It is hard to describe Rovinj as anything other than gorgeous and to come here and not be charmed is impossible. Bordering the Adriatic, Rovinj’s twisting and turning coastline offers spectacular sea views dotted about with islands wherever you go. Its peninsula which is surrounded by sea on three sides is also home to a romance-infused old town where cobbled streets take you on a journey through history. Mostly dating from medieval times when Venetians held the power here, this compact area is dominated by the soaring 17th century bell tower of the cathedral while also being home to a whole street full of artists and craftspeople.
Beyond Rovinj but within easy access are any number of fascinating and beautiful places such as the spectacular Lim Fjord, greenery-filled natural swathes such as the Golden Cape Forest, a Bronze Age hill fort and an evocatively crumbling medieval town which was left abandoned in the 1700s .Also within easy drives are further UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Pula, home to an incredible Roman amphitheater and Porec with its Gothic Venetian palaces and ancient Roman temples.
A Morning in Rovinj
Your explorations of this lovely little town begin with a stroll around the medieval highlights of its historic center. After a morning coffee break sat on a sunny terrace at one of this area’s many cafes you can continue your day discovering some of the natural and historical gems which lie just outside the town.
Rovinj’s Historical Center
Like most old towns in this corner of the world the true joy comes from simply wandering the wonderful maze of centuries-old alleyways, soaking up its enchanting atmosphere and coming suddenly upon a hidden treasure, all the while knowing you are walking in the very same places where the town’s ancient citizens walked.
As you weave your way through the tangle of cobbled streets you will pass through tiny passageways, climb twisting stone stairways, pass beneath arches and arrive at small tucked-away squares. Along the way will be churches, small and intriguing shops full of color, cafe terraces and an otherwise wonderful mix of architectural delights representing Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styles.
You can of course wander completely at will – the old town is not large – but an amble from the main square to the cathedral along the lovely Grisia allows you to take in most of the not-to-be-missed highlights.
Trg Maršala Tita
Rovinj’s main town square – Trg Maršala Tita – is not surprisingly the focus of the town. Named for the Yugoslav communist leader Josip Tito of which Croatia was a part until the war of independence in the 1990s, the square is home to some beautiful Venetian buildings, a small fountain and an array of cafe terraces. Opening out as it does directly onto the picturesque harbor gives it a special edge, with offshore island views and constant boat arrivals and departures adding to its vivacity.
At the water’s edge side of the square can be found the squat terracotta-colored clock tower. The history of this tower dates back to the 12th century with its current look a legacy of its 17th century days as part of a Venetian defense system. The base was formerly used as a prison cell and if you look closely you can still see the symbol of Venice – the winged lion – beneath the actual clock.
Also bordering the square is a grand salmon-hued four-storey Baroque building which was home to rich and powerful nobility in the 1600s. Today it houses the Rovinj Museum which has exhibits of both modern Croatian art and a rich hoard of archaeological finds. The museum’s collection is vast – around 35,000 pieces – but its space is not, so at any one time only a fraction is displayed.
At the northern edge of the square you will find the narrow 17th century Balbi’s Arch – once the portal into the old city under Venetian rule. Topped by Venice’s winged lion, the arch is also adorned with two carved heads. Once you pass beneath this arch you will arrive on Grisia Street which runs for 350m to the cathedral.
This charming stepped cobblestone passageway rises gradually and is full of things to see from beginning to end. Grisia is best known for its collection of artists and craftspeople, some of whom operate out of tiny boutique spaces flanking the street while others simply hang their wares directly on the walls giving much of this walk a feel of one long open-air gallery. If you are on the hunt for gifts and souvenirs there is perhaps no lovelier place to do it than here.
St. Euphemia’s Church
At the end of Grisia is where you will find the town’s most distinctive landmark – St. Euphemia’s Church. Baroque in style, the church’s facade is relatively plain while the soaring bell tower at its side which pre-dates the church is slightly more ornate, intended to resemble that of Venice’s St. Mark’s. The current church – dedicated to a female saint thrown to the lions by Roman Emperor Diocletian – was constructed in the 1700s while the bell tower dates from the 1600s.
