Rovinj – Istria, Croatia
During my research for visiting the Istrian peninsula of Croatia, Rovinj (pronounced row-veen) stood out as the hub for exploring all of Istria. I am happy we ended up staying in Motovun given how much there is to do there and provided a more relaxing experience. While we were sad to leave Motovun, we were excited to explore Rovinj.
Kevin really wanted an experience like Camogli for his birthday and this seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Romantic seaside town, water activities, seafood dining, and gelato. When we visited Motovun, it was clear Rovinj was a getaway favorite among locals.
This little town has quite a history! For one, it used to be an island and was filled in to connect to the main land for further development. Rovinj is influenced by many cultures as the ruler changes hands multiple times – first under Venetian rule (referred to as little Venice), then Austrian under Napoleon rule, then after WWI was a part of Italy but then under German occupation, then post WW2 became the Yugoslav Republic of Croatia and now present day, simply Croatia. It is one of the most visited cities in Croatia due to its beachside beauty and central access in Istria.
Our drive from Motovun was very easy as we passed lots of farm land and small towns along the way. At a certain point, we turned a bend of the round about, the town of Rovinj appeared. It was a sort of fantasy seeing it in the distance with the sea in the background – this was going to be wonderful. Our Airbnb host met us at the parking spot associated with the Airbnb (a requirement when I was looking for Airbnbs!) and escorted us to the place. The Airbnb was great with modern amenities and being centrally located to everything we wanted to do.
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Immediately wanting to explore, we dropped off our stuff and ventured outsite. The streets were very remienscent of Italy as we made our way to the Old Town center. The seaside views were just magical – it was hard to believe this was a real place.
As we made our way around, I noticed an opening with a bright view to the sea – Mediterraneo Cocktail Bar which I read was a great spot for drinks from multiple sources. We walked down the stairs into this little oasis of small table and chairs set up along the rocks. We grabbed seats and absorbed everything about this, slowing time down ever so slightly to just be. It is hard to believe this is real life – little moments like this make the urge to explore so strong! Our drinks were delicious, priced for a beach vacation but hey, a surcharge for this view is acceptable. It was hard to leave but we knew more great things awaited.
Our “getting to know you” walk continued on the perimeter of the city as we watched cliff side beaches emerge in any spot plausible. It is funny how the term beach really transcends as it is certainly not what we know to be a beach back home. Laying on stone slabs, concrete, and pebbles (when you are lucky) just does not sound as comfortable as sand.
We ended this walk with a stop for gelato – the first of the trip! The best gelato spot happened to be literally around the corner from our Airbnb (major points!). Gelateria Italia is a small shop churning out amazing and authentic Italian gelato. We eagerly got our kuna currency in order and each ordered a small – dark chocolate (me) and pistachio (Kevin). True gelato texture and consistency is just wonderful – it is good to be back in Europe for this!
Pro Tip: If the gelato you are evaluating is in a case that looks like this, find another – tourist trap! Compare the two photos to see the difference.
We stopped back at the Airbnb and freshened up for dinner, which was located down the street from us. Taverna de Amicis is a traditional seafood restaurant and that is exactly what we were in the market for. Like almost every restaurant, they have a great outdoor space to accommodate guests. We arrived at our reservation time and prepared for a feast.
Read the full details of our Taverna de Amicis dining review here!
During dinner, we watched the sun dip below the buildings – the sunsets here must be amazing. I figured we missed it given the timing but we walked over the the harbor to see the colorful sky. To our surprise, when we arrived the sun was still above the horizon! We grabbed a spot and watched the sun set into the sea. I cannot think of a better way to end our first day in Rovinj!
One our walk back to the Airbnb, it was clear that everyone was out of their homes at their favorite spot (or a spot that had a free seat) huddled around one (or multiple) TVs for the Italy vs England Eurocup Finals. While we did not stick around to watch the full game, we watched a few minutes before turning in. When the penalty kicks started, we did not even need to open our eyes – we would hear intermittent cheering that then erupted into a loud celebratory roar when Italy won.
After several days of gluttony (I could not even think about eating any more prosciutto after all the wine tasting), we were both looking forward to some physical activity. This morning we had a fairly long 15km sea kayak excursion that would do the trick.
