Rovinj is Istria at its most chic, a scenic resort of quality restaurants and cocktail bars, galleries and boutiques. Stone houses and cobbled streets lend an authentic air – this is also the most gay-friendly of Croatia’s coastal destinations.
RECOMMENDED: more great things to do in Rovinj.
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The best things to do in Rovinj
Perched by the Church of St Euphemia atop the Old Town, Caffe Bar XL is the perfect spot for a bar. Wicker chairs and wooden tables overlook fields, then the Adriatic beyond, streaked with amber beams of sunset if you find a spot at the right time of day. A cocktail would seem apt, and there are plenty of choices, or there’s Istrian Favorit beer on tap, affordable house wine and juices for the kids. There’s no food to speak of but that can all come later.
Ulika Rovinj is an upscale camping complex just outside Rovinj, a short walk from the beach. Here, from March to October, Barba Danilo is a gourmet corner that revives the restaurant the same family once ran before setting up this luxury lodging. Tables and chairs are ranged around the swimming pool and a tasteful interior, where lunch (noon-2.30pm) consists of salads, light snacks and tapas, and dinner of Istrian classics given a contemporary twist. Wines and olive oils are immaculately sourced – then again, the family has had lots of practice.
Shellfish, suckling pig and that day’s catch, the seven-course menu at recently Michelin-starred Monte takes in the bounty of Istria on land and sea. Closer to home, Dutch-Croatian restaurateurs Tjitske and Danijel Đekić raid nearby Rovinj market on a daily basis for the finest, freshest produce to supply the most versatile kitchen in town. There’s a five-course menu, too, and carefully conceived main-course options. There’s a choice from more than 100 wines to accompany. Set on a steep cobbled slope in Rovinj’s historic centre, considering the quality of fare on offer, Monte could be starched and stuffy but it’s anything but – all feels funky and informal, just the right combination for a relaxed, top-class dining experience.
For serious, pine-forested beaches, head south of Rovinj, past the marina, to the wooded peninsula of Zlatni Rt, or Golden Cape. The stroll along the waterfront is a little more than a kilometre from town. There’s also a cluster of resorts around here, but they’re uphill, so the beaches are mostly undisturbed nature. Here shade-providing pine forests grow right up to the shore, ending in rocky beaches. You’ll need sandals to wade on the jagged shore, but the lack of sand means the sea is incredibly clear, great for snorkelling or diving. Walking further round, past Kurent Bay, with its public changing cabins, smaller coves have shallow, calm waters ideally suited to paddling toddlers.
Known as the Adriatic Titanic, the Baron Guatsch was a Habsburg passenger ship that hit a mine laid by the Austro-Hungarian navy off the coast of Istria at the start of World War I. Nearly 150 passengers and crew lost their lives and the ship sank to a depth of 35 metres. The wreck, discovered in 1958, now provides divers with one of Europe’s most fascinating sites, and a popular for trips from Rovinj. Based at the Hotel Istra on Crveni otok, the Puffer dive centre offers escorted dives to the old ship, as well as courses for children and beginners.
The closest island to Rovinj harbour, Sveta Katarina was the playground of various counts and dukes in the Habsburg days, the forerunners of today’s pleasure seekers. The photos you may have seen of foolhardy tourists leaping from high rocks into the sea were taken here. More sedate holidaymakers make do with catching the frequent ferry over, wandering around the verdant pathways, past vineyards and ancient olive trees, to find their own spot at a deserted and invariably rocky part of the coast. If you haven’t brought any refreshments, you’ll find the bar and restaurant open at the island’s namesake hotel, a family-focused resort complex with tennis courts, swimming pools and water sports.
Surrounded by unspoilt greenery just outside Rovinj, Moncerlongo Ranch is an open-air stable that lays on trekking tours and horse-riding lessons for all ages and abilities. Tours last for up to three hours and taking in the natural beauty surrounding Rovinj, dotted with archaeological sites whose history and significance will be explained by your guide. Back at the ranch, qualified instructors provide tuition from basic level upwards.