As is often the case with European churches relatively unadorned from the outside, St Euphemia’s is somewhat richer in ornamentation and detail inside and boasts a beautiful marble altar. Beneath this is the saint’s sarcophagus which dates back to the 6th century and which, according to legend, arrived on the shores during a storm. The church is also the repository of several ecclesiastical treasures which include 15th century sculptures and paintings from the 16th century.
Taking more than 20 years to complete, the impressive 62m bell tower is topped with a large image of Euphemia dating from 1758 which acts as a weather vane. If you don’t mind a narrow wooden stairway you can climb to the top of the tower to be rewarded with magnificent views of the old town, sea and islands and which also, on the clearest of days, allows you to trace out the Alps in the distance.
At the peninsula’s northern extreme beyond the church you can also stroll the lovely Bregovita street lined with ancient buildings and find the only remaining part of the old walls which would once have completely encircled the town.
Morning Coffee in Rovinj
If your morning’s old town explorations finish at the church you are just a stone’s throw from one of the town’s lovelier spots for a coffee break. Caffe Bar XL is simply a collection of wicker chairs on a terrace and a swathe of grass ringed about with trees which drops off into a view of nothing but the sea. This cafe is tranquility itself and somewhat hidden in plain sight which makes you feel a long way removed from a town of any size.
Trg Sveta Eufemija
Rovinj’s old quarter is really not short on cafes with a view in general though. It also has the Caffe Bar Riviera – another spot with lovely water views and this time you are right beside them at the harbor.
Ul. Sv. Križa, 52210
Also harbor-side but now placing you in the liveliness of the main square is Viecia Batana which has a great terrace and is a popular hangout for locals.
Trg Marshala Tita – Piazza Maresciallo Tito 8
If you’re looking for what is generally considered to be the best quality coffee in town head to Batel, 100m from the main square. Besides the high standard of the coffee this spot – which is just a sprinkling of tables set right on the cobbles down one of those lovely atmospheric alleys – is also known for its welcoming service
Zdenac – Pian DI Pozzo 27
Cycling the Surrounds of Rovinj
The near surrounds of Rovinj are liberally sprinkled with all kinds of wonderful places to visit including both historical ruins and those infused with natural loveliness. One of the best ways to enjoy this richness is to go for a bike ride and Rovinj is well set up to make this possible. There are several places where you can rent bikes that will provide you with maps and there are a set of well-marked cycle trails which are designed to help you make the most of your pedaling.
These range from shorter looped rides which are mostly over flat terrain and therefore suitable for all levels of fitness to those which would take several hours and have more challenging climbs somewhere in their distance.
The Rubin Trail
The Rubin Trail is the most easily achieved of the options at just 27km long and without any major climbs. The highlights of this route are the lovely Punta Corrente Forest Park (also know as Golden Cape Forest), the bird reserve of Palud, the 12th century church of St. Nicholas and a couple of bays such as the gorgeous Cuvi Beach where you can stop for a refreshing swim if you need a pause. Along the way are all kinds of historic leftovers such as a Roman water cistern and an ancient quarry which for centuries provided the Venetians with stone for their palaces.
Monkodonja Archaeological Park
The most extensive of the historical sites on this route is the Monkodonja Archaeological Park where you can explore the remains of a Bronze Age fort. Scenically perched atop a hill which give you beautiful views of the Adriatic Sea dotted about with islands, this site dates back over 4,000 years. Once entirely surrounded by walls of which fragments remain you can still trace out living quarters and ancient pathways. Additionally, the site is little visited so it is not unusual to have it all to yourself, something which adds significantly to its atmosphere. A further 1.5 km away are the connected burial mounds from which have been unearthed ancient jewelry and other priceless artifacts.
