(Editor’s note: Depending where you are, you might be holed up at home reading this, waiting for the Coronavirus to go away. And it will. If you’re making summer travel plans, Rovinj has a sunny climate, which scientists say is the stake in the heart of a nasty germ.)
Rovinj, and the Istria peninsula itself, are popular destinations and rightly so. Rovinj’s ancient past combined with its charming Old City, beaches and crystal clear water provide a wonderful place to find some inner harmony … just until you head back to the real world.
Rovinj is a photographer’s dream destination and a wonderful location from which to explore the area of Croatian Istria and is only 40 minutes away, by car or bus, from the international airport at Pula.
Istria, a triangular landmass shared by Croatia, Italy and Slovenia, is in the north of Croatia and has a fascinating past having once been settled by Romans, was part of the Republic of Venice, the Austrian Empire, the French Napoleonic Empire and the Austrian Empire again. Following World War I, Istria became part of Italy until World War II when it became part of Yugoslavia and there was a large exodus of Italians at this time.
Many areas are still bilingual, speaking both Italian and Croatian and the area and Rovijn’s cuisine give a distinctly Italian feel.
Rovinj is a charming, pastel-colored old town, with winding cobbled streets, perched at the edge of the turquoise Adriatic. It’s bustling with tourists, although during my visit in late in 2019, it was fairly quiet, and offered many opportunities to relax and watch the world pass by.
What to do
What to do in Rovinj and the surrounding area? Start with using the town as a base for adventure. If you rent a car then the region around Rovinj offers some great opportunities to visit some hill towns. The area is famous for its truffles, wines and olive oil and there are numerous individual producers you can visit if you want to sample some of their foods. There are many “hill towns,” a misnomer as they are small villages clinging on to the top of rocky outcrops.
I only managed to fit two into my day but they were
• Motovun, a popular destination, is famous for, and smells of ….truffles! This tiny walled town is only accessible on foot or by bus from the car park at the base of the hill and has stores selling its local truffles along its tiny streets. The town hosts an international movie festival each summer and has several restaurants within its walls. Whilst there we met Milan and Lara, who worked for a local psychiatric home for adults, Dom za odrasle osobe. They were selling quirky, amusing t-shirts that had been designed by the residents to raise money for the home, in a small store opposite the church of St. Stephan.
• Groznjan, once abandoned, is now an artist’s colony and the ancient Venetian town has lots of quirky and interesting galleries. This was my favorite town with its wonderful combined sense of peace and fun. The old cobbled streets wander around medieval houses garbed with vines, guarded by some of the local cats. In the summer it hosts a music summer school so there are some wonderful concerts to enjoy.
Katarina island is located minutes away from the old town and with a hotel for snacks or lunch and frequent water taxis it’s easy to get there and find a quiet spot for a swim, to paint or to just contemplate the view of the picturesque old town. Once a spot for Austrian dukes to visit it now provides pathways to wander between olive groves and vineyards, and rocks to soak up the sun or swim in the clear water.
This is actually two islands (St. Andrews and Maškin) joined by a causeway and is a 15-minute boat trip from the harbor. The island itself has a collection of wonderful trees planted by the previous Austrian owners and it’s not difficult to find a secluded place on some rocks for a peaceful day sunning and swimming. The island hotel offers lunch options.
The harbor has more boats offering day and evening trips than you shake a stick at. Day trips include days out swimming and exploring the coastline and visits to the Lim Fjord (really a flooded valley), an area famous for its fish, mussel and oyster farms. Evening cruises are popular as the sunsets here are amazing, and you might even be lucky enough to spot some dolphins.
Beaches are plentiful in Rovinj, from the town beaches to the more secluded beaches on the islands and the Golden Cape. In the Old Town you can cool off on Monte Beach (rocks) or Moulin Rouge (man-made). These can get busy during peak times.
Lone Bay is another beach that is not too far from the town and is in the Golden Cape park and Cuvi beach is south of the Golden Cape. On both islands, Crevni and Katarina, there are places to swim. Crevni has a sandy
beach that is safe for children with the added delight of a floating play area, but it also has secluded rocky areas around the island that are perfect if you just want to swim in the crystal clear water and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
Explore Rovijn’s Old Town
If you love history and photography then a wander around the cobbled narrow streets will put a check in both boxes. The once fortified Old Town was one of Istria’s most important settlements, governed by the Republic of Venice (13th to the 18th century) and was an island until the channel was filled in, in the 18th century.
The street, Ulica Grisia, and many others, are lined with tourist stores,
local artisans and galleries so there is an opportunity for browsing and maybe a little shopping. The baroque church, St. Euphemia and its bell tower, a copy of the one in Venice, provides a great view across the town roofs as long as you are up for the climb, at 61 meters!
At the height of tourist season, avoid these streets as they are narrow and it’s no fun at all to get stuck behind a large tour.
• Rovinj Heritage Museum. Situated in an old palace, this small museum has only a fraction of its artifacts on view. The collection has archeological finds, Croatian and Venetian paintings and sculptures.
• Trg Valdibora, the local food market, is well worth a visit, with stalls selling local honey, truffles, lavender, fruit and veggies, meat and fish. A great place to grab goodies for a picnic.
• Batana Eco-Museum. This award-winning museum celebrates Rovinj’s flat bottomed boats and its history of fishing.
The Batana Eco-museum is listed in the UNESCO Register of Good Safeguarding Practices for the preservation of the intangible cultural heritage of the world, according to the museum’s website.
• Hiking and Biking. The Golden Cape is a public forested park on the outskirts of the town that offers paths to ride a bicycle, run or just wander and admire the scenery of rocky coves and the vast collection of native trees planted in the 1800s by an entrepreneur.
There are many restaurants that are worth a visit, all of which serve good fresh fish and the local Croatian wines. They are found along the harbor and in the photogenic Old Town. You can also find plenty of bars where you can people-watch or enjoy the stunning sunsets.
One of my favorites was Mediterraneo, a small bar that offers seating or
cushions right on the rocks. A sunset never looks better than when you have a cocktail in your hand! We liked Maestral, a large and busy restaurant on the edge of the harbor that served great food with a stunning view.
Oh well….next time!
There are plenty of hotels, from high-end, such as the very swanky Grand
Park Hotel, to the more affordable options, and plenty of Airbnb’s and whatever to rent in the town.
About the author:
Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past nine years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Writing for Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.
She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.