A Local’s Guide to Rovinj
TOURISTS & LOCALS
The recent craze in tourism has been to “travel like a local”. The phrase to travel like a local is meant to inspire us to visit places that are off the beaten path, avoid tourist traps, and get as close as we can to the way locals experience their hometowns. There are plenty of off the beaten path spots and adventures in Rovinj. The town itself is quite small, with a population of roughly 15,000. Nevertheless, both locals and tourists seem to find ways to enjoy less crowded places even in peak season.
During peak season, a very large number of locals work in hospitality and they are the ones that make experiences for tourists possible. Even though they might not pack their days with activities such as sightseeing, wine-tasting, golfing, sailing or paddle boarding, they still make sure to include plenty of swimming and sunbathing, and they appreciate a healthy work-life balance.
How does it feel like to be a tourist? How does it feel like to be a local?
Growing up, I always wondered what it was like to be a tourist in Rovinj. What did the town look like through their eyes? What did they like about it? What did they think of us, the locals? No matter how hard I try to plan my clients’ vacations around places and experiences that feel “authentic”, I wonder how close tourists really get to experience the local vibe and mentality. Nevertheless, I hope they enjoy it.
Rovinj, coffee time.
A DAY IN ROVINJ
Here I want to write about the places that are special for me, a Rovinj native. If I were to take you on a tour through town, I would make sure to cover the following spots. If you started early in the day, you could see all of the places I mention, and still make time for a fun afternoon of sunbathing and swimming, followed by a nice dinner in a cozy restaurant by the sea. Of course, if you have more time you can enjoy each and every place for as much time as you want, and you can definitely explore Rovinj’s nature, islands and surroundings in a lot more detail.
Rovinj, aerial view of old town.
1) FOREST PARK PUNTA CORRENTE (GOLDEN CAPE)
Whenever I am in Rovinj on vacation, I like to start my day with a walk through Punta Corrente, a forest park by the sea. If its name sounds remotely Italian to you, that’s because it is. Istria, the region and peninsula where Rovinj is located, is bilingual. Many of its inhabitants are fluent in both Croatian and Italian, and a couple of mixed dialects. I am not sure that any of the locals refer to the park using its Croatian name Zlatni Rt (Golden Cape). They informally just refer to the park as “Punta”. “Idem na Puntu” – means “I am going to the park Punta Corrente”, usually for a run, walk or bike ride. Punta Corrente in Italian means “Cape of the Currents”, because it is the spot where different sea currents mix.
Punta Corrente is a forest park but also a recreation spot that offers several hiking, running, or cycling options on trails that are both along the coast or through the forest. It also has fairly quiet pebble beaches that offer views of the old town and its islands. In the summer, you can also find a few coffee shops and snack bars scattered throughout the park, all with a fairly low-key vibe.
Rovinj, Forest Park Punta Corrente.
Punta Corrente is home to a wide variety of vegetation, mostly Mediterranean, with the notable exception of Eucalyptus trees that will greet you at the South-Eastern entrance to the park. The origins of the park date back to 1890 when an Austrian industrialist by the name of Georg von Hütterott envisioned it to become a resort with hotels, villas, beaches and recreation areas. The big project stopped because of his premature death, and there are no hotels or villas in the park itself, but as mentioned earlier, there are stunning luxury hotels and resorts on the borders of the park that are perhaps promoting and continuing to build upon von Hütterott’s original idea.
The beauty of Punta Corrente is that is starts on the edge of Rovinj’s “urban” area, after Mulini Beach and the beach of Hotel Lone (both public), and it fuses into Kuvi, another neighborhood and coastal recreational area, which flows into Villas Rubin, a family resort and tourist camp, and then finally Polari, another tourist resort, ending with Punta Eva. Well, it doesn’t really end because a local would go further into Veštar, Cisterna, and further away if time permits, all in the search for the most pristine beach, with the least amount of people. The trail I just described is around 8-10 km one way, so it really provides an opportunity for a great hike or bike ride, as well as a stop at a beach to swim and soak in some sunshine.
2) MONTE MULINI & THE MARINA
One of my favorite things to do is to continue my walk from Punta Corrente into downtown, and pass by the newly developed hotels in the area. This is commonly referred to as the pedestrian zone of Monte Mulini. The area and its beaches are open to the public, and so are the common areas of hotels Eden, Lone, Mulini and the newly opened Grand Hotel Park. The hotels Eden and Mulini are the longest standing hotels in this area. Hotel Park used to be in this group until it was completely demolished and remodeled starting two years back.
Rovinj, Mulini Beach.
