I’ll admit to not really knowing much about Rovinj before we went. In fact, I’d go so far as to say just three short months ago I’d never even heard of the place.
The original plan was to go island hopping. We’d spotted cheap flights to Croatia’s Pula and it seemed the ideal starting point for a week’s tour of islands Cres, Krk, Rab and ‘party island’ Pag. But when we started to actually plan our way around them, it soon became apparent this wasn’t going to happen.
Perhaps a little naive, travelling between these northern islands of Croatia isn’t as straight forward as we expected. One ferry a day, up at 5am to catch it? Not for me. Not on just a week’s holiday anyway.
So we knocked the island hopping idea on the head. But with flights to Pula already booked, we still had a holiday to plan.
Our new search saw us looking north of Pula instead, into the Istria region of Croatia and towards the Italian border. It didn’t take much research before it became apparent that a little town called Rovinj had to be high on the agenda. And high on the agenda we put it.
We’d gone from knowing nothing about it at all to making Rovinj, Croatia the main focus of the holiday.
The Retro charm of ROVINJ
Just a 45 minute bus ride from Pula, Rovinj is a quaint and historic coastal town full of life, colour… and great food.
The postcard view is of the 18th century Saint Euphemia Cathedral rising out of the cute pastel colours of the old town. And it’s just as impressive when you’re there.
Sprawling below the distinctive Gothic cathedral tower are pink, yellow and red buildings that jostle for space along the harbour. Sophisticated yet shabby sums it up. With endless restaurants and bars lining the waterfront.
The whole town feels like the kind of classy, retro Mediterranean port you’d expect to see in a Stella Artois advert. Minus the annoying characters.
And with its orange rooftops and Venetian-inspired architecture there’s definitely an Italian vibe going on, not surprising given Rovinj’s proximity to the Italian border – and Venice itself (it’s just a 3 and a half hour ferry ride from Rovinj to Venice across the Adriatic).
So it’s like a gorgeous Italian coastal town, without the Italian prices. What could be more perfect than that?
Truffles and tremendous food
As with much of Croatia, the Italian influence extends to the food as well. The usual staples of fine pizza, pasta and seafood are in abundance here, but you get to enjoy the extra bonus of truffles too. Istria is Croatia’s truffle region – a great place to try the usually expensive fungus at great value. In fact, you’ll do well to avoid them.
Truffles dominate the restaurant menus, the town’s food market and the even the back streets where locals set up stalls outside their front doors to sell you their own jars of chopped truffles and different truffle oils. If you’re lucky you might be invited inside for a shot of the local firewater, in the hope you’ll buy some truffle-related souvenir of course. And you should. Because they’re gorgeous.
It was amongst the pretty old town streets that we had our first truffle experience, at the lovely restaurant Tipico. A starter of mushroom, cheese and black truffle pasta got things going, followed by mains of Saffron chicken and stuffed Calamari. Divine. Especially the starter. A great way to pop our truffle cherry.
A creative side of Croatia
Tipico sits away from the more touristy waterfront, at the top of Grisia, a cascading street that starts up at Saint Euphemia Cathedral and is lined with independent art galleries and craft shops. Local artists display their paintings and sculptures, hanging them on the ancient street walls or setting them out on the stone steps. An open air exhibition almost.
The street of Grisia sets the tone for the rest of Rovinj, as it’s an incredibly creative place all round. Wander the narrow, cobbled alleys of the old town and you’ll find even more wonderful galleries and craft displays, mixed in amongst more great restaurants of course.
Rovinj on the rocks
Then come the bars, with terraces over hanging the water, or with rocks for seats and just a few cushions to prevent numb bums.
Or maybe you’re looking for somewhere to sunbathe and swim? At regular intervals on the road that rings the old town you’ll find steps that take you right into the water, or down to an empty flat rock to lay your towel on. Take a dip in the water and in ten strokes you can go from sunbathing spot to drinking spot to dining spot.
Whether it’s eating, drinking, sightseeing or sunbathing, all around Rovinj there’s some real treasures to stumble upon. Which is fitting really, seeing as we somewhat stumbled upon the colourful town of Rovinj itself. And boy are we glad we did.