It is also possible to combine a bike ride with a journey by road first to reach some further away trails such as the lovely Parenzana Trail. This route follows an old railway line which connected Istria with Austria-Hungary and runs for 290km. No matter how much of it you decide to explore it plunges you straight into the natural magnificence of the Istrian countryside. Plant and wildlife abound and the trails weave you through rock-cut passages and dramatic chasms. There are several points where you can join the trail such as the ancient town of Motovun from which you can cycle to the fairytale-like Zavrsje, often called the most beautiful of the area’s medieval towns; a ride of only 45 minutes.
If you are short on energy or time there are also some lovely options which are accessible from quick rides. One of these is the already mentioned Punta Corrente – also known as the Golden Cape Forest – which is a lovely nature park popular for walking and cycling. The paths here are well-maintained for an easy bike ride and the park is dotted about with gorgeous coves which you can stop off at and take a cooling swim. Most who visit here only explore the most convenient edges so if you plunge deeper in you will often have it to yourself. If you find yourself in need of refreshment along the way there are a handful of cafes where you can get your breath back and refuel.
Another very easy site to reach is also one of the region’s highlights and already mentioned as part of the Rubin Trail – Monkodonja. Just 5km from Rovinj, this highly atmospheric spot is the site of a Bronze Age hill fort and despite its proximity to town scarcely visited by the hordes.
Lunch in Rovinj
Pretty as a picture whether you decide to go waterfront or nestled amid the weaving alleys of the historical center, Rovinj’s wide choice of restaurants are dominated by seafood which is something often found in coastal destinations. In Rovinj’s case however, not only are the options plentiful but the seafood they serve is also of an extremely high standard.
If quaint and atmospheric appeal as a venue for your seafood lunch head to Veli Joze – named for the Croatian folktale of the giant known as Veli Joze or Big Joseph. Tucked down a little alley with some outside tables beneath a canopy set directly on the cobbles, it is really the incredible interior which fascinates the most. This brightly-painted restaurant is a treasure-packed space of antiques which range from the beautiful to the bizarre. Scattered around the walls and hanging from the ceiling can be found everything from guitars to bicycles and ancient diving suits to ships’ wheels.
The quality Istrian-focused dishes which also include some meat options are mainly based around Adriatic fish and seafood with specialties which include crab with truffles and traditional baked lamb and potato dishes.
If nothing but a sea view will do for lunch one exceptionally lovely spot more frequented by locals in the know than tourists is Blu. Probably the kind of location you pictured in any dreams of the Mediterranean, Blu’s gorgeous cobbled terrace looks directly over the water and onto the old town from its elegant tables draped with fine linen-ware.
Excellent wines are paired with sumptuous seafood such as tempura oysters and scampi risotto topped with truffles for a leisurely lunch which can be enjoyed as the aroma of salt on the sea breeze wafts around you. While you deliberate over your menu possibilities enjoy an appetizer of home-baked rosemary bread served with some of the award-winning oil the region is known for.
Despite its excellent quality and unbeatable location Blu is surprisingly well-priced, mainly as it is off the most beaten of the tourist paths and therefore still little known to all but locals.
An Afternoon Around Rovinj
While Rovinj itself is quite small it is surrounded by all kinds of gems which are so plentiful they would take you months to explore. On the menu are such things as the jaw-droppingly beautiful Lim Fjord, the chance to visit vineyards and high quality oil producing olive groves and a wealth of nearby towns which are filled to bursting with highly significant and beautifully preserved historical relics.
The Lim Fjord
Spectacularly beautiful, the title ‘fjord’ is actually something of a misnomer for this canyon-like 35km long river valley which is also sometimes referred to as a canal by locals. Fjords are carved by glaciers whereas the spectacular Lim valley is the result of a river flowing for millennia over soft bedrock and carving out the dramatic karst landscape you see today. The river is flanked by soaring cliff edges – 150m tall at their highest – atop which cluster swathes of forest and lush flora.
Thanks to the special nature of the water in this channel, whose salt content is diluted by freshwater springs, aquatic life flourishes here, so much so that it has been given conservation and protection status. Rich with plankton and a natural breeding area for many fish species, the fjord is also home to an array of oyster, mussel and fish farms, the produce of which you may well sample while dining in Rovinj.