Read about our sea kayak through the Lim Bay here!
We were pretty exhausted and starving by the time we were done, so we dragged our stuff back to town in the blazing heat happy to find Tunaholic Fish Bar. This spot reminded us of a spot in Camogli where they sold freshly caught seafood, fried up, and served in a cone. Tunaholic has a simple concept – pick your fish and how you want it served. They also serve burgers. We chose to go with the mixed seafood and chips.
Going with the chips option was definitely the right decision as they were so yummy and crispy. The mixed fish included shrimp, smelts, and calamari. While it was fine to share, I think we each could have definitely gotten our own. It was the perfect snack option.
On the same street were some very unique and local stores that offered handmade souveniors. For those that like to shop, I would look here – we watched them making their items as we ate our fish and chips.
Before we headed back to the Airbnb, we grabbed gelato from our trusty Gelateria Italia and took a moment to relax after that kayak and clean up for dinner.
One spot that came up searching was Snack Bar Rio and while it was down along the harbor, it was still well rated. I was willing to give it a try despite the tourist location but hey, when its waterfront sometimes its better. We were still out of the Old Town area and if it was a rip off, the locals who recommend it were getting ripped off too. While they do not have a website, they were very responsive on Facebook to snag a reservation.
Read our dining review of Snack Bar Rio here!
We grabbed another gelato for our walk into the center of Old Town, a spot we had not explored yet. The streets narrowed and climbed up to where the church sat. Doorways seemed to get more creative on how they tetris’ed stores and homes on the slopping hill.
When we reached the top, clouds began to roll in but I image this is a fantastic spot to watch the sunset. The church and tower sit prominently on the top of hill and give Rovinj the picturesque line of sight.
The Church of St Euphemia is the center of Rovinj and at the top of the tower sits St Euphemia herself, the patron saint of Rovinj. She was a martyr for her Catholic faith and when fed to the lions, the lions did not eat her. During a storm, the stone sarcophagus with her remains washed up on the Rovinj shore and is in the church today.
We walked inside and admired the simple arrangements. Kevin spotted a sign that you can walk up into the tower for a small fee. There was never a tower we met in Europe that he did not want to climb so up we went. I think the stairs can use some TLC as these board planks where definitely worn… 192 planks to the top. But somehow it is still withstanding all the feet up and down.
What I do not like is that you can see through the stairs which makes the depth perception of being up high (which of course you are) unfun. We made it to the top and enjoyed the 360 degree view. The sunset would definitely be amazing from here but the clouds continued to obstruct the view. We met a lovely lady from San Diego doing a several month self-made Catholic pilgrimage who happen to be on our flight home. It was so uncommon to hear American English on this trip so it was so obvious when we heard it. And by the grace of God, a blind man made his way up and down those darn steps – I hope they will invest in some new planks of wood with the fee to climb those stairs! After several minutes, the tower platform got pretty crowded so we headed back down to the church.
Finding a new route to explore, we traveled down back to the main square where it was bopping. There was a live band playing latin music that had any people dancing in the streets. Live music and dancing – we were coming out of this pandemic period – it was hopeful.
Our relaxation day! Not something I generally incorporate into a DESKRIB itinerary but we were at the coast. But first, coffee! We stopped at Augusto Coffee Shop which quickly became Kevin’s favorite in town.
Today all we had planned was to find a beach to relax and swim. The beaches in old town were tiny, on stone, and crowded. We were also told the swimming conditions can be a bit rougher in that area. Further out to the left of the town center is Mulini Beach. I figured we would just go there and figure it out – all the beaches are public. We grabbed a croissant and walked about 20 minutes past some massive and pricey hotel accommodations to reach Mulini Beach.
It was definitely unclear what the protocol was as I read it was public yet there were rentable lounge chairs on every inch of the the grounds. We walked the entire length of the four sections of Mulini Beach to find a grassy section. Is this concert seating? Were we shunned to the lawn seats? I know the hotels here were pricey but were these all their chairs? Kevin walked around and did some investigating. Turns out that if you can find a spot on the ground (stone, cement or pebbles) that is open, it is fair game to utilize. There were then two types of lounge seats available for rent – wooden ones with cushions or resin ones like at a pool – both options came with umbrellas.
