The sight of Rovinj’s peninsula-bound old town with its sky-spearing bell tower is one of Croatia’s most heart-stopping sights, a visual trademark that sells the country’s charms just as effectively as the walls of Dubrovnik or the waterfalls of the Plitvice Lakes.
Of all the resorts in Istria, it is Rovinj that has reinvented itself the most in the last few years, remaining true to its aura of timeless serenity while advancing at full speed towards an innovative and design-conscious future. The city is home to some of the most iconic hotel architecture on the Adriatic coast, offers gastronomy on a world level and is constantly renewing its impressive roster of festivals. And yet it is still the affordable, charming place it always used to be. It’s a lifestyle resort that remains a lived-in town, and is much the better for it.
A town steeped in tradition has become a standard-bearer for contemporary Croatian style, with leading architecture studios like 3LHD (responsible for hotels Lone and Grand Park), and Studio UP (Hotel Amarin) producing buildings that are swooningly beautiful as well as centred on the needs of their human visitors.
The construction of the Park (which began with the demolition of an older hotel of the same name) has totally changed the appearance of the south side of town, getting rid of something that was beginning to look like a concrete eyesore and replacing it with a terraced, hillside construction, and a new promenade running alongside the ACI marina.
There has also been a large investment in beaches, with the re-landscaping of Val de Lesso north of town and the ongoing development of the beach at the Amarin resort just beyond.
Rovinj’s famously innovative Monte restaurant was the first in Croatia to earn a Michelin star back in 2017. Then, in 2021, recently opened Agli Amici gained yet another Michelin star for Rovinj. The town’s hotel restaurants have raised the culinary bar further by bringing in celebrity chefs with ambitious ideas. The lengthening of the season and the increase in year-round gastro-visitors means that all of the town’s restaurants are trying harder. Most can afford to stay open for all but a couple of months a year.
The gastronomic theme is reflected in the recent additions to Rovinj’s festival calendar, including the Weekend Food Festival taking place in May. Featuring kitchen demonstrations, coffee cupping and loads of stalls selling superb fare, it looks like a must-visit for the culinary crowd.
Indeed, Rovinj has probably got more in the way of compelling festivals than anywhere else in Croatia, ranging from the Baroque Music Festival to the Salsa Festival and the Art & More Festival, which showcases concerts, exhibitions and theatre plays during the summer months.
Rovinj’s main attraction remains the old town itself, with its stepped alleyways and stone houses. Rising above the peninsula’s tip is the venerable Church of St Euphemia, with its famous bell-tower modelled on that of St Mark’s in Venice. September 16 and the week leading up to it is a great time to be in town, for it is St Euphemia Day and the city comes alive with celebrations.
The Batana Eco-museum has been renovated and reopened in spring 2022. This award-winning institution honours the traditional wooden fishing boat, propelled and steered with long pole-like oars. The museum places the Batana in its local context and functions as a museum of a way of life rather than just a collection of historical objects.
Today’s Rovinj is more likely to be out biking than out boating, with signed cycle paths crisscrossing the Zlatni Rt forest park just south of town. Originally laid out before World War I, when Count Johann Georg Hütterott started importing exotic trees and shrubs, it’s now a lush conservation area with plenty of beaches lying at the end of those tree-shaded alleys. And it’s the availability of these endless coastline rambles that constitutes one of Rovinj’s greatest assets.
This article is sponsored by the Istrian Tourism Board.