8.7.2016 ROVINJ, Croatia
WE said goodbye to Poreč, hopped the bus to Rovinj, and headed toward our dream destination. Visions of seafood, sun and wine dancing in our head. After arriving at the bus station, we lugged our stuff down the souvenier shop lined Ulica Carera towards our AirBnB Host’s rental office. The streets grew narrower, cobblestony-er and steeper as we got further into the Old Town. Even before AirBnb was a thing, throughout Croatia people have offered their homes or spare rooms as accommodations for travelers. So clearly there is a well established network for “Bed and Breakfast” accommodation, and every other building has the blue and gold “APARTMAN” (apartment for rent) or “SOBE” (room for rent) sign out front. Our host’s directions led us to the office that manages his rental, and within 10 minutes from bus to door we were in our new home.
“step out of the bus, half asleep, and this mystical vibe hit me in the face” d.
“rovinj is a dream, for now thats all i feel like writing. Amazing, absolutely amazing…” a.
Nestled in the heart of Old Town, this apartment was far and away our favorite of the many “homes” we had along the way. Super cute, with a comfortable vibe and HUGE (by our sad Manhattan standards). Great kitchen, comfy bedroom and colorful living room. Our favorite part was not just the washing machine, but the laundry line out the bathroom window. There is something incredibly satisfying in hanging the laundry out to dry over a cobblestone alley. Just like we took pictures of people’s laundry in Burano, now people could take pictures of our laundry! We were basically locals.
Heres a link to our lovely Rovinj home hosted by Tomislav. Rovinj Old town- Apartment Crnkovic
AFTER settling in, a quick tour of our neighborhood revealed an amazing outdoor market where we stocked up on local dried figs, fresh produce and eggs. At the grocery store we nailed the check out etiquette, snickering internally as the other tourists struggled. Amateurs. It was clear that Rovinj is a more popular place for international tourists than Poreč, but we felt hip having had a few days in Croatia under our belt and a few handy phrases to flash around.
“i feel like i’m walking through a fairy tale town.” d.
“rovinj has lived up to its dream zone status.” a.
ROVINJ and its vibe are captivating. Its no wonder artists rival fishermen as the local occupation. We hadn’t had time to thoroughly investigate the neighborhood, so for our first dinner we went with a Lonely Planet recommendation to make things easy. Veli Jože is a kitchy joint with a boisterous seafood shanty vibe just off the main square. The refreshing white wine (malvazjia kozolovič) was great and the calamari we got for an appetizer was probably the freshest we’ve ever had. Although the service was courteous, we earned quizzical looks when we ordered the calamari as an appetizer; here in Rovinj apparently they take their squid entrée level serious. The polenta with black truffles was disappointing, but in retrospect probably just the wrong thing to order at a seasfood restaurant. On the other hand the lobster tagliatelle was off the charts. We wouldn’t write Veli Jože off…just don’t order the polenta.
THE next morning we made our breakfast in our Rovinj home, a daily highlight, and headed up to Cathedral Saint Eufemia. Like Poreč, Rovinj is a bulb of land flanked by the harbor, Adriatic Sea and a bay. The Old Town constitutes a warren of Venetian constructed buildings and lanes that rise up from the water, topped off like a crown with the church built for Rovinj’s patron saint. We climbed through Old Town along the Grisia, a steep cobblestone lane lined with shops that local artists use to sell their wares.
ACCORDING to local lore (although the internet has variations), Saint Euphemia was thrown to the lions by Emperor Diocletian in 304 AD for being a Christian. Her body and sarcophagus disappeared, but eventually showed up in some kind of “ghost boat” off the coast of ancient Rovinj, or Rovingo as its pronounced in Italian. They got the sarcophagus off the ghost boat somehow, but no one could move it after that until a little boy and his cows pulled the massive stone coffin to the top of the hill where it rests to this day; the basilica created around it. The cathedral is a baroque construction, rare for the area, with a bell tower fashioned after the one in San Marco Square in Venice.