The renamed and rebuilt Grand Hotel Park is now the most luxurious hotel in town and one of the most luxurious hotels in Croatia. Even though it is currently hosting Hollywood movie stars Selma Hayek and Samuel L. Jackson while they are filming The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, and a multitude of other guests, the hotel is yet to officially have its opening night at the end of May 2019, with a scheduled performance by Andrea Bocelli.
Rovinj, Grand Hotel Park.
Hotel Lone, in the proximity of Grand Hotel Park, is also an architectural and designer’s gem, definitely worth the visit for its appearance, views, and the multitude of small shops, cafes and restaurants.
Rovinj, Hotel Lone.
In the newly reorganized Marina in front of the Grand Hotel Park, one can have one of the best views of Rovinj’s old town, and take some of the best photos. As you proceed towards downtown, you will walk by another important landmark – the swimming pool Delfin, home to the Swimming and Water Polo Club Delfin Rovinj. This is where both me and my brother (and many other kids in town) learnt to swim. The pool is a professional pool for recreation and swimming, but you can visit and swim during the day when the club members are not training. You can enjoy beautiful views of the islands and the old town as well, and sip a drink or have a snack to your liking.
3) THE “RIVA”
What is formally known as Obala Vladimira Nazora, but for locals just “Riva”, is the stretch of seaside in front of the old (and now closed) tobacco factory, an important landmark in the history of Rovinj. Next to the tobacco factory you can visit the Adris Gallery where you can see curated exhibitions of contemporary Croatian artists. In front of the gallery you will see a wall that was painted by world famous Croatian artist Edo Murtić.
Rovinj, Adris Gallery.
After visiting the gallery, you can have a bite at Maestral, a bistro serving local fare, from appetizers of tasty prosciutto to main courses such as pizza and branzino. Add to it a glass of Malvazija, a refreshing local white wine, or sultry Cabernet from the inland of Istria, and you are one step closer to becoming a connoisseur of local cuisine.
You can continue walking along the coast all the way to Marshal Tito square, or just referred to by locals as “square”, since it is the biggest square in town, and the main meeting point for many people. On your way you will likely see a couple of fun spots, some of them very popular with locals, such as Tabacchina, Havana Bar, and Caffe Cinema. Caffe Cinema is a coffee and pastry shop located in the former local movie theater Kino Beograd (Cinema Belgrade). Behind the coffee shop you can visit the Multimedia Center (MMC) for a workshop or small exhibition.
4) MARSHAL TITO SQUARE
Marshal Tito Square is one of the most common meeting points for locals. It is very common for European cities and towns to have a “center”, and usually this is marked by a square, which locals normally refer to as “main square”. Marshal Tito Square is Rovinj’s main square. This is where the town’s biggest open air events happen – such as music or dance festivals, as well as concerts and the Carnival (Mardi Gras). Marshal Tito Square is the center of town and from it one can go in several different directions to explore other attractions. But before going anywhere, take a look around.
At the center of the square there is a fountain with a statue of a boy holding a fish by the Croatian sculptors Marijan Kocković and Vinko Matković. The fountain was built in 1959 to commemorate the end of the construction of an important aqueduct for the town of Rovinj, and it also marks the beginning of its popularity as a tourist destination.
Rovinj, Marshal Tito Square, Fountain.
If you are facing the sea, take some time to soak in the beauty of the harbor. In front of you, you will see a small pier that is a stop for the seasonal ferry that takes tourists and locals to two of the biggest islands in Rovinj’s archipelago. The closest one that you can see from the shore is the island of St. Catherine (Sveta Katarina). The one that is further away is the island of St. Andrew (Sveti Andrija), but locals commonly refer to it as Red Island. If you choose to visit the Red Island you will be in for a surprise, because it actually consists of two artificially connected islands, Red Island and Maškin. There are no cars on the islands and the atmosphere is very low key, particularly suitable for visitors looking for a bit of an escape from the rest of the town. The Red Island has been inhabited since at least the 6th century when the Benedictine monastery was built. Later on, the church and monastery were renovated by Franciscans, and then closed by Napoleon. Briefly, the island also hosted a cement and lime factory, before the industrialist von Hütterott bought the island and decided to convert it into a healthy, resort-like recreational area, much like it is today.
Rovinj, view of archipelago with Church of St. Euphemia.
Other landmarks that you can find on Marshal Tito Square are the town clok, Balbi’s Arch and the town’s Heritage Museum.
Rovinj, Marshal Tito Square, Balbi’s Arch.
Built in 1679, Balbi’s Arch used to be the town’s main gate during Venetian times and you can spot the recognizable symbol of the Serenissima at the top – a winged lion. You can spot the same symbol on the tower of the town clock, which was first built in the 12th century but subsequently rebuilt and restored many times over the years.
