There is no better way to arrive in Rovinj than approaching by sea. Glide across water as smooth as glass, with the evening light catching the brightly painted houses that rise steeply from the turquoise waters of the Adriatic, below a bell tower resembling that of St Mark’s in Venice.
Located on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula, Rovinj is one of the most exquisitely beautiful towns on the Croatian coast. Dudley Salt, Captain of the 60m ELYSIAN, agrees: ‘Rovinj is the perfect stopover. From narrow streets and local markets to amazing restaurants and bars incorporated with its rich history, it has proved one of our guests’ favourite towns.’ Fortunately, while popular, Rovinj is far from becoming as crowded as Dubrovnik, further south on the Dalmatian coast.
Exploring Rovinj town
Rovinj’s old town was once an island, but the channel between it and the mainland was filled in during the 18th century, leaving the slender isthmus seen today. The narrow streets and alleys of Croatia’s most Italianate town are a delight to wander – in particular Grisia, its cobbled steps gradually cascade down towards the water from the open market.
The street plan is less regular than the herringbone pattern of towns such as Korčula or Dubrovnik and is punctuated with small squares and hidden courtyards. In the end, however, all streets lead towards the broad open terrace in front of the Baroque church of St Euphemia.
Golden Cape (Zlatni rt) Forest Park is easily seen from offshore, a smudge of green along the coast a little way south of the marina. Its lush vegetation, which includes Calabrian pine, Douglas fir and Himalayan cedar is interspersed with sunny meadows and crisscrossed by well-groomed promenades. ‘The park is just the place to stretch your legs while clearing in,’ says Captain Salt.
The island archipelago
Rovinj’s surroundings are equally beautiful, not least the scattering of roughly 20 islands that create the Rovinj archipelago. These can be explored by yacht from nearby St Catherine’s Island (Otok Sv. Katarine), which lies 100m offshore from the old town, to the far-flung St John’s Cliff (Sv. Ivan na pučini) – a flat, sunbleached rock topped with a lighthouse, from which dolphins can be spotted swimming in the surrounding waters.
The Lim Channel (Limski zaljev) is a breathtaking inlet that cuts into the coast between Rovinj and Poreč, snaking inland for more than 10km between dark-green slopes. Guests on ELYSIAN often include a sunset cruise here.
There are UNESCO-listed Byzantine mosaics in Poreč itself, which are equally as dazzling as those found on Ravenna or Istanbul. And, to the south, the Brijuni Islands were, for many years, the summer home of Tito, but are now a national park.
There are some 25 wrecks off the Istrian coast. The most famous is the Baron Gautsch, a luxury steamship that sank in 1914 and is located off the Brijuni Islands at a depth of about 40m.
Michelin star cuisine
Istria is the gastronomic heart of Croatia – home to the country’s finest olive oils, many of its best wines, and some of the most stunning food you’ll taste in the country: from glisteningly fresh seafood to sublime prosciutto and delicious truffles. In Rovinj, a six-course degustation menu at Michelin-starred restaurant Monte showcases the region’s quintessential flavours, using the best local ingredients.
The town is also well situated to explore Istria’s best wine-producing region and truffle country, providing the perfect base for tasting day trips to nearby hill towns like Motovun and Grožnjan, a 40-minute drive or so inland.
The restaurant at Roxanich, newly opened in 2019 just outside Motovun, offers outstanding fine dining, highlights of which include the dressed crab salad (a house speciality) with a celeriac remoulade and extraordinarily good aged beef.
After a day strolling around the old town or exploring the best of Istria’s boutique wineries, Rovinj has no shortage of places to stop for a cocktail as you take in a beautiful Adriatic sunset. The glitzy Beach Bar at the Hotel Mulini is highly popular – but, for unforgettable sunset views, you can’t beat a spot down on the rocks at the water’s edge, below the walls of the old town.
‘My favourite is Valentino Cocktail and Champagne Bar,’ says Captain Salt, of a landmark that has stuck to its classic formula of impeccable drinks and prime location for three decades. Mediterraneo is another such place, where, as you sit below the old town’s multicoloured walls, golden water lapping almost at your feet, and watch the sun dip beneath the rim of the Adriatic, you realise you never want to leave.
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