Always hungry for “the shot” Adam insisted they pay the few kuna to go to the top of the bell tower and check out the view. Little did he know that this bell tower was not retrofitted with an elevator like the one in San Marco…let alone anything close to modern stairs. The harrowing climb to the top is basically hell on earth for anyone who is afraid of heights. Its about 8 stories of rickety wooden “stairs” winding up the narrow tower. Each step warped and creaking after centuries of use. You can see straight down through the slats, raising the vertigo and heart rate with each treacherous step. A women we passed frozen with fear on the way up didn’t even make it, presumably forced to retreat to terra firma. We made it though, got some shots through clenched teeth and heart palpitations, and gave thanks to St. Euphemia when we were safely back on the ground. Seriously though, they need a better sign to warn people what they are getting into with that climb.
“holding onto a weirdly in-depth and detailed conversation about scary stairs in our life, we somehow managed to distract ourselves from the fear.” d.
“terror rose higher in my throat with each treacherous flip-flopped step…but we were in the right place to give thanks to god when we got back down.” a.
AS we made our way back down the hill through town, we stumbled across what became our favorite café- Trevisol. Along the cobblestone steps outside the café there was a variety of colorful cushions and tables to lounge around on. The actual inside of Café Trevisol is closet sized, but as we found many places do around here, Trevisol incorporates the town itself into its al fresco seating area. The perfect place to sip an espresso and watch the Rovinj world go by.
Properly caffeinated, we dropped the rest of the way down to the “beach”. The populated, but not crowded area known as the “plaža” was not the sandy strip we usually associate with beaches, but rather the rocky skirt around the peninsula separating town from sea. We got to thinking this set up is kind of better than an everyday sandy beach. Granted we’ll take a beach anyway we can get it, but the crag-life has a lot going for it. The white rock cliffs that connect city to sea are the perfect place to plop down your towel, crack open an Ožujsko and soak in some sun. It’s easy to find a nook and feel like you have the place all to your self. Not to mention the terrain slipping into the sea just has personality. White rock, sapphire sky melting into cobalt sea…its just about exactly where we wanted to be.
COSTUME change and we were back at it again. Valentino bar had been a stubborn “must do” in town as we researched our trip and we’d been looking forward to sipping a nice cocktail during golden hour. We dressed the part, and snagged our spot to watch the show. The lounge exudes swank and consists of a small patch of coast with cushions scattered about the rocks. While it was truly a luxe experience, complete with pink parasol and pricey tea sandwiches, we couldn’t help but notice that for the price of a bottle of malvazjia from the grocery store you could have the same view from virtually any other spot along the water. That said, the experience is truly unique and well worth a splurge.
ONCE the ball dropped, we followed our noses next door to Lampo Konoba for grilled seafood. We were whisked to an ocean front terrace we didn’t realize existed and ended up having a good, but not great meal. Location was great, service was great, but the food wasn’t anything to write home about. Maybe it was a case of too high expectations, but our meal of charcuterrie, anchovies and grilled local fish wasn’t anything special.
Hoping to extend the lifespan of our outfits, after dinner we strolled along the marina. For a Sunday night there was a surprising amount of activity. Every few hundred meters a band was playing and street perfomers were everywhere. Adding to the magic of the city we were able to have a glimpse of the rings of Saturn. It was true that Saturn and Mars were in a unique formation and with the naked eye one could see them huddled together in the summer night sky, but for a few kuna this guy at the marina would let you use his telescope to check it out in detail. Looking through the eyepiece trained at Saturn, you could clearly see the planet and its telltale rings plain as day. Totally random, but it was these types of little miracles that made Rovinj so enchanting.
AFTER doing a circuit of the marina we cut back into the old town. Not ready for the night to end, we ducked into Caffe Batel around the corner from our place. It became our Rovinj “dive bar”, not that it was crappy, just cozy and familiar. Nice spot for a late night rakija, anytime snack or morning coffee. A place where everyone knows each other, and they are quick to welcome you in.
