Rovinj, Croatia

The Croatian Rovinj is, according to many, the nicest town in Istria, if not in the entire country. The old town is situated by the sea, on a hilly peninsula, with the tower of St. Euphemia marking its highest point. Rovinj is very picturesque town, considered one of the most photogenic places on the whole Balkan peninsula.

Its colorful houses are rising from the sea. Rovinj’s steep pedestrian streets are full of art galleries, lively bars and restaurants; and the town’s harbour is busy with small pleasure (fish picnics for example) and fishing boats.

A few words that may describe it further…quaint, charming, clean, colorful, rustic…all in one perfect package. It sounds cliché, but there are no other words I can use to describe its awesomeness.

It is also one of those towns where you never feel bored. Its beauty is just so inspiring, it makes you feel good just to walk its narrow cobbled streets up and down. However, there is not much to see in terms of historical landmarks, monuments, or museums. Nonetheless it is one of those places where you can just relax and take in all the surroundings in a peaceful atmosphere anyway. The people are extremely friendly and the service is excellent overall.

Rovinj was actually an island before a land reclamation project in 1763 by the Venetians. What you’ll see in the old town is a medieval tangle of tight streets and alleys that pass under archways and twist up stairways worn by centuries of footfalls. This historic centre is small, but it won’t be hard to get disoriented by this dense labyrinth of quaint cobblestone streets! Eventually you’ll come to restaurants, cafes or even the water’s edge, and you can always find time for a cup of coffee to watch this ancient town go about its day.

Thrown to the lions in AD 303 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 body was kept in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) until the 7th-century when it was removed to protect it from iconoclasts. Then it appeared off the coast of Rovinj in a spectral boat. The townspeople were unable to budge the heavy sarcophagus until a small boy appeared with two calves and moved it to the top of the hill. 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. The square campanile of this baroque church dominate Rovinj’s skyline and closely resembles St. Mark’s in Venice. So it’s no surprise that the 17th-century St. Euphemia was built by the Venetians, who were in control of Rovinj throughout this period. Its 61m-high bell tower is older than the present church; construction commenced in 1654 and lasted 26 years. The church’s interior meanwhile boasts some sumptuous design, including a marble altar with a 15th-century statue of the saint before a sarcophagus containing Euphemia’s relics. 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.

If the city’s clock has a fortified air to it, that’s because it once formed Rovinj’s southern defences. This square tower in the Rovinj’s main square dates back to 1100, and has undergone a few expansions in its time, particularly in the 1600s when it was updated by the Venetians. Just beneath the clock face you can make out a relief of that famous winged Lion of St. Mark, the symbol of Venice. For a few hundred years there was a one-cell prison at the base of the tower, now a bureau de change.

Founded by a group of local artists in 1954, the Rovinj Heritage Museum houses Istria’s prime collection of Italian art from the 1400s onwards. Renaissance gems by the great Venetian Giovanni Bellini and the school of Bonifazio de Pitati share second-floor space with Baroque painter such as Nicolò Grassi, Antonio Zanchi and Marco Ricci. One flight below is a floor of Croatian art from the later 20th century and there’s also a section dedicated to Rovinj artists from the same period – some of whom would have helped set up this very museum.

The tiny museum, dedicated to the batana, a flat-bottomed fishing boat that stands as a symbol of Rovinj’s seafaring and fishing traditions, is situated right by the main entrance to the marina, nearby the already mentioned Heritage Museum. Although there are some multimedia displays, most captions are in Croatian and Italian only; if you read neither, you’re unlikely to need more than 10 minutes here.

not my photo, I haven’t been inside.

Lined with galleries and souvenir stores, the Grisia street leads uphill through the old town to St. Euphemia. Windows, balconies, portals and squares are a pleasant confusion of styles – Gothic, Renaissance, baroque and neoclassical. Notice the unique fumaioli (exterior chimneys), built during the population boom when entire families lived in a single room with a fireplace.

Leading to Grisia Street away from the main square is this majestic arch from the late 1670s, and named after Daniel Balbi who was the mayor at the time. The arch replaced an old town gate and bears the classic Venetian hallmark of the Lion of St. Mark. Curiously there are also two stone heads, one on either side of the arch. On one you can spot the head of a bearded Venetian, and on the other there’s a Turk, wearing a turban.

After a day of sightseeing is a good lunch much needed. What about leaving the local seafood for the dinner and heading to the market? Essentially a fruit-and-vegetable market, allowing you to pick healthy fresh produce for your beachside picnic, is the so-called Trg Valdibora. The stalls groan under the weight of local wines, honeys and lavender oils, not to mention grappas in all kinds of varieties – mistletoe included. After 1pm, most of the fresh-food and fish vendors go, leaving mostly souvenir shops, hawking knick-knacks made from shells, Croatian-flag beach towels, paintings, postcards and other non-essentials. So try to get there on time!

please ignore my look – I was ill, felt tired and it was too hot to put any makeup on

Afterwards you can just park yourself next to the calm Adriatic Sea. Sea is in the beginning of September very warm, and moreover the beaches are not as crowded as during July and August. Within just a few kilometres up or down the shoreline you can find 13 beaches. Few of these will resemble the traditional image of a big sandy bay; Istria’s beaches are either hidden coves with rocks that you can dive off, or small arcs of white shingle. Monte Beach for instance is right next to St. Euphemia in the old town, with a stairway leading down to a pool enclosed on three sides by rock. The pebble beach at Lone Bay is more developed, fringed by pine forest and furnished with sun loungers. Lovers of water sports will…well, Rovinj is not exactly the spot for them, but there’s one gem under the water that can be found nowhere else but here. The Adriatic Titanic! 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 real pleasure based on the richness of underwater life there. The Puffer dive centre, located in the Istria Hotel on Crveni Otok offers escorted dives to the old ship, as well as courses for children and beginners. Is there anything better than end the summer season of 2018 with diving to a century old boat?? I don’t think so!

I hope you’ll find Rovinj as beautiful as I did! It’s definitely one of the most underrated towns in Croatia, definitely worth a visit!

Have you ever been there? If so, what did you like the most?

As for me, this café was my favourite!

Have a great day!

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