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  • Writer's pictureThomas Lee

Rovinj - The Croatian Gem of Istria

My day starts slowly in Rovinj, just like the majority of my time in Croatia. Whenever I'm out the door before 9 am it’s just me, the other tourists, and a few shopkeepers. That does have its perks but after spending 3 weeks in Croatia the lifestyle has begun to wear off on me.

Rovinj is a beautiful port town located on the coast of the Istrian Peninsula in Northern Croatia. A three-hour ferry from Venice along the Adriatic, known for its olives, wine, truffles, and beautiful scenery

I start with one (most likely two) instant Nescafes that I’ve bought from the local Tommy or Konzum supermarket that is inevitably around the corner from all my Airbnbs. My Airbnbs have been nice, studio to 1 bedroom apartments that never run me more than $75 USD, including this one in the middle of Old Town Rovinj. They come with everything I need, a mini-fridge, a small two-burner, maybe the euro washing machine in the bathroom, and a spotty but necessary wall-mounted AC unit that is commonplace on this side of the pond.

After I get my Nescafe, I’m out the door(sacrilegious I know to drink instant coffee in Europe, but I’ve gotta get moving somehow).

My backpack contains the following:

  • Travel hammock

  • GoPro 7

  • Liter of water (sparkling, or with gas, for this guy)

  • Almonds

  • Dried Figs

  • Snorkel (US Divers are solid and run you about $45)

  • Towel

I start my life on the streets by feeding my caffeine addiction and plopping down across the cobblestone street for a proper cappuccino with the locals. A group of 5–8 older men that swells and retracts every 15 mins or so but is constant. My guess is that the local gossip of the town, country, and world is the topic to be discussed over the coffees that eventually evolve into Karlovacko and white wine (for some much earlier than others).

After my much more culturally appropriate cafe, I’m off on a 30 min journey to the rocky beach on the peninsula of Punta Corrente Park. I make my way south through Old Town, navigate the temptation of gelato before noon, ignore the folks trying to sell me boat tours in the harbor, and finally skirt past the brand new-5 star Grand Park Hotel Rovinj.

I decide to skip the first couple of beaches in the park, they naturally attract the larger crowds and families and cut through the park towards the outdoor cafe of Punta Cabana and the pine-shaded beach next door. The walk is cool as the pine trees provide plenty of shade and takes about 10 mins. If I can get to the beach before 11 am, I’ll have my pick of pine trees to set my hammock up on about 20 feet from the crystal clear water of the Adriatic. Once my camp is put together I jump in to cool off from the walk. There are plenty of beaches around the park, some rocky, some a bit more sandy, some everyone is fully clothed and some folks are letting their freak flags fly. This beach is pretty chill, fully clothed and the entrance into the water is nice and easy (no major rocks or sea urchins). I jump in the hammock and doze off for an hour or two in the shade of pine trees and the cool breeze of the Mediterranean.

I’m happily awakened by a local kid selling jelly-filled pastries to the patrons of the beach and shamelessly buy one for lunch. I wash it down with some almonds, figs, and sparkling water (lunch of champions) and start packing up to head back home. I jump in the sea once more, grab a macchiato to go from the cabana, and head off back for home. I stop at the Tommy by Maestral Restaurant (best view of Old Town) to pick up a few things for lunch. Other guests and employees wear their masks and I happily follow their fairly easy and reasonable COVID guidelines. I get some eggplant, ajvar sauce, prosciutto, Pag cheese and olives. All of which are incredible and from the area that I’m staying in. I make it back and sautee some eggplant in the sauce and serve it next to a little charcuterie of whatever is handy that has become the norm for lunch.

After lunch, I walk about 100 feet to the farmers market next door and check out what’s still available. I’m a bit late today and it seems like the fish market is winding down. I’ll be back tomorrow and probably grab some squid and mussels to have for lunch. For two people ill have plenty of food for under $10 and they’ll even clean everything for me (just come back in 20 mins and pick it up). The market also has your traditional fruits, veggies, local honey and jam, and a few souvenirs if needed.

From there I climb the hill to the top of Old Town and the Church of St. Euphemia. The center point of the city with its iconic church steeple seemingly bursting high out of the Adriatic. I sit and watch tourists take pictures and the mega-yachts bringing their mega-rich to the beautiful city on the coast. I eventually wander through Old Town for a while, poking my head into shops and taking pictures of the local life that appears to be from some time once thought lost. Lines of drying clothes hanging between two medieval buildings above a small cafe with men drinking wine seems like something out of Godfather II and not the 21st-century Covid world.

I picked up reading Frank about Croatia while I was over here and really only wish that I had a bit earlier. Really in-depth and personal recommendations on everything from bars to restaurants to activities in almost every notable town in Croatia. I follow his lead and walk about 20 minutes out of town to Konoba Jure for an early dinner, which was pretty interesting and turned out to be a pretty amazing experience. The server informed me that he didn’t have any menus (pretty sure it wasn’t COVID related) but to just let him know what I wanted to eat. When I pressed a little bit further he verbally gave me a few options in the meat, fish, and pasta departments (no pricing given), and although I was slightly hesitant, when in Rovinj. I somehow ordered seafood pasta and squid and polenta (don’t judge me) and they were both amazing. Seafood was the highlight and my lack of portion control was the lowlight. The atmosphere was lively and local and by the end of the meal, I was content beyond my wildest dreams.

Luckily the walk back to the apartment was downhill and if rolling was an option I probably would’ve taken it. You would think that gelato wouldn’t have been an option at this point in my life but unfortunately the pistachio ice cream/gelato of Croatia got its hooks in me while I was over there. One scoop from one of the many stands lining the harbor was all I could muster and I was back to the Airbnb.

I was contemplating calling it a night but there was still a sliver of light in the mid-summer sky and I decided to throw on some trunks and head to the rock beach, cliff walls of Plaza Balota in Old Town. A perfect place to jump in the extremely salty sea and watch the last of the sun disappear for the day. The patio of the excellent and upscale La Puntulina shares a staircase for a portion of the beach entrance, allowing for a mingling of swimsuits and linen suits along the coastline of Old Town.

And with that I was done, it was over. Sun, sea, shopping, savory, and sweets had finally done me in. It was time to crawl back through the sleepy, narrow streets of Rovinj and into bed to get ready for whatever tomorrow had in mind for me in beautiful Croatia.

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