DAY Three in Rovinj we set out to explore the adjacent island/resort called Sveta Katarina. We were still getting used to and thoroughly enjoying the pine forests that run right up to the water line in Istria. The smell of pine, the crunch of needles underfoot, the sound of waves lapping against the coast line. It seemed like an impossible sense bouquet, but here we were. Sveta Katarina is a 15 minute ferry ride across from the marina, and a water taxi is easily found at any of the piers. Just don’t forget to check what time the last return ferry comes back AND get a return ticket; they don’t sell them on the boats coming back, but you can also get return tickets at the front desk of the resort on the island. The water taxis drop you off in the midst of a sprawling resort that is popular with families. We decided to walk the perimeter of the island to find a more secluded spot. The 20 minute walk through the pine forests wound around the small island, passing ruins of resorts abandoned and aggressive bird colonies protecting their brood (this must be where the local sea birds come to lay their eggs).
There were some adventurous looking options for secluded cliff beaches, but being that we had some cliff beach action back home in Rovinj we ended up back at the main beach by the resort. Although it was populated with a handful of families, the little bay had shady pines trees and a pebble beach which was a different look for us. Protip: when vacationing by the beach, take 20 minutes out of your day to swim some laps. You’re enjoying the water and won’t have to worry about that extra serving of pasta. Another tip: Although we struggled through it, the rocky beaches of this part of the world do a number on one’s feet. Buy the ugly water shoes. Yes fashion hurts, but we could’ve saved some painful steps by sporting the damn water shoes.
So laps were swam, feet were bruised and sun was soaked. Another good day in the life.
THAT night we did Valentino bar on a budget. We bought a bottle of malvazija and headed out to the pier for sunset. In our opinion this is a better option than the high-priced lounges and a perfect example of the Good Life Concept. For about $11 we enjoyed the stunning view, shared a bottle of great wine and a Cuban cigar. An eighth of the price of the fancier options, and incalculably more special. We can’t think of a better angle to take in the sun’s daily show with Rovinj’s Old Town dutifully standing at attention.
“could have been the magic, but this is one of the best sunsets i’ve ever seen.” d.
“in this moment i’m feeling all the amazement i hoped to feel in Rovinj.” a.
ON a whim we stopped at Ancora for dinner (anything with an anchor sucks us in). Sorry for all the superlatives, but this one ranks as best meal in Rovinj. As “appetizers”, while we waited for a table, we grabbed another bottle of wine next door (for later) and enjoyed some free samples of truffles, olive oil and rakija. Once seated, we only had room for mains, and left only wishing we had room for more. Steak with white truffles and Adriatic grilled tuna; boom surf and turf. The steak wins most decadent in the ever growing superlative section of these chronicles, and the tuna was EXACTLY what we had been craving; a hefty cut of fresh caught fish grilled to perfection. Ancora for the win…
WE were struggling to choose the perfect wine or olive oil or lavender tour when we realized we both hate tours. Cookie cutter “experiences”, on-the-bus-off-the-bus regiments, boring meal at some mediocre joint on the take. 8am call time. Thanks but no thanks. We did the math and it was atucllay cheaper to do it ourselves; not to mention incalculably more satisfying. So we secured a whip, with the plan to drive ourselves to the next stop, Zadar, and stop along the way at some local wineries, etc.
After renting the car, we took the rest of the day for what we call “an office day”; a necessity for any long form adven-cation. It’s easy to get sucked into the “I’ll just go with the flow, whatever happens it for a reason” mentality, but to avoid buzz killing problems down the road these days are a must. Well at least maybe for old people. Office days could be boring, a lot of logistical stuff; booking rooms down the line, running errands, retocoing tbe coffers. But it’s also kind of cool to be confortable enough in an exotic local to take care of these mundane activities like a local. We still managed some beach time of course, but in general it was a productively chill day.
“in a magical place even office days have a sparkle.” d.
“death before excursion package.” a.
WE had our big plans for the night though! During our stroll after dinner the night before we ran across La Concha, a Mexican restaurant we just had to check out. Ok putting aside any Comida Mexicana snobbiness, we’ll try to give an unbiased description of the events that followed.
