstanding restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley. She not only loves to grow, preserve and cook great food, but is also fascinated by the way food reveals so much about the history, society and culture of people and places around the world. So Anna keeps finding herself back at university indulging her interest in the anthropology of food. She is currently conducting research in Istria for a PhD.
When back in the UK Anna teaches a wide variety of cookery classes and runs a monthly supper club – the Secret Kitchen. She also writes about food and is the originator and consultant for BBC Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet.
Matt, is the lucky tester of Anna’s culinary creations, and occasional kitchen assistant, with a particular flair for home-made charcuterie and cocktail-making. Aside from his day job in academia as a computational linguist, he has had to quickly become an expert in the world of Croatian property development – the paperwork alone could’ve broken a lesser person. Although he may modestly deny this, Matt is our languages expert and his Croatian and Italian are coming along nicely. Luckily he is also a big food fan, and when he’s not otherwise engaged in any of the other numerous jobs that happen daily around Bolara 60 he can be found perfecting his meat curing techniques.
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“Amazing is an understatement! Beautifully clean and tasteful design that goes with the breathtaking surroundings. The hosts are welcoming and experts at what they do. The food is delicious so expect to increase your waistline when visiting!!”London
“This place is simply magical – the welcome is warm and the food wonderful. Whether you go to unwind, learn how to cook, or to explore the area, Bolara 60 will not disappoint.”Huntingdon
“We’d seen Matt and Anna’s photos of Bolara 60 developing over the last few years, but had no idea how stunning and amazing a place it would turn out to be! Gorgeous food, as you’d expect; great local wines; fantastic countryside. We even swam in the sea, in October! Had a wonderful experience of helping the neighbours with their olive harvest. And the walk up to Grožnjan is definitely not to be missed. Very well done, you two. We’ve booked already for a week in the summer.”London
“The perfect place to slow down for a few days and enjoy the beautiful Istrian countryside with great food and not forgetting the Istrian wines.”London
“I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at Bolara but I can truthfully say my whole experience was wonderful. From the glorious scenery, beautifully restored house, comfortable bedrooms to the excellent food and wine, what more could one ask for?”Stroud
“We were encouraged to take part – not just in the kitchen, but in Bolara itself – as though it was created ‘for us’ too. There is great warmth and conviviality around meal times. Anna and Matt are both fast immersing themselves in the local culture and cuisine – and everyone is included in this journey. And that journey will be a very special one.”London
“If you haven’t been to Istria, it should be at the top of your list as the next place to check out! The food, the people, and the scenery are all fantastic, while notably less pricey than similar destinations (like Tuscany). Bolara 60 is the perfect setting to experience it — rustic, cozy, and nestled in a bucolic landscape that is just totally relaxing. Add the fantastic company and excellent food, and you’ve found yourself an ideal getaway. You will not want to leave!”San Francisco