Named after a friendly giant in a popular tale set in Istria, Veli Jože (‘Big Joe’) is an Istarska konoba, a typical local tavern. Istrian dishes flavour the menu of this quaint spot near the harbour that has a high-ceilinged interior crammed with antiques and seagoing kitsch, as well as seating for 50 on the pavement terrace. Specialities include lasagne with fruits de mer, crab with truffles, cod in white wine and pasta with goulash. The seafood won’t be cheap but it’ll be fresh, authentically prepared and caught close to where you’re eating it.
Tucked down hidden-away Veli trg amid Rovinj’s winding historic quarter, Piassa Granda is a formidably well-stocked wine bar established by two smiling sisters, still in charge today. More than 200 labels, the majority of them Istrian, pay tribute to the successful revival of the industry around this Italianate peninsula, Helena and Dragana also keen to promote fine domestic prosciutto, salamis and cheeses, tastefully presented as accompanying platters. Most varieties are available by the glass and a friendly waitstaff is happy to recommend. Alfresco seating is another plus.
This part of Istria is said to contain the ill-gotten gains of legendary pirate Captain Morgan, a strange fable that may help explain why Mrgani is both the name of a local village and a seemingly unusual surname. Whatever the case, a cycling trail that sets off from close to Rovinj allows you to follow Morgan’s trail, taking in panoramic views of the Limski Canal where is treasure is allegedly buried, a Bronze Age site, a solar observatory and an ornithological reserve. Cycle tours, running for 60km in total and taking about four hours, are laid on by Istra Bike and also include lunch at a typical Istrian farmhouse on the way.
Sea kayaking is the perfect way to discover the unspoiled, mainly uninhabited islands that dot the waters around Rovinj. Half-day tours start out at Punta Corrente park just outside town and take in nearby Crveni otok and the Sv Ivan islands before rounding the lighthouse at Sv Ivan na Pucini and heading for home. Kayakers also stop for an island picnic and swim. No previous experience is required, beginners are given a quick lesson in the easily steered kayak beforehand. Children above the age of five may take part, with adult supervision. Tours are organised by Adistra.
Thrown to the lions in AD303 though apparently mauled to death by a bear, poor St Euphemia is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox faith. How her relics came to be placed in a sarcophagus in Rovinj is not entirely clear – legend has it that her coffin washed ashore here, though other remains are still placed in the Church of St George in Istanbul, where she met her fate. The Rovinj church that bears her name, built in Baroque style in 1736, stands on the site of an earlier one also named after St George. Euphemia is represented in statue form, somewhat prosaically converted into a weather vane, while the mural of her martyrdom feels more reverential, the pious saint soon to join the heavenly chorus as lions devour her limbs.
Opened in 2017, the Steakhouse & Pub Istriano doesn’t beat around the bush. It serves steak, house-style thick and juicy, with simple trimmings such as grana padano cheese, rucola and potatoes. It’s pretty serious about its beers, too, hosting its own Bavarian-style Oktoberfest, where litre-tall glasses are clinked over hearty portions of pork. The rest of the year, the menu changes weekly – steak is a constant, of course – which means that fish options alternate from tuna to bream. There’s always a vegetarian choice, too, and often a little live music in the evenings.
The first thing you notice when you walk into the Orange Bar, just in from Rovinj’s seafront, is its encyclopaedic dessert menu. Actually, that’s a complete lie. The very first you notice are the boats brimming with ice-cream concoctions, lavish sauces and little umbrellas being served to a nearby table – and, there being nothing worse than ice-cream envy, you just have to order the same. Presented in a tall glass, sundae bowl or dessert boats, the puddings here attract families all day long. Once the children have gone to bed, the grown-ups can come out and play, and lay into one of the fine cocktails that the Orange Bar is also known for.
The only ‘Irish Pub’ in town isn’t, really – but the Art Public Bar is a damn good local drinking institution nonetheless. The taps of Guinness and Kilkenny, and surprisingly wide range of Irish whiskeys, available allow management to place the sign ‘Irish Pub’ over the doorway, hence the confusion. Unplugged sessions towards the end of the week and DJ parties at weekends attract a regular local trade, and though tourists are most certainly welcome, this is one bar where they don’t swamp the place.
