Location: Rovinj, Croatia
When Siu On and I told people we were going to Istria for our honeymoon, everyone told us to visit Istria’s most romantic city Rovinj, and after a day there we understood why. With its polished white stone roads, glimpses of ocean vistas every which way you look, and couples sat at candle lit tables in little restaurants lining narrow street lanes, Rovinj could give Paris a run for its money as the city of love. Even though we’re a little impartial to some romance in our lives, Siu On is no Romeo and I am definitely no Juliet. So for our very belated honeymoon we came to Rovinj to see what all the fuss was about, and I can tell you that for a rather unromantic couple we never stood a chance as Rovinj cast its little spell over us.
Despite arriving by a very unromantic fast bus from Rijeka to the main bus station of Rovinj, we were dropped off just on the outskirts of the old town to navigate our way to our romantic fancy hotel. Unfortunately for us, staying in a small boutique hotel that’s spread out across a number of properties in the old town made it extremely difficult to find in the maze of the Old Town . Even with the assistance of many well meaning locals, each one directed us to the the wrong property; at only an hour into to our arrival, we were both hot and bothered and ready to just give up when we realised we had been walking around in a circle. We eventually found the hotel without losing our tempers at each other and began to settle into being loved up honeymooners.
Around the Old Town
Rovinj has been a popular tourist destination for decades, and it shows with how well preserved its historical buildings are, the numerous large hotels, the many expensive yachts moored in the harbour, and all the cafes, bars and restaurants that are within walking distance of the Old Town. We were told that the Old Town was once a island until the Venetians gave it the ‘Venice treatment’ and filled in the sea between the island and the mainland, built up its narrow streets and then plonked a church and bell tower on its highest point.
St Euphemia’s Church
St Euphemia is the resting place of its namesake saint, and both the church and iconic bell tower were built whilst Istria was still under the Venetian’s control. The interior of the church is free to enter and walk around, and you can even see the sarcophagus of Euphemia whilst inside, however to get to the top of the bell tower it will set you back 40 kuna, though we didn’t go up the top (the line was incredibly long) we were told you get an uninterrupted 360 degree view around Rovinj, to the mountains and out to sea.
Rovinj Old Town
Besides the church and bell tower, the beautiful Old Town is Rovinj’s other big draw card. Balbi’s Archway is an old stone arch that marks the old entry way into the Old Town, which is very small and easy to wander around in circles before you realise it. This is the romantic part of Rovinj that people kept telling us about, and we were glad to have stayed within it for a few nights as we could wait out the crowds and wander when it was quiet. Lining the cobblestone streets are many small artisan shops selling lavender, olive oil, red coral, truffles and other local produce. The buildings are all in the Venetian style and colourful, which makes for great wandering until you get lost.
Speaking of wandering, one of the bet things about wandering around the Old Town is that it won’t cost you a thing, though with the money you save it would be wise to invest in a pair of good shoes. As in many places in Croatia, the cobblestone roads are very well trodden and polished, and having shoes with good grip to navigate the uneven and slippery surfaces will save you a fall or two – especially on the steep descent from St Euphemia’s Church.
If you’re staying in the Old Town there is a beach (and I use the word beach loosely here), on the side of St Euphemia’s Church, where you can laze about on concrete slabs that plunge into the ocean. Like many other beaches in Europe, Croatia doesn’t have the white sandy beaches that I’m used to in Australia, instead they are rocky and many places will concrete over the rocks to make it easier for beach goers to lay and laze. And like in Europe, the Europeans are not shy at the beach and you will see many naked bodies of all shapes and sizes whether you want to or not. Siu On and I even noticed a nude boat tour go past Monte Beach!
Eating is not a problem
Off the slippery cobblestones and lining the rim of the Old Town are many cafes, bars and restaurants all perfectly perched for ocean views. The line up of restaurants expands all the way along the marina and there is a lot of choice to suit different budgets, though compared to other places in Istria we found Rovinj to be on the more expensive side due to its popularity. Siu On and I really enjoyed our seafood meals at both Aqua 2 over looking the harbour, and Balbi’s in the old town.
Outside the Old Town
Don’t just stay within the confines of the old town despite how tempting that may be, and instead hire a bicycle or jump on a ferry and enjoy the best views of Rovinj’s Old Town from afar.
There are a few islands that are a short ferry ride away, with the closest being Sveti Katarina (Katarina Island). Siu On and I came to watch the sunset over Rovinj from Katarina Island (yes, very romantic), which was a 25 kuna water taxi or ferry ride away. There is a large resort here, however, anyone can come and enjoy the island which is small enough to walk around easily.
Along the Marina are many large hotels that also have great views looking back at Rovinj’s Old Town, and also have some nicely kept beach spots. For swimming with a view I’d come here, though be early to snag a good spot as Europeans on vacation are serious when it comes to tanning and set up early!
Punta Corrente and Lone Bay
Just south of Rovinj’s old town is a small national park called Punta Corrente, which has many coves and inlets that are great for swimming. Lone Bay is the biggest draw card here with it’s uninterrupted views of the Old Town and Marina, and is littered with a few beachside bars. Siu On and I rode our hire bikes along the beach and stopped whenever we felt like going in the water.
For one day in Rovinj you’d be rushed to fit all of the above into your visit, and I’d advise allowing at least two to three full days to explore. Rovinj is also more expensive than other cities in Istria across the board, so budget a little more here for accommodation and food. Since we were on our honeymoon here, Siu On and I splurged on a hotel in the Old Town for a few nights at the Angelo D’Oro Hotel for the romantic part of our honeymoon, then moved to a self contained apartment about a 20 minute walk away from town near a cluster of supermarkets to save money on both accommodation and food. Rovinj was also a useful base to hire a car and explore other areas of Istria, as many towns are within a short drive away (such as Pula, which is a 30 minute drive one way), which is why we stayed in Rovinj for longer.
A visit to Istria is definitely not complete without stopping for a few days to fall under Rovinj’s spell; this part of our trip to Croatia will be one that Siu On and I will remember as the only time we’ve ever packed on the PDA (public displays of affection), and acted like honeymooners.
Jelena and Siu On
Last photograph by Siu On Auyeung, all others by Jelena Stipanicev.