More planning would have lead to a better outcome of the time spent here but there is so little information available online. While we both wanted to comfort of a chair, we were nervous that rain would make investing in chairs a sunk cost. We went back to the front area where we started and found some free cement space to occupy. It even had an incline for back and head support (#fancy)! But the weather was not great, rained off and on, and ended up being a crappy beach morning.
Unfortunately when you a short and tight trip, it make changing plans a lot more difficult. Of all our days in Rovinj, this was the worst beach day. It would have been a great kayak day but overcast and intermittent rain was not ideal for what we were looking to do.
We gave it a good try and learned a lot of future trips:
- Beaches are indeed public and free if you can find a spot on the ground.
- Rent a beach chair, get there early and plan on spending all day there to get the best bang for your buck.
- Bring lunch, snacks, drink, etc! We were really bummed we didn’t do this and perhaps if the weather was better would have indulged.
- Try and pick the best weather day (goes without saying) but if you do not have the flexibility, pick the closest beach and use the free time you do have when the weather is cooperative.
Since we neglected to bring any food, we were starving so we headed to Tik Tak Finger Food for a snack before dinner. This spot is snuggled right in the corner of an intersection and offers so very unique dishes. We were here for the “tagliereria” or big platters. The menu has several to choose from thought none have a ton of description. From the looks online, it did not appear you could go wrong with any of them. We chose the Tik Tak Finger Food Tagliere for “all the best Italian finger food” – like I said, vague.
But when this appeared it was a monster of a plate – the server clarified multiple times that we only wanted one serving to share instead of two and thank goodness we stuck to that decision. While I cannot identify everything on the plate, it was all gone when we were done.
As we made our way to the Airbnb, the sun came out briefly to taunt us while we got ready for the evening. We grabbed gelato from Gelateria Italia and headed inside. Dinner was around the corner at Giannino tucked away in the corner of some winding streets. We were hopeful to recover the day with a good meal.
Read the dining review for Giannino here!
I was happy rain returned to give some redemption that the hot sunny day was no where to be found. The rain held out until we got home but we saw the lightening in the distance over the harbor. As we fell asleep, we were graced with an Istrian thunder storm with pouring rainy and extra lightening.
Our final day in Rovinj and we were not spending any of it in Rovinj. We were traveling south to the peninsula point for another kayak adventure with caves and cliffs.
Read about this kayak adventure here!
Since things with the kayak were a bit complicated due to the weather, we actually made a pit stop in Pula on our way south. Known for having many Roman ruins and a full Arena, we figured it would be a good place to spend the morning and grab lunch. Pula had other plans though as we were unable to find any parking. And the few parking spots we did find required coins (15 kuna worth) to pay of which we had none. We even tried to just do a drive by of the popular spots but it was such a madhouse we decided to leave. The way out did put us right next to the Pula Arena in which we each got out separately from the car to view over a matter of minutes.Thanks Pula, we tried!
And since our Pula lunch plans failed, there were a few road side stands on our way to the peninsula point serving crappy food – we got cold pizza roll things and threw it up to carb loading for the kayak.
After the kayak, we snuck in a final Bourdain dining spot that was very difficult to get in contact with – but do not worry I searched until I found it. You are going to want to read this dining review of Konoba Batelina, this hidden gem in the south of Istria.
Read out dining review of Konoba Batelina here!
Amazed by this final meal in the Istria peninsula, we were graced with the most beautiful sunset for our drive back to Rovinj.
And with that, we returned to Rovinj to pack up and prepare for an extremely early 3AM wake up call… fingers crossed it was worth it. Our final walk through these streets we have grown to memorize and love.
I will take this time note the that Rovinj is a tourist destination that while it may not be notable in the USA, it is very much known in Europe. Prices here will be a bit more than than normal and will reflect more of what the euro value is as opposed to the kuna. There are some very fancy spots to eat in Rovinj, including one of very few Michelin star restaurants in the country, and they are definitely pricey. While we contemplated changing some of our reservations around to fit one of these tasting menus in, we ultimately decided to stay with the more local options are we were happy we with the choice (though I am sure these spots are delicious).
Other than missing out on a proper beach day, we really did fit a lot into our few days in Rovinj. While we did not do everything, this stay gave us a great taste of the region. I am so happy we ended up staying here