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, email@example.com).