Rovinj, Marshal Tito Square, Town Clock.
The Hotel Adriatic is also worth the mention since it is a spot you will most likely be tempted to visit for its interior, as well as to have a drink and snack on its patio – the perfect spot for people watching or just admiring the town square.
Rovinj, view of Marshal Tito Square, Hotel Adriatic and the Church of St. Euphemia in the background.
From Marshal Tito Square, there are a couple of ways to get to the top of the hill to see the church of Saint Euphemia, and my favorite one is through Via Santa Croce.
5) VIA SANTA CROCE
If you’re on Marshal Tito Square facing the sea with the little pier in front of you, turn to your right and keep walking along the seashore, to the end of the square. You will see restaurants to your right, as well as another museum, the Batana Eco-museum. The batana is a fisherman boat, one of the best preserved symbols of Rovinj’s cultural heritage. The museum not only aims to bring awareness to the importance of the batana throughout the ages, but also to bring awareness to the importance of cultural preservation that gives tourism a more mindful aspect.
A little bit past the museum, to your left, there is a bigger pier, conveniently called by locals “Molo Grande”, or “Big Pier”, to distinguish it from the “Little Pier” you saw earlier at the square.
If you keep walking straight and follow the cobble stone path, this is where Via Santa Croce (Saint Cross Street) begins. You can follow this street all the way to the top of the hill to the church of Saint Euphemia, the main and biggest church in town. It was very common in the middle ages (and earlier) to build churches on top of hills, to be closer to God and the heavens. Before reaching the church, there are a few fun stops you can make in Santa Croce, and I will mention them in sequence.
Rovinj, Mediterraneo Cocktail Bar.
The first is at Mediterraneo Cocktail Bar. Mediterraneo opened in 2015 and is situated in a very special location where you can sip your drink or coffee right above the sea, perhaps even with your feet in the water. Mediterraneo attracts thousands of visitors each year, and is only open for about six months a year (April – October), roughly as long as the “season” lasts (i.e. the tourist season). If you take a peak at the bar’s social media presence, you will see that they manage to engage hundreds of users with their inspiring images of beautifully crafted cocktails served on picturesque pastel-colored coffee tables. The whole environment is very relaxing and cozy, with pillows scattered over rocks for the more adventurous visitors to sit on and sip their delicacies, and more classic tables for those needing the comfort of a chair. From here, enjoy the view of St. Catherine’s island, the harbor and the marina, and further away of the horizon.
Rovinj, Mediterraneo Cocktail Bar.
The next stop in Santa Croce is the little church of Santa Croce that has been turned into an art gallery. You can walk in and around the church/gallery, and again admire the view from here – something you will notice you will never get tired of. If you continue walking, you will reach the third stop – the remains of what used to be the town walls protecting it from invaders. In Medieval times, it was very common for towns to be surrounded by town walls, especially if they were important strategic points. Rovinj was part of the Republic of Venice from 1283 to 1797, and was one of the most important towns in Istria. As you might have already noticed, Rovinj’s old town architecture resembles Venetian architecture, and the tower of the Church of St. Euphemia was designed to resemble that of St. Marco in Venice. The beautiful restaurant that you see if you look down to the left from the walls is called La Puntulina and it serves unique local fare that has found its way to many renowned and worldly palates.
Rovinj, Town Walls.
6) CHURCH OF SAINT EUPHEMIA
If you keep walking on the cobble stone path, the road will start to wind and get more inclined, a sign that you are close to the top of the hill, and you have almost reached the Church of Saint Euphemia. Once you reach the church and before going in, rest for a moment and admire the view Rovinj’s shoreline from this beautiful vista point.
Rovinj, Church of St. Euphemia.
The church of Saint Euphemia is the biggest and most important church in town. In its current form, the church was built in Baroque architecture in the mid 1700s over remains of older churches. It was first dedicated to St. George, and then renamed to St. Euphemia. Inside the church you can admire paintings and statues from the Gothic and Baroque periods, and you can also visit the sarcophagus of St. Euphemia, the patron-saint of the town of Rovinj. The legend of how the sarcophagus with the body of St. Euphemia found its way to the shores of Rovinj always fascinated me as a kid.
St. Euphemia from Chalcedon was a martyr that was killed by Roman Tsar Diocletian on September 16, 304 AD for having refused to give up Christianity. Her remains were preserved, and in 620 AD moved to Constantinople in a church that Tsar Constantine had built in her honor. When the Iconoclasts came to power in 800 AD they forced Christians to remove the relics of St. Euphemia, and the sarcophagus found its way to the shores of Rovinj at the dawn of July 13, 800 AD. Many people tried to drag the heavy sarcophagus up to the church of St. George, but with no success. Finally, a little boy who responded to the call of the saint, managed to transport the sarcophagus to the top of the hill with the help of two cows. The day of St. Euphemia is celebrated on September 16 and it is a big celebration that attracts not only locals but also visitors from the surrounding towns.