While it is possible to arrive at the fjord by road the loveliest way to explore and indeed appreciate its dramatic features is to travel by boat. Many of the boat tours which head out of Rovinj to the Lim Fjord also include a journey around the stunning and multiple islets of the Rovinj archipelago. Together classified as an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’, these greenery-filled islands are home to lighthouses, ancient monasteries, churches and other historical buildings, many of which can be seen from the boat.
One such view – this time in the fjord itself – is that of the castle tower of Dvigrad, a medieval town which has lain eerily abandoned since the 18th century when a plague swept through the vicinity. Dvigrad is such an exceptional site and so evocatively infused with atmosphere that many combine a Lim Fjord excursion with a visit here. Lying just 15km east of the Lim Fjord’s eastern end, the town is a collection of crumbling ruins overgrown in parts by nature’s efforts to reclaim it which just add to the incredible air of the place. As you wander amid partly collapsed houses, the town church, walls, arches, stairways, a palace, watchtowers and terraces it is impossible not to muse on the fate of those who once lived here.
Lying just a short distance by car from Rovinj are any number of wonderful towns, many of which are richly steeped in the ancient history for which this region is known. Just 40 minutes down the coast from Rovinj can be found Pula which is so full of historical jewels it has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
Pula sits in a natural harbor which having a narrow entry and guarded by peninsulas on both flanks affords it a highly strategic defensive position. For this reason the long centuries have seen a host of powerful cultures and empires fighting to claim it as their own. In Pula’s expansive history it has been in the power of Romans, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Venetians and Austro-Hungarians. As a result Pula has so many ancient sites it can appear to be almost bursting at the seams with them. However, despite its Roman-era forum, monasteries, churches, palaces, castles and forts there is one sight which stands above all others in its magnificence – the exceptionally preserved 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater.
If most people were asked to name the best preserved Roman amphitheater in the world almost all would answer the Colosseum in Rome. However, despite its ability to rival this famous landmark Pula’s own version is lesser known, even though it is the sixth largest surviving Roman amphitheater on the planet. Also, unlike Rome’s Colosseum where parts of the upper sections collapsed long ago, the Arena is complete in its three-storey circular entirety.
Once able to host 26,000 spectators, the Arena is a sensational sight and as you can stand right in the middle of its floor area you can have the very same view that the gladiators of long ago had.
So well-preserved are some of the features you can see the underground passages along which combatants would have walked 2,000 years ago and the ancient cisterns which channeled water.
1,000 years later the Arena was used by fighters of a different kind – medieval knights taking part in grand tournaments – and today it hosts cultural and even sporting events.
Once the bustling center of political and religious Roman life, 2,000 years later the Forum still marks Pula’s heart and today is where you will find the town’s main square. The Forum’s main highlights are its triumphal arch, the Temple of Augustus and the Communal Palace.
Located on the southern edge is the beautiful Arch of the Sergii which was built around 30 BC to celebrate a battle victory in France. Originally this arch carved with cupids, garlands and even a warrior’s chariot served as the gateway which gave entry from the port.
Set towards the western sea edge is the many columned and fantastically preserved Temple of Augustus which is another 2,000 year old treasure. Later serving as a church after Christianity arrived for the Romans in the 4th century and later still used as store for grain, today the interior is filled with ancient stonework displays and sculptures which were moved here from other Pula locations.
Standing next to the temple can be found the Communal Palace or Town Hall which although over 700 years old is a mere youngster compared to its Forum neighbors. The site was formerly occupied by the Temple of Diana until the medieval era and some elements of stonework dating from this Roman period can still be seen at the back of the building.
Besides the impressive Arena and the many ancient leftovers of the Forum Pula has countless more historical gems. These include the Romanesque 14th century church and monastery of St. Francis with its gorgeous statue-dotted cloisters frequented by tortoises, the 17th century Venetian fortress (Kastel) with its cannons and watchtower and the Gates of Hercules. Although this latter is a fairly modest sight compared to some of Pula’s grander structures it is one of the town’s oldest examples of Roman heritage.