Independent four-star hotel Arupinum has a restaurant of the same name, where fresh, seasonal ingredients are brought to the fore and home-made pasta is prominent. Given that warmer evenings and a larger influx of guests allow tables to be taken out and ranged around the pool, the whole ambience feels very Mediterranean, accentuated by the sleek, contemporary architecture that defines this recently opened establishment. All takes place just outside the centre of Rovinj, in an enclave of luxury lodging that also includes the stand-out Hotel Lone.
A journey of nearly 40km, three-quarters of it on tarmac, the Limes Trail starts and ends at the Amarin Tourist Resort just north of Rovinj and takes three hours. The route takes you through Saline, Valalta, Rovinjsko Selo and Porton Biondi, through lovely landscapes and past several churches, St Martin’s viewpoint and the Maklavun archaeological site. Around Rovinjsko Selo, you should also notice the kažuni, a field shelter of dry stone walls, along with the prehistoric fortress of Turnina.
Relatively new in the culinary stakes, Bookeria by prominent Trg Pignaton in Rovinj’s historic centre is nothing if not ambitious. At this prime location, it would be all too easy for this eatery – it feels too informal and laid-back to be called a restaurant, though it takes its cooking seriously – to fill the menu with the usual suspects and cash in. Not a bit of it. Here crabs and scallops feature prominently, such as the crab ravioli, and scallops in various sauces. The fish is fresh and accompanied by a sprinkling of spinach and pine nuts, rather than a dollop of the usual watery blitva. Great care is also taken over dessert, semifreddo or home-made ice cream. A sun-catching terrace completes the picture.
The Brasserie Adriatic harks back to the classic era of fin-de-siècle French cuisine and the heritage of the surrounding hotel, which dates back to 1913 and the earliest days of tourism in Rovinj. Set in the centre of town, overlooking the main square and the harbour, the Brasserie Adriatic also brings a contemporary touch to the kitchen, with tuna tataki as part of the Adriatic mixed starter, polenta with crab and chive oil as a warm starter, gilthead bream sous-vide as a main, and pistachio tuile with chocolate for the pot de crème dessert. The decor is equally 21st-century, shiny industrial in feel offset by walls of glass.
The Limbo provides you with one of those classic Rovinj experiences, ever so slightly quirky, all in very good taste, and offering quality throughout. Here you perch on a stool or brightly coloured cushion on the steps of a steep walkway – hence ‘Limbo’ – while sipping on fine Istrian wine or, ideal for early evening, an Aperol spritz. There are appetisers, too, platters of prosciutto and cheese – but given the location close to a dozen restaurants, you’re as well using this as a pre-meal pick-me-up.
On the outskirts of Rovinj, surrounded by holiday apartments, the year-round Konoba Jure does a fine job with classic Istrian cuisine, the fish fresh, the Malvasia wine crisp. Thin pljukanci pasta with shrimp is a particular speciality, as is the fish soup. No menu, so ask your waiter what’s good that day.
Perched on a drop above the sea, this spot adds a gourmet Italian touch to local cuisine. La Puntulina has been run by the same Pellizzer family since 2004 and prides itself on fresh ingredients, creative sauces and a careful mix of flavours. The fish fillet Puntulina, with a delicately spiced tomato sauce, the bass stuffed with shrimp and the fish in an olive crust provide exciting ways to enjoy fresh seafood. Meat options include turkey fillet with pine nuts and steak on rocket and cherry tomatoes. It’s also a wine bar, with a dozen Malvazijas alone to choose from. Reserve the table by the window for dramatic sea views.
Lapped, literally, by the Adriatic, the Mediterraneo is one of those stupendously well located drinking spots bathed in orange sunset, where they could serve gruel in a glass and still have everyone smiling for selfies while they drink it. There’s no gruel here, of course, only quality mixed drinks at reasonable prices – and the setting does the rest. Open well into October, so if you’re here out of season, you can still enjoy a scenic drink, just take advantage of one of the free blankets.
Run by the same Pellizzer family that made La Puntulina such a mainstay of the local dining scene, the Snack Bar Rio is a real surprise in that it’s almost anything but a snack bar. Here you do battle with lobster, tuck into fine fish or enjoy a plate of perfectly prepared pasta and seafood, in informal, café-like surroundings – the Rio opened as a bar in 1968 and still operates as a place to catch the sun on the terrace over your first coffee of the morning.