The place was pretty nice- lots of comforting if not stereotypical Mexican kitch, large outdoor space with a stage and a duo playing live Latin music. It felt like the place had just opened, no one quite knew what was going on and EVERYONE was in the weeds. We couldn’t quite figure out what the problem was (it wasn’t really that crowded), but the service was crazy bad and everyone was running around like pollos with their heads cut off. The margaritas were good though, and when we finally got a seat the ambiance felt just fine.
<GRANDE SNOB ALERTA> Then came the food…umm the chips were good…
The salsa and guacamole were definetly of an El Paso jar, but there also was a yogurt salsa that was really really good and we hope to recreate. Daniela ordered the enchilada “carne de res”, not worth talking about; one word- ground beef. Adam got the veggie tacos and although they were, um…different, they really hit the spot. Three flour tortillas were topped with with a tasty Tex-mex red bean and grilled zucchini chile, with corn, lettuce peppers, cabbage, and that tasty yogurt salsa. The best/weirdest part of the whole experience was the possibly drunk, probably fake mustache having, sombrero wearing guy that would stumble between the rolling silverware on the side and awkwardly dancing on the stage with the band. One wonders whether he was hired here or just woke up out front one morning and asked for some spending about town money.
Guy- “Woof I’ve been on a bender but could use some cash”
La Concha Manager- “Do you have any skills or experience?”
Manager- “Ok put on this mustache and start rolling silverware. We’ll go from there”.
To end the experience we had to try the “homemade tequila”. This should be rich right? Maybe help us forget the madness ever happened? It tasted like water flavored with cinnamon, but after taking forever to arrive it was on the casa so no harm no foul.
Well that experiment globalism could use some work, but hopefully we weren’t toooo snobby. Suffice to say we stuck to local food for the rest of the trip.
OUR last day in Rovinj was a cloudy one, but by now we were feeling totally at home and happy to go about our daily routine . A writing session by the sea, coffee and a snack at Trevisol, even an impromptu jog up and around the old town. There’s almost no better way to get a tactile feel for a place than taking a short cruise through the streets…and after such dedication to fitness one definetly deserves that extra gelato. Added bonus to working up a sweat in a place like Rovinj is that any steep, stair laden course you choose can end directly at a cliff off which you can plunge into the refreshing blue sea. Fitness at its finest…
The sun fought its way through the clouds by the evening for one last sunset to punctuate our magical stay in our favorite little town by the Adriatic Sea.
FOR our last meal in Rovinj we stopped at a place whose liveliness and delicious grilled fish smell had been tempting us all week. Segutra is nestled in a back alley between the center of Old Town and the marina. This delightfully inviting, open air restaurant is basically the co-opted alley itself. Tables spilling out through the lane, with a kitchen window on one side, and a tiny bar inside the opposite. This technique of adopting the surrounding city itself as the backbone for establishments was a thing we first noticed at Trevisol, and would see for the rest of our time in Croatia, but Segutra is an especially cozy example. There was a bit of chill in the air this night so we opted for the local red wine “teran”, but food wise we stuck to everything we knew and loved so far. Grilled squid with the ubiquitous sautéed potato and spinach side, local tuna and fresh grilled veggies, and of course truffle cheese and pršut…at this point we couldn’t go a day without it. All cooked to perfection, amazing ambiance, great service. All around a special meal in our little heaven by the sea.
ROVINJ joins the list of those exquisite corners of the world you could see yourself living at one day. Finally write those memoirs or pick up painting or open that coffee shop or buy a vineyard. The quiet, reflective, simple life you think would be just the thing.
One day we’ll move here we always say. But for now, what a blessing to have been.
We were feeling very content and full of happiness, but also excited for the next leg; the road trip to Zadar and our introduction to the region called Dalmatia.
Up next, we hit the road.
“a taste of a magic land that makes me want to come back and feel enchanted again.” d.
“holy shit. rovinj. no words. so what if we rented a little flat, learned to make a latte, work in a cafe by day…taught english or spanish when we needed to…and lived an artful life which included a dive in the ocean everyday…” a.