There’s no taste like home

This peninsula on Croatia’s Adriatic coast with its mountainous hinterland is a region with character. The Fernetich family, proprietors of the San Rocco Hotel and Restaurant, see themselves as ambassadors of the Istrian way of life.

Portrait of the Fernetich family hotel and restaurant

Teo Fernetich stands on a hill above his village, Brtonigla. He sees the yellow church tower, the red tiled roofs and the blue sea on the horizon. Rows of olive trees extend behind him, their branches rustling in a steady breeze. Teo’s father, Tullio Fernetich, squeezes a half-green olive between his thumb and forefinger. Soon the olives will be ripe. This grove and several others, with some 1,200 trees altogether, belong to the family. The feet of the 65-year-old sink deep into the soft loam, as if he himself were also rooted in the soil. ‘We’ve lived from agriculture for generations,’ says Teo. The Fernetichs produce 4 sorts of olive oil – almost 3,000 litres per year, around 700 litres of which finds its way to the tables in the family’s own restaurants.

‘We have a way of life that you can see, smell and taste,’ says Teo on the drive into the village. ‘We want our guests to experience this too.’ A road sign bears the name Brtonigla and, under it, Verteneglio, the Italian name for the village. The signs and the people here are bilingual – Croatian and Italian. Teo explains: ‘Our village has belonged to Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia and, today, Croatia.’ With a wink, the 42-year-old adds, ‘My family has changed countries 4 times, but always lived in the same house.’

Luana and Teo Fernetich, Hotel and Restaurant San Rocco

Profile

  • Luana and Teo Fernetich
  • 42 and 39 years old
  • San Rocco Hotel and Restaurant (since 2004)
  • Boutique hotel with 14 double rooms, gourmet restaurant seating 30
  • 4 stars, 3 Gault and Millau toques
  • Approx. 3,000 overnight stays per year
  • Produces its own olive oils (approx. 3,000 litres/year)

Success, under the protection of Saint Rocco

The Fernetichs progressed from agriculture to running a small grocery, and then to starting their first restaurant. The little Primizia, one of the traditional country-style ‘konoba’ restaurants on the Croatian Adriatic, still exists. It is run by Teo’s 23-year-old brother, Rocco Fernetich. The heart of the family business, however, is the San Rocco Hotel and Restaurant. ‘When my parents opened their doors in 2004, this village was still very pastoral,’ Teo recounts, laughing. ‘A hotel in Brtonigla? People thought that was a strange idea.’ Almost 20 years have now passed. ‘And our success speaks for itself.’

Whereas, like Teo’s brother, the hotel and restaurant are named after the local patron saint, San Rocco, the pink chapel by the hotel driveway is dedicated to all the saints. Teo’s 86-year-old grandmother opens it every morning. ‘My parents and their friends gathered here when they were younger,’ Teo remembers. ‘And my sister Luana and I did so as well.’ Together, they now run the business with the help of 23 employees. Teo is in charge of the restaurant and Luana the hotel.

Luana Fernetich sits at the reception desk, before her the computer screen and above her the high ceiling carried by sturdy wooden beams. The hissing sound of a coffee machine and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee float in from the lobby bar located in the rustic room with bare limestone walls behind her. ‘As far as anyone in the village can think back, our family has lived in this house,’ the 39-year-old says. Indeed, documents attest to a span of over 400 years. The greater part of the existing structure is roughly 200 years old, a small part of it even 700. Luana adds: ‘Being able to share this heritage with our guests is a gift.’ One that the family carefully preserved when they converted the premises into a hotel. Yet none of the 14 individually furnished double rooms lacks anything in modern comfort.

A regional grape variety that’s also known outside of Croatia is Malvasia Istriana, a crisp white wine. A tip: be sure that it’s had plenty of time to age.

Teo Fernetich, sommelier
Olives

Seasonal, regional, refined – with METRO

A van stops outside in front of the chapel. A delivery from METRO. Luana greets the driver. Teo tries to recall the early days of the business’s cooperation with METRO: ‘practically right from the start,’ he says, ‘even before San Rocco, when we only had the little restaurant.’ No supplier is so important for their business, he emphasises. METRO delivers many goods for everyday use in the kitchen and the hotel directly. Once a week, Teo drives to the store in either Poreč or Pula to look at, for example, the fish and meat that is available. In addition, the San Rocco crew tests new products from the METRO own brands.

‘METRO also offers a good reservation tool,’ Teo says. ‘I’m considering it for our website.’ And the restaurant could use it: the 30 seats in the rustic interior dining room and on the hotel terrace are in great demand. There, with a view of the garden, the day in San Rocco comes to a delicious end. Seasonal, regional and refined. Chef Floriana Ružić brings the house philosophy to the table: steamed octopus with potato cream, home-made fish ravioli, potatoes filled with thickened egg yolks and sprinkled with black truffle.

And not just the flavours are memorable. In conversation, the head of service, Ivan, remarks: ‘I came for a job and stayed as a friend – for 12 years.’ Wistfully, the guest says he can’t stay. He has to go, but likewise as a friend.

METRO own-brand ambassador

The team at the San Rocco Hotel and Restaurant assists in the development and evaluation of METRO own-brand food products. ‘As an own-brand ambassador, we have the exciting opportunity to try out and give feedback for new METRO products about the quality that we need for gourmet gastronomy,’ Teo Fernetich relates. Find out more about their latest METRO own-brand tasting, featuring fresh sea bass and beefsteak from METRO Chef:

Fish and meat in the head chef tasting

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