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 which often tarnishes the authenticity of a location, meaning this remains a quaint Mediterranean cruise hotspot.
Sarah-Jane Begonja from Chasing the Donkey painted a picture of the stunning city:
“If you've seen postcards of the north-western region of Croatia, then you've likely seen pictures of Rovinj. Beset by the remains of three town gates and remnants of the walls that used to protect this historic city, Rovinj is a must-see sight while exploring Istria. Spend your days wandering the historic sights, eat at the seafood restaurants and shops on a quaint cobblestone streets line criss cross the city centre.”
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 town houses and squares, Rovinj is for you. Tina James, Managing Director of Headwater told us a little more about your new favourite cruise destination:
“Nestled on Istria’s stunning west coast, the hilltop town of Rovinj is a melting pot of beautiful beaches, creativity and exquisite architecture. An archipelago of 14 tiny islands, there is plenty to see and do here, from meandering the marbled, boutique-lined alleys and admiring the Baroque and Byzantine basilicas to enjoying laid-back harbour-front dining or having a relaxing swim in one of the many sunny swimming coves.”
Rovinj will win over your heart without even trying. With its cobbled streets, idyllic spots along the waterfront for a glass of wine and overall feel-good atmosphere, there are few places that charm quite like this one. But before you go out on your Seabourn Cruise to Croatia and the Mediterranean, check out everything you need to know about Rovinj and really get excited about your cruise holiday.
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 holds tight to its past and no part more than the old town, with its narrow streets, squares and stone houses. Through the ages Rovinj has been under 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.
Sights around the city
There really is something for everyone in Rovinj. For a slower and more tranquil excursion you can explore the old town – a monument of culture in 1963, visit the fishing port or The City Palace. But for every site of historical significance there is an outdoor pursuit to enjoy. Hire a kayak and explore the famous Croatian coastline, or hike through the nature park.
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 Oliver, the Croatia Traveller, picked out as one of the best in the city:
“First, the sheer physical beauty of Rovinj never loses its allure. I love how the elegant bell tower of St Euphemia Cathedral 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 fifteen 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 rain. For just 20 Kuna (£2.40) you can climb the staircase and bear witness to stunning views of the area and even the Alps on a clear day.
Explore the Old Town
The charming old town of Rovinj is a real highlight of the city. 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 the Rovinj, such as Venetians lions and the 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.
Jan Meeuwesen from The Crazy Tourist picked out the old town as one of his highlights from Rovinj, and also suggested trying something that’s origin can be traced back to that Venetian rule:
"One of the best things to do in Rovinj is strolling around old town and the waterfront to enjoy the amazing sights and colourful houses. Be sure to try a Fuzi pasta at one of the local restaurants, a typical taste of the Istria region."
Jeanne Oliver wrote her own guide to Istria and Rovinj and recommended heading to the old town for more brilliant views:
“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.”
Explore the coast and neighbouring villages
Croatia draws in millions of tourists each year and many are heading to this Mediterranean hotspot for its dramatic coastline. Along with its archipelago of 22 islands and islets, the shores and sea here 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.
Jeanne Oliver is one of those who has been enticed by the coast and outdoors in Rovinj:
“The outdoors life is another major attraction of Rovinj. 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!”
Go sea kayaking
Making the most of the gorgeous coasts are numerous kayaking tours which head out around St. Andrew’s Island, Maskin Islands and many other islets that surround Rovinj. Some vary in length, but many offer very reasonable three-hour excursions which offer another side to the city that you would have otherwise missed. Alternatively, you can hire kayaks for your own adventure.
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. There area is yours to be discovered. 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
Rovinj is at the centre of an area known for being the world’s leading producers in olive oil, wine and truffles. Within the city you will find chic cafés, luxurious restaurants and food markets, all serving up the finest local cuisine.
But where should you go for a bite to eat or drink? Betsy Wuebker 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-dinner 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. There you will be warmly greeted by the owner and treated to the most exquisite combinations we tasted in all of Istria. Charming little dining room with personal attention. Let them boss you around, follow their orders and clean your plate. You'll have found a new home in Rovinj.”
Like with the architecture in the old town, there is an evident Venetian influence within the gastronomy of Rovinj and this region, as Jeanne Oliver explains:
“As you know, Rovinj was part of the Venetian empire for centuries which left its mark on the architecture and the culture. Italian influence is most evident in the food. Dining in Rovinj is outstanding, probably the best in 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 get a bad meal in Rovinj. In fact, Croatia's only Michelin-starred restaurant, Monte, is in Rovinj.”
Otherwise known as ‘the pearl of the Istrian peninsula’, foodies can discover incredible samples of locally sourced dishes and drinks. Why not do as Bri from The Travel Medley has done and head down to the coast for a tipple?
“Rovinj is a little slice of Italy that spilled into Croatia centuries ago. It's 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 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 unbelievably gorgeous view of the Adriatic Sea.”
Made up of fresh fish or meat, vegetables and topped with Istrian truffles, prosciutto and olive oil, Istrian cuisine really makes the most of its surroundings. You can’t head to the area without tucking into some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever try. Indeed, dishes year-round are as fresh as can be, given to their seasonal influences, as Jennifer Dombrowski and Tim Davis from Luxe Adventure Traveler told us:
"Rovinj isn't just a beautiful, cobbled old town on Croatia's Istrian peninsula - it serves as a great jumping off point for discovering the gastronomic delights and delicacies of Istria. It's here that you find Croatian wine country, 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."
We were lucky to speak to Oliver Bell and Oliver’s Travels who didn’t hesitate in offering his recommendations for anyone with an empty stomach in Rovinj:
“Passion is in the detail and foodies looking for a one-of-a-kind first-class dining experience will be besotted with the Wine Vault Restaurant. Serving an array of French and Mediterranean dishes, you’ll find this upscale gem within the Monte Mulini Hotel, where even the tiniest of details have been catered for. As the name suggests – wine is the star of the show and the restaurant has over 500 home grown bottles. Better still the restaurant's interior is styled like a wine cellar and is both incredibly luxe and cosy in equal measures.
“Of course, we couldn’t forget the food - sink your teeth into some mouth-watering treats including lobster, black ravioli, warm foie gras, plum tatin and more moreish goodies. And if you want to take things up a notch, you can even book the chef’s table directly inside the kitchen, where the chef will create a bespoke gastronomic experience for you and your guests.”
There is so much you can say about Rovinj. How its natural landscape makes it one of the most picturesque cities in the Mediterranean. How the charm and character of the city and the people will warm your heart, or how the food will ignite your taste buds like nothing before. If you were ever in doubt about exploring this Croatian gem, we’re sure you aren’t now.