The town’s most recent historical leftovers which date from the Austro-Hungarian era of the 19th century are a collection of 26 coastal fortresses along with tunnels, gun emplacements and batteries. These are in various states of repair, some almost entirely reclaimed by surrounding plant growth while others are grand, impressive and well-preserved with wonderful views from their hilltops such as those of Fort Bourguignon and Punta Christo.
Pula is also home to another amphitheater known as the Small Roman Theater which, totally overshadowed by its far grander bigger brother, is almost entirely overlooked by visitors. That means this evocatively ruined site still complete with tiered seating can often be deserted which makes it especially atmospheric.
Other Towns Within Reach of Rovinj
While Pula is perhaps the most historically-rich of Rovinj’s near neighbors by sheer volume of sights it is far from being the only possibility. Less than an hour north of Rovinj along the coast can be found Porec – one of Croatia’s longest established seaside resorts. With a history which dates back to Roman times, the town’s two main streets and square are preserved leftovers from that era 2,000 years ago. Dotted with majestic Gothic Venetian palaces, ancient Roman temples dedicated to their gods and beautiful medieval churches, Porec’s brightest jewel is the stunning Euphrasian Basilica. UNESCO World Heritage-listed, this 6th century complex incorporates a bell tower, bishop’s palace, atrium, baptistery and memorial chapel richly decorated in exquisite mosaics almost 1,500 years old.
As Pula is located only 14km away from Krunčići many visits to this exceptional destination are often combined with wine tours. Krunčići is home to a wine cellar of the Matosevic family – one of Croatia’s leading wine producers. This lovely location allows you to meet those behind the scenes, tour the cellars and learn all about the history of wine in Istria from your passionate host before tasting a selection of wines paired with cheese plates.
Less than an hour away from Rovinj can be found the small but brightly sparkling jewel of Motovun. Surveying the countryside for miles around from its hilltop perch, Motovun is still encircled in its entirety by the walls which the Venetians built during their centuries of control which began in 1278. Wander the old town’s narrow and highly atmospheric medieval alleyways surrounded by ancient buildings displaying a mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles and explore the many towers, gates and fortifications which kept the Venetians safe from attack. Highlights here include the belfry of St. Stephen’s Church constructed in the 13th century and a stroll atop the walls which comes with a continuous stream of lovely views.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner in Rovinj
When the sun starts to sink and your thoughts start to turn to the idea of sundowners Rovinj has something for everyone. Head to an old traditional spacio – once the socializing and refreshment hangouts for the fishermen – cozy up in an old town wine bar or relax in a thoroughly modern cocktail venue with magnificent sea views to enjoy as you ponder dinner options.
As you probably already discovered at lunch Rovinj is awash with seafood and fish venues. There are of course also other choices for non-fish fans and with a location so geographically close to Italy there are lots of influences from that nation’s cuisine thrown into the mix too along with the more typical Istrian options.
While contemporary restaurants are plentiful many of the traditional konobas still exist in Rovinj if you want to immerse yourself culturally. Be aware though that some of those that still call themselves konobas have been give modern day makeovers so you will need to check out a few if you have your heart set on the old-fashioned and homely variety.
For a taste of Rovinj as it was in times past head to one of the traditional taverns known as spacios.
Historically – and sometimes even today during special cultural events – these basements and wine cellars would resound to the sound of a very distinctive kind of singing known as bitinda. This traditional music was created by fishermen as they went about tasks on their boats or mending nets and involved the imitation of musical instruments along with vocals. Once the boats arrived ashore and the fishermen headed to the spacios to relax their unique music was continued as a form of entertainment.
The best known of these traditional taverns where history is kept very much alive is Spacio Matika – a simple barrel-filled cellar space in the old town.
