Rovinj is the jewel in Croatia’s crown
There’s a Tuscan touch to this former Adriatic island
�Don’t think you’ve done Croatia if your only experience is a weekend break in Dubrovnik.
British travellers have long embraced the country’s Dalmatian coast, but these days, visitors are venturing farther north to Istria, which is developing a reputation as one of Europe’s most romantic spots.
In the last decade, Istria has reinvented itself as a new Croatian Riviera: The sunlit rolling hills, miles of vineyards, and charming medieval towns could easily be mistaken for Tuscany, while its beaches sparkle as brightly as any of those of the more renowned coast to the south.
Perhaps the most popular resort on this stretch of coastline is the cathedral capped, hilltop town of Rovinj.
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Founded in the third century, Rovinj was originally an island – it wasn’t connected to the mainland until the 18th century – and as a result, it’s surrounded on all sides by the Adriatic: a sparkling promenade of sun-bleached red-tiled roofs, faded ochre buildings and winding stone streets.
Rovinj feels different from the rest of Croatia, though much of that is nature’s work.Surrounded by greenery and forest, this is a land of vineyards and olive groves, which helps to explain why Rovinj is often referred to as the most Italian of the Croatian coastal towns.
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Long and lazy
Street signs are marked in Croatian and Italian and the elegant piazzas, quayside cafes and houses that stretch down to the seafront all speak to the region’s Italian influence.
Any self-respecting restaurant here serves espressos and 20 flavours of ice cream; even its 17th-century bell tower was designed by Italian architechts and modelled after Venice’s San Marco.
Rovinj is dominated by the Cathedral of St. Euphemia and the bell tower – the tallest in Istria – offers a picture-postcard view from every angle. The town occupies a place roughly at the centre of Croatia’s long coastline, along which are 22 islands, in an area of protected natural heritage
Days in Rovinj are mostly long and lazy. Down by the seafront, yachts glide in and out of the marina, wine flows in the main square’s open-air cafes and families stroll through the maze of cobbled streets packed with tiny art shops and craft studios.
By night, a network of racuous bars tucked behind the seafront cater to revellers, but with no traffic allowed in the narrow winding streets, this former fishing village retains a laidback atmosphere at all times.
Although Rovinj lacks sandy beaches, it has good, clear sea water, which makes it ideal for sailing. There are a handful of good hotels in the area: We stayed at Hotel Monte Mulini, a boutique five-star hotel on the edge of town, which delivers both luxury and a stunning location; Monte Mulini looks out across the seafront to the picturesque Red Island, a 10-minute boat ride from the harbour.
The hotel is equipped with swimming pool, spa and its own award-winning restaurant and wine cellar.
Unsurpsingly for an area rich in Italian influence, Istrian cuisine is a delight: wild mushrooms, boars, truffles and cured ham (prsut) dot the menus in Rovinj, although seafood is the town’s speciality. The local fish stew (brodet) and squid ink risotto are both delicious.
Istria’s olive oil – served in liquer glasses – is world renowned, while a red champagne-like wine is the local drink of choice.
The region’s wines are also increasingly highly regarded – particularly the white Malvazijza wine – which is arguably as good as anything on the other side of the Adriatic.
Current room rates at Hotel Monte Mulini start from €276 including breakfast and VAT for a Premium double room. For further information or reservations visit www.montemulinihotel.com or call +385 (0)52 636 000.