7) VIA GRISIA
After visiting the church, it’s time to start our descent back to town. Usually, I go through Via Grisia. This charming cobble-stoned street is home to many artists, art galleries, artisans and local souvenir shops. During the summer you will find many galleries open all day long, and the street is particularly busy at night. On the second Sunday in August, a big open-air art expo and competition called “Grisia” takes place along the street, from bottom of the hill all the way to the top with many works exposed just in front of the church of St. Euphemia. The first Grisia dates back to 1967 but the idea emerged quite spontaneously in 1966 when a group of American tourists, fascinated with the work of local artists, bought a total of 12 paintings. Locals made it a tradition ever since and it has ever since attracted tourists and locals in big numbers. The expo is also an occasion for young and emerging artists to showcase their talent, and every year the winner of the competition is chosen. Many renowned artists also exhibit their work, sometimes giving quite a twist to the ordinary with their unusual conceptual installations.
Rovinj, Via Grisia.
As you make your descent along Via Grisia, you will eventually get back down to Marshal Tito Square, passing through Balbi’s Arch.
Once at Marshal Tito Square you can make a left turn, and walk towards the farmers market and Valdibora. An optional and recommended stop is, of course, a visit to the Rovinj Heritage Museum.
A literal translation of “Valdibora” would mean “Valley of the Bora”, and bora being the very cold and strong north to northeastern wind that is specific to the Adriatic. The bora can be quite dangerous and rise unexpectedly, and the saying goes that “when the bora sails, you don’t”. However, the bora is also known by the locals to “clear the skies”, in that when the bora starts blowing after several rainy days, locals cheer because it means sunshine will follow.
Valdibora is now mainly a huge parking area, however, just before the parking area starts, you can enjoy a little walk along the “riva” and take stunning photos of the old town. You will notice a big Communist era monument dedicated to the fallen soldiers and victims of fascism that lost their lives in World War II.
Rovinj, Monument to Fallen Fighters and Victims of Fascist Terror.
You can also find a farmers market with local produce, as well as many different kinds of grappa and other carefully prepared liquors that locals like to consume for “medicinal” purposes. Welcome to Istria!
Rovinj, Farmers Market.
9) VIA CARRERA
It is appropriate to end this little tour with Via Carrera, Rovinj’s “main street”, that is, the main thoroughfare in the downtown area. There is very limited traffic in the downtown area and only vehicles with special permits can drive through the old town, Via Carrera and the square. Carrera is full of shops and boutiques, as well as coffee and wine bars. It is likely you will walk through Carrera many times during your visit and this is probably going to be the most crowded street both day and night. You will likely recognize locals by their faster walking pace as they are headed to work or to their favorite coffee place. Tourists will be strolling slowly while admiring the shops or waiting in line for a scoop of gelato.
Rovinj, Via Carrera.
I hope you enjoyed this small tour of Rovinj! It is much more beautiful and interesting in person, of course, and I hope this mini guide has provided you with some inspiration.
There is obviously a lot more to see and do, and I hope your travel plans will take you to Rovinj one day. If you do, do not hesitate to reach out and ask for recommendations!
Sretan put! Buon viaggio! Safe travels! Bon voyage! ¡Buen viaje!
Rovinj has been a popular vacation spot for tourists from all over the world for at least the past three decades, and according to the stories my parents told me, the tradition is even longer. It used to be dubbed the “Saint-Tropez” of Croatia for its unique and picturesque architecture, as well as its beaches, restaurants, bistros and nightlife.
A visit to Rovinj can be a romantic weekend getaway, or a longer vacation, depending on your time and appetite for adventure. There are plenty of attractions and one seldom gets tired of strolling around the old town. You can go island hopping with the local ferry or you can even rent a boat and sail to the myriad of small islands in the town’s archipelago.
During the summer months, Rovinj gets pretty crowded, so be prepared to experience considerable amounts of traffic – particularly getting into town – as well as to encounter crowds of people walking through its streets, both during the day and at night. This might not sound appealing if you are looking for a low-key vacation, but this bustling atmosphere is also what lifts its spirit and makes it so unique. If you want to avoid getting stuck in traffic and stress about parking, walking or renting a bike are always an option.
Rovinj is also an excellent point on where to “park” yourself for a longer time period and from where to visit other cities and attractions in Istria.