Rovinj Saves Istria


Enlarge photo

Enlarge photo

Rovinj — just a two-hour speed-boat ride from Venice — is the best coastal stop between Venice and Dubrovnik. I absolutely love the place. I’m not sure why. Let me just dig through its charms and maybe you’ll understand.

It’s small — like a little hunk of Venice draped over a hill, surrounded by the Adriatic on three sides. Peering through my camera viewfinder I keep thinking, simply, “romantic.”

Rovinj is a collage of vivid travel memories: shiny stones, boats — laden with kitschy shells for sale — rocking giddily in the harbor, and a bell tower with a rickety staircase that requires a powerful faith in the power of wood. From the top a patron-saint-weathervane boldly faces each menacing cloud front that blows in from sea.

Walking through the market puts me in a good mood. I feel like Marilyn Monroe singing to a bunch of sex-starved GIs. Women push grappa and homemade fruit brandies on me. Their sample walnuts are curiously flavorful. I’ll buy a bag on my way out of town…make someone happy.

The old communist monster hotel stands bold and garish on the horizon. Retro Tito-style cafés vie for your business. The woman who runs the Valentino cocktail bar hands out pillows as you arrive — an invitation to find your own nook in the rocks overlooking the bay.

Ducking away from the affluent Croatian chic on the main drag, I walk a few steps up a back street and step into a smoky time-warp bar that took “untouristy” to scary extremes. In fact, it was too untouristy to recommend in the “untouristy bars” section of our book. The town fishermen and alcoholics (generally, it seemed, one and the same) were smoking, bantering loudly, and getting too drunk on cheap homemade beer to notice the nude pinups plastering the walls. I no longer feel like Marilyn Monroe singing to sex-starved GIs. I feel like a rabbit at the nocturnal house at the zoo.

The guy who runs my hotel is Igor. His sales manager is Natasha. Interviewing them for our guidebook, I feel like I’m talking to cartoon characters. For all they know, I’m Boris. No one here knows me yet….it’s strange not to be taken seriously.

Romantic Rovinj is also humble: the fountain on the main square celebrates the water system arriving in 1959. The main monument on the seafront is a Social Realist block of concrete honoring the victims of “fascism” (read: Hitler and Mussolini).

The town’s tiny Batana Boat Museum celebrates the culture around the town’s beloved batana boat — an underwhelming flat-bottomed wooden craft little bigger than a dinghy. A video shows a time-lapse construction of a boat; another exhibit lets you move a wine glass from stain to stain on an old tablecloth, activating recordings of people speaking the local dialect (which apparently is more Venetian these days than Venetian itself); and a TV with a pair of headphones lets you listen to the local betinada music — a small choral group in which one man sings lead while the others imitate instruments.

On the prettiest corner in town, we spot a charming blond woman meeting two travelers to set them up in her rental apartment. My co-author Cameron and I wait until she’s finished, then ambush her with a request to show us the rental, hoping to add it to our guidebook listings. She says, “But I’m just a single woman with four rooms to rent and no agency.” That’s exactly who we want to partner with as we look for budget accommodations in Rovinj. We take a tour and the rooms are great. She can’t believe she’ll be in a book and pay no fee for the promotion.

Cameron and I high-five happily as Rovinj gets even better: We have a new listing for half the price of the town’s cheapest hotel (Miranda Fabris, at Chiurca 5, Db-€40 or €50 in July-Aug, lots of steep stairs, mobile 091-881-8881,


13 Replies to “Rovinj Saves Istria”

  1. I spent 10 days in Croatia a couple of years ago. Rovinj was my last stop. I was supposed to stay in Pula, but one night was enough. I loved Rovinj and had a great time just walking around all the back streets and eating at little cafes along the waterfront.

  2. So what happens now, Rick? Are you coming home and leaving us out here all alone, cold turkey so to speak, with no words to wait for every day or two? Sure, we can re-read your blogs this trip, a time or two, or more, but then what? There has to be another way! Maybe we could just write questions to you and you could reply every week or so. . . Hey – you’ve started something (again), and only you can come up with a solution. Great job, keep it up. John.

  3. I will be in Rovinj for two weeks starting July 14. From what I have seen on the web, ATM fees appear to be pretty high. What is the best way to deal with money? Carry cash, and exchange it there? Exchange it in the US would presumably lead to a worse exchange rate. Or eat the ATM fees?

  4. We have been to Rovinj twice. The people are the friendliest I found anywhere in Europe. The 1st trip we made friends with a shop owner. He invited us in to his home for drinks. The next year we returned and surprised him with a visit. A little later I took a photo of a young couple. They invited us to sit with them and ended up buying us dinner. We will return.

  5. I visited Croatia last summer. Had a good time. We went to the island of Korcula on the way to Dubrovnik. It was nice, but found Turkey a better experience. Croatia is becoming as expensive as the other European countries. Found some locals friendly and some not so friendly. This summer we are going to Turkey and will be skipping Croatia.

  6. We also thought that Rovinj was the jewel of Istria. A good day trip distance from Pula (not nearly charming enough to be an overnight stop) and the gorgeous fjord a few kms away. We stayed with a lovely woman who speaks Italian and a little tiny bit of English named Milena Sosic (pronounced Soshich) Tel from outside the country 385-52-813571. We spoke slowly over the phone and got a lovely room. Otherwise there will be plenty of old ladies at the bus stop with signs for “Sobe/Zimmer” rooms for rent.

  7. My wife and I visited Rovinj last September. It was as enchanting as Rick described. As well, we stayed at accommodations offered by the same Miranda that Rick mentions – Studio Katerina. The room, although reasonably priced, was very small, rather dirty and not very comfortable (I have travelled throughout Europe, including many of the countries of former Yugoslavia). BTW, I found Trogir, outside of Split, to be a more enjoyable town to visit than Rovinj.

  8. A friend visiting Italy last year and seeing ads for Croatia that described it as “Italy the way it used to be”. We visited in May this year. Istria and Rovinj fit the bill. They are a time warp. It is amazing to see an Italian coastal village that has hardly changed at its core since the Venetian era. We stayed at the hotel without elevators right on the old town square and harbor. The rooms were big and clean and cheap. The people were friendly and the food good. Wandering the labyrinth of streets in the old town is a great way to spend a day. A short distance inland Istria is a lot like Tuscany. Lush hilly landscape. Medieval hilltop towns. We stayed in Montovun, which does a good imitation of San Gimignano without the towers. The region produces good wines and more truffles than anywhere on earth. I recommend staying in Rovinj and doing day trips south to Pula for the Roman amphitheater and north to Porec for the 5th century mosaics, then a night in Montovun.

  9. Hello Rick! You and I met several times in various European airports some years ago, when I was working in Kosovo. I’m now working in Bosnia, and 7 years ago fell in love with Istria and 4 years ago bought a house in a small hilltop village with a view over the Adriatic and the Alps/Dolomites. I am more than happy to provide as much information as anyone would like – I’ve explored Istria in great detail since I am there now every weekend. What to see, where to eat, where to stay – focusing on the out of the way gems that are indeed abundant if one knows where to look and whom to consult. I have a steady stream of colleagues and friends every weekend – and I delight in seeing them fall in love with Istria as I have…and as I seem to do over and over again upon every arrival. Let me know if you return Michael Stechow Momjan, Istria, HR

  10. This is such a great feel-good story. I think it is awesome how Rick and his staff are able to make someones’ day (and possibly their business). I truly hope both Rick & Cameron AND Miranda are able to benefit from that small interaction. Rick is always looking out for people on both sides of the travel world….The travelers and the merchants and locals. Rick you are my hero, keep up the great work.

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