Rovinj, Croatia is one of those stunning places you see on postcards and wonder if the reality will live up to the image. The old town is crammed onto a small peninsula, which juts off northern Croatia’s Istrian coast. A spindly bell tower reaches skyward from atop the peninsula’s central hill. Concentric circles of tall and narrow buildings slope downwards, forming a wall along the the water’s edge. A fleet of small boats completes the scene, and proves that Rovinj remains a fishing village at heart.
Once an important outpost of the Republic of Venice, Rovinj still maintains a vaguely Italian atmosphere. Nanas watch the goings on from their windows in sorbet-colored buildings. Laundry dangles charmingly above a cobweb of alleyways while cats scamper to and fro. Crumbling staircases are lapped by the sea, giving one the impression that the land is slowly sinking under the weight of so much stone. Hearty locals swim past the peninsula’s rocky “beaches” seemingly year round. Pizza and gelato are ubiquitous.
My three days in Rovinj were mostly spent wandering quiet alleys and browsing shops filled with artistic wares. A Picasso exhibit was on at the Rovinj Heritage Museum, and the Batana Eco Museum provided an interesting look at the region’s boating culture. It’s worth climbing the Venetian-style bell tower for the view, but note that this is not for the faint of heart. The wooden stairs are extremely steep and rickety and look like they haven’t been restored in centuries. I have zero fear of heights and the experience even left me shaky! Access to the bell tower is granted through the Church of St Euphemia, notable for its elaborate marble altars.
I found plenty of scenic spots to rest my cobble-weary feet. A small cafe tucked behind the Rovinj farmers’ market offered up a heaping platter of local delicacies, glasses of wine, and ample people-watching opportunities. More wine was enjoyed at sidewalk cafes on the south side of the marina. This is prime real estate come sunset, so arrive early to secure a seat!
Meals were particularly memorable, thanks to the bounty of fresh seafood delivered by the local fisherman. In fact, Rovinj’s restaurants served up some of the tastiest food of my entire two-week trip! (To see my Rovinj restaurant recommendations, click here.)
Porec, Croatia is an excellent option for a day trip for those wishing to explore more of Istria. Located a mere 45 minutes north of Rovinj, Porec is home to UNESCO-listed Euphrasian Basilica, the most complete Byzantine complex in the world. The Basilica was constructed during the 6th century under the direction of Bishop Euphrasius. Byzantine masters were hired to adorn the Basilica and its accompanying structures with lustrous mosaics – many of which exist to this day.
Other areas of the Basilica complex open to visitors include the Bishop’s palace and bell tower, a much easier climb than its taller cousin in Rovinj. Note that the Euphrasian Basilica is closed on Mondays, just like most museums in Europe.
Porec, Croatia is a pleasant town to spend an afternoon. The small peninsula is encircled by a wide promenade dotted with gelato stands and plenty of benches from which to enjoy the sea view. Sail boats and palm trees put the finishing touches on the Riviera-esque affect. A smattering of Roman ruins and Venetian palaces provide a pretty backdrop to the many al fresco cafes. I was tempted to linger over a bottle of vino, but the promise of a Rovinj sunset lured me back to my car.