Ul. Vladimira Švalbe, 52210
For a chance to sample some of Istria’s excellent wines make your way to the Piassa Granda. Packed with old wood features and stacks of bottles on display inside or with tables on the cobbled street, this wine bar in a picturesque alley of the historic center keeps more than 100 labels and offers some great cheese and olive oil brushed bruschette to keep your hunger pangs at bay until dinner.
Veli Trg 1
Valentino Cocktail and Champagne Bar
For cocktails with class and a perch quite literally on rocks lapped by the sea it has to be the Valentino Cocktail and Champagne Bar. Some of the terrace ‘seating’ here is literally a cushion on the rocky ledge but if you prefer something a little more conventional there are normal tables and chairs too and it’s a killer view no matter which you choose. Valentino – high end enough to have a dress code – is the epitome of elegance and if you are here after dark the creative lighting makes it incredibly romantic too.
If you really want to push the boat out for a classy dining experience head to the biggest of the Rovinj archipelago’s islands – St. Andrews. A quick 15 minutes by boat from the harbor will land you at the shores of this lush island where in a former monastery and castle you will find the Lanterna Restaurant. With a two tiered terrace, this highly romantic venue has views which take in Adriatic, islands and the Golden Cape Park on the mainland. Offering both seafood/fish and meat menus and a wide wine choice, the setting is somewhere you will find hard to tear yourself away from. Luckily there is no rush though – the last boats don’t leave until around midnight.
If you prefer to stay closer to the center of town you won’t be short of options no matter what your idea of the perfect dining venue is. At the high end is the country’s only Michelin-starred restaurant – the lovely Monte – which sits just beneath the cathedral while a cluster of other high quality cuisine restaurants, most of them along the highly picturesque waterfront, can be found at the southern side of the port facing the old town. One of these is Aqua 2 which has a charming traditional Mediterranean feel and is consistently rated for its highly attentive and warm staff. The vibe is relaxed but the quality and crafting of the dishes – principally seafood – are taken very seriously.
While each of the restaurants mentioned here serve delectable desserts you might want to save a little space for ice-cream. With both cultural and historic links with Italy and a geographical location relatively nearby, Italian influences can be seen in many restaurants and also with the presence of some top quality gelaterias. Arguably the best in town is the Gelateria Italia which is just a stone’s throw from Aqua 2 and, as it is run by an Italian, you can expect the genuine article. There are even a little cluster of tables out front so you can relax and really enjoy your ice-cream dessert in comfort.
Piazza Campitelli, 52210
An Evening in Rovinj
Evenings in Rovinj are relaxed affairs and as pretty much everywhere you turn you have either gorgeous views of the sea or are surrounded by beautiful historic buildings you really can’t go wrong.
As dusk falls late in summer and nights, although still wonderfully warm, are without the fierce heat of the day many choose to stroll amid the beautiful cobbled streets of the old town. Here you can wander for as long as you choose, perhaps checking out some of the lovely artisan shops you didn’t have time for in the day. The waterfront is also a charming place to walk at night and although the promenade’s name seems to change every 100m or so it is in reality an unbroken stretch from the harbor all the way to the ACI Marina. With constant watercraft activity to keep you entertained and lovely views, you will also have the island of Katarina in sight the entire time and there are plenty of tranquil places to stop for a glass of wine or after-dinner cocktail if you want to linger awhile.
Should getting out on the water appeal there is the very special opportunity during summer on certain nights of the week to cruise the old town in a batana. These traditional flat-bottomed fishing boats were often built inside houses whose dimensions typically determined how big the craft would be. These boats are such an intrinsic part of Rovinj’s cultural heritage and so deeply intertwined with the lives and customs of its people, the town even has a museum dedicated to the subject – the Batana Eco-museum – whose excellent work has been recognized by UNESCO for its ‘good safeguarding practices for the preservation of the intangible cultural heritage of the world’.
Another way of spending some evening hours on the water is with a sunset kayak tour. The more lengthy versions of these take you all the way round St. Andrews Island but if you’re feeling low on energy supplies you can opt for something shorter.
If you’re ready to experience the beauty of Rovinj in person, contact one of our vacation planners today!