Located on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula, Rovinj is up there in the top three of most visited places in Croatia along with Plitvice Lakes National Park and Dubrovnik. It is a stunning place with a meticulously cared-for old quarter where tightly clustered old houses are painted in Venetian reds and Habsburg pastels, connected by cobbled streets barely wider than a footpath. Here there are many artists’ studios, galleries and small shops.
The natural setting is stunning: a harbour nicknamed “cradle of the sea” by ancient mariners because the archipelago of 14 tiny, uninhabited islands stretching from Rovinj to Vrsar, ensured calm, untroubled waters. There is still a fishing fleet and open-air cafes and restaurants now take their place here. The lungomare seaside promenade leads from the centre along by the sea to one of the hotels we feature, the Monte Mulini some 20 minutes stroll. From the dock close to the fishing boats, a boat takes people on the five-minute crossing to Katarina Island and our other hotel in Rovinj, the Island Hotel Katarina. There is also another stop for this quick boat service and this is around the bay at the dock close to Rovinj’s huge public outdoor pool and Grand Hotel Park – crossing time between these two docks is about 90 seconds.
Rovinj started out as a small village founded on an island by the Romans. It was fortified with walls and gates and in 1283 it fell to Venice. During the 16th century, the population increased as refugees fleeing the Turks arrived. In the late 17th century, a bridge was built connecting the island to the mainland and in 1763 the narrow channel separating the island from the coast and Rovinj the island became Rovinj, the peninsula.
It remained one of the most important places in the Venetian empire until it’s fall in 1797. Soon after it became part of the Austrian Empire which lasted until World War 1.
Today, the blend of Venetian and Habsburg influences are part of Rovinj’s charm.
Away from the centre, the protected ancient Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape) forest (like a huge park) with beech, pine, cypress and laurel trees leads down to an indented shoreline with some lovely pebble cove beaches.
For a superb panoramic view, climb the cobbled hill to the top of the old town to the Cathedral of St Euphemia. History tells that it was built in 1736 to house the remains of Euphemia, a virgin martyr, was fed to the lions around 304 by Roman Emperor Diocletian (he who built his retirement palace in Split). The legend tells that her stone coffin disappeared from Constantinople and miraculously floated ashore in Rovinj in AD800 providing this once little fishing town with a patron saint – and a story. Her relics can be seen inside the cathedral.
An excellent open-air market sells the daily catch and local fresh produce daily from 7am – 4pm (but often starts closing down just after 3pm. Fruits and vegetables, home-made olive oil and grappa (brandies), cured meats and local cheeses. Located on Trg Valdibora, just a couple of streets away from the pink clock tower with the lion of Venice carving, the market is the place for your picnic ingredients.
There is an excellent choice of restaurants and bars with some stunning outside places in tiny courtyards or even out on stepped rocks by the sea. Boat trips around the island archipelago are displayed on the waterfront near the fishing boats.
Although Rovinj is all about tourism in summer, there is still an authentic feel as if tourism hasn’t overwhelmed the town. As one of Croatia’s top spots, it is absolutely packed in August and in the last two weeks in July. May, June, September and October are glorious and outdoor types who like hiking and biking trails may enjoy mid-late April too when temperatures are already nudging 19C with Spring sunshine.
Did you know?
- That the first tourists visited Rovinj when a steamship line from Trieste stopped there in 1845.
- Rovinj is separated from the town of Porec by the Limski Kanal (also called Lim Fjord), a spectacular 12 kilometre long steep-sided sea channel (often noted as a kind of “fjord”), renowned for local mussels and oysters which relish the mix of sea and fresh water. Worth visiting one of the restaurants there.
- Before World War 2, Rovinj was an Italian resort, there is a large Italian community and the town is today officially bilingual, Croatian and Italian.
- Croatia’s first Michelin star restaurant was ‘Monte’ in Rovinj and it still has the star. It has since been joined by Agli Amici, also with one Michelin Star. La Puntulina and Cap Aureo are Michelin recommended restaurants
- You can combine a holiday in Rovinj with Split (home of Diocletian – remember the young Euphemia?) using a short 50-minute direct flight from Pula Airport to Split, operating on Mondays and Fridays.
- There’s a regular catamaran service from Rovinj to Venice (2 hours). Perfect for a day trip or a two centre holiday.