Having always played second fiddle to Dubrovnik, the charming coastal town of Rovinj in Croatia is growing in popularity. Clutching the Adriatic Coast, the area is hot among starry-eyed travellers seeking a destination that time has forgotten. Nestled below the Lim Fjord, the area has managed to evade sweeping urbanisation, meaning this remains a quaint Mediterranean cruise hotspot.
Surrounded by 22 islands and islets, Rovinj can be found on the southwestern coast of the Istrian peninsula. For anyone interested in nature, beautiful coastlines and quaint townhouses, Rovinj is for you. This is a cruise destination that will win over your heart without even trying. With its cobbled streets, idyllic spots along the waterfront and overall feel-good atmosphere, there are few places that charm quite like this one.
The history of Rovinj
Historical records suggest that Rovinj has been inhabited since the prehistoric period and continued to grow through the Bronze and Iron Ages. This was during the peak of the Histrian tribe, who resided in Istria. The whole city tightly holds its past and no more than the Old Town, with its narrow streets, squares and stone houses.
Through the ages, Rovinj has been under the rule of a number of different countries, from the Austrians in the 19th century, to the Italians in the 20th century. This has shaped the development and diversity of the area and influences of these rules can be found throughout its architecture and gastronomy.
Things to do in Rovinj
There really is something for everyone in Rovinj. For a slower and more tranquil afternoon, explore the Old Town where you can immerse yourself in Rovinj’s history. Every site of historical significance has an outdoor pursuit to match; hire a kayak and explore the famous Croatian coastline or hike through the nature park.
Explore the Old Town
The charming Old Town is a real highlight. Smooth cobblestoned streets weave their way through a tapestry of pastel-coloured Old Town houses in an area that really pays homage to their neighbour, Italy. There are beautiful examples of Venetian architecture throughout this part of Rovinj, such as Venetian lions and a Renaissance clock tower. This is because the city was part of the Venetian Republic which ran from 1283 to 1797 before the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte.
“One of the best things to do in Rovinj is taking a stroll around the Old Town and its waterfront,” Jan from The Crazy Tourist told us. “While enjoying the amazing sights and colourful houses, make sure to try fuzi pasta at one of the local restaurants, a typical taste of the Istria region.” Jeanne from Croatia Traveller adds, “The view is equally impressive from the north and south sides of the Old Town. I love climbing the cobblestone streets to the top and gazing out at the offshore islands while cackling seagulls swoop by.”
Discover the coast and neighbouring villages
Croatia draws in millions of tourists each year - many of which head to the Mediterranean hotspot for its dramatic coastline. Along with its archipelago of islands and islets, the shores and sea of Rovinj are crisp and clean. Surrounded by quality green areas worth exploring, it even boasts lovely beaches like the one in Lone Bay, just a 15-minute walk from the centre.
“The outdoors is another major attraction of Rovinj,” Jeanne told us. “I take the harbourside walk south of town to Zlatni Rt Nature Park, rent a bike and pedal through the pines to a beach. There are a number of coves where the water is blue and clear, perfect for a swim. There’s also Red Island, just a short boat ride away where the little coves are rocky but secluded. Rovinj is also a great base for day trips. I like exploring the galleries and boutiques of Bale, a hill village just outside of town. A little further afield is the Lim Fjord with its arresting scenery. And, the rest of fascinating Istria is all reachable by car.”
Visit St. Euphemia’s Church
Towering above the narrow streets, intimate squares and stone houses is the baroque St. Euphemia’s Church. Dominating the skyline, the church’s 60-metre-high tower offers unparalleled views of the port, pier, marina and the distinctive architecture and stone buildings. The church is a sight that Jeanne recommends seeing, “I love how the elegant bell tower of St. Euphemia punctuates the pastel-coloured houses that rise up from the sea.”
St. Euphemia Church and its bell tower entice your gaze as you scan the views. The building is dedicated to a young girl, Saint Euphemia, who at just 15 years old was arrested for refusing to give up on Christianity and her beliefs. Atop the tower stands a statue in her memory, which revolves with the wind on its axis. Locals believe that when she points towards the ocean then it will be sunny but if she faces the town, then it will be cloudy and rainy. For just 20 Kuna (£2.40), you can climb the staircase and witness the stunning views of the area and even the Alps on a clear day.
Walk around Golden Cape Forest Park
Just a 20-minute walk from the centre of Rovinj is the Golden Cape Forest Park. The nature park is ideal for anyone wanting to spend the day hiking, cycling, swimming or even rock climbing. The area is yours to discover. Boasting plenty of paths and hidden coves, it rewards those who are willing to venture further and further within, serving up a new beauty spot around every corner which is always quieter than the last.
Where to eat in Rovinj
Located at the centre of an area known for its olive oil, wine and truffles, Rovinj is home to chic cafes, luxurious restaurants and food markets, all serving up the finest local cuisine. But where should you go for a bite to eat and a refreshing drink?
Betsy from Passing Thru recommends leaving the tourist trail behind, “Our best tip for Rovinj is to head away from the touristy waterfront restaurants where the menus all have the same photos. Those are fine for happy hour or an after-drinner drink to soak up the sunset and atmosphere. But for a great food experience, walk a few hundred feet from the waterfront square to Driovier 3, Da Marcello Pane Vino e non solo. Here, you’ll be warmly greeted by the owner and treated to the most exquisite combinations we tasted in all of Istria. Charming little dining rooms with personal attention. Let them boss you around, follow their orders and clean your plate. You’ll have found a new home in Rovinj.”
Similarly to Old Town’s architecture, there is an evident Venetian influence with the gastronomy of Rovinj. Jeanne explains, “As you know, Rovinj was part of the Venetian empire for centuries which left its mark on the architecture the culture. Italian influence is most evident in the food. Dining in Rovinj is outstanding, probably the best Istria which is really saying something. Whether choosing a simple pizza, an expertly grilled fresh fish or an elaborate concoction of local ingredients, it’s impossible to have a bad meal in Rovinj.”
Otherwise known as ‘the pearl of the Istrian peninsula,’ foodies can discover incredible samples of locally sourced dishes and drinks. Why not follow in the footsteps of Bri from The Travel medley and head down to the coast for a tipple? “Rovinj is the perfect place to bask in the sun, explore cobbled alleyways and drink fantastic wine (try the malvazija). A fun splurge is Valentino Cocktail & Champagne Bar, where you can enjoy a drink on the rocks… on the rocks. Seats are stacked blue cushions that allow you to nestle right into the rocky outcrop. Fish swim along the water and artfully placed candelabras complete the scene, while you sip your drink of choice and enjoy an unbelievable view of the Adriatic Sea.”
Consisting of fresh fish or meat, vegetables, Istrian truffles, prosciutto and olive oil, Istrian cuisine really makes the most of its surroundings. You can’t visit the area without tucking into local seafood. Indeed, year-round dishes are as fresh as can be given their seasonal influences, as Jennifer and Tim from Luxe Adventure Traveler told us, “Rovinj serves as a great jumping-off point for discovering the gastronomic delights and delicacies of Istria. It’s here that you find Croatian wine, truffles, olive oils, excellent fish and seafood and game meats. No matter what time of the year you visit Rovinj and Istria, you’re sure to find a festival celebrating the food of the season from asparagus to Adriatic squid. Restaurants and tavernas will offer special menus celebrating these seasonal foods.”