Rovinj - a coastal town with old world charm
As I strolled down the narrow, cobblestone alleys that wind through the old town in Rovinj, I felt like I was back in time a few hundred years. The old town, located on a small, narrow peninsula, rises steeply from the sea to a hill in its center. The shops that line the pedestrian-only street are small. I enjoyed stepping inside to find paintings by a local resident or a souvenir themed to the local area. Above the shops were two or three level homes. The shutter window frames were worn and beaten from the wind and the rain. Some were hanging precariously and looked like they may come crashing down at any moment. Around each corner was another photo op seemingly better than the last. Many of the alleys or pathways, if not blocked by the tall buildings, had great views of the surrounding sea and local islands. It seemed like I couldn’t get enough pictures.
The focal point of the old town is clearly St. Euphemia’s Basilica, which is located towards the end of the peninsula on top of the hill. Finished in the year 1736, it is a Baroque church which lies over the remains of earlier Christian structures. The accompanying bell tower, which resembles St. Mark’s in Venice, was built earlier in the 17th century.
I love climbing to the top of a church’s bell tower. After paying the 20 Kuna fee to the person inside, I stepped through a door into the tower itself. As I looked up, a lump developed in my throat. I realized it was my stomach at the site of the wooden stairway rising to the top – which you could see if you stood in the middle of the tower and looked upwards. The stairway was attached to the inside of the walls as it rose to the top; thereby, turning 90 degrees to the left every 15 steps or so. Each wooden step was nothing but a two by four board that was spaced about three inches from the next step and nailed at each end to the staircase support. Cautiously, I proceeded one step at a time all the while looking between each step and seeing the set of steps I had just covered below me. If you’ve never climbed a set of stairs where you can see between the steps to the level (or bottom) below, it’s pretty freaky – especially the higher you get. I tried to keep my focus upward. Those in front of me were stepping as cautiously as I was. I couldn’t help but look downward. Every time I did, I realized the only thing keeping me from falling to the stairs below was the two by four piece of wood I was standing on. The steps and the whole stairway support seemed pretty strong though. I wasn’t going to chance allowing another person onto the same step that I was on though. As I got closer to the top, it became a little scarier because you realize that you’re a long way from the bottom if the stairs were to break. Almost to the top, I came to one last set of stairs that were at a steep incline and had very narrow wooden steps. As I got to the top of these steps, I climbed onto the floor of the top of the tower. Wow! What an awesome view of the surrounding area – the old town, the harbor area, the nearby islands. I could see for miles around. After getting some incredible photos, I started back down. You think going up was interesting? Going down, your whole focus is looking downward. It seems like there’s a larger gap in between the steps than there previously was. Everyone was stepping slow and cautiously. The steps were not very wide. I stepped a little bit at an angle to get my size 13 Nike shoe firmly on each step. One foot was landing on the side of the step just above where it connected to the stairway support. I was a little leery of stepping in the middle of the step and there was definitely no way that someone was going to be on the same step as I was. Soon I made it to the bottom, via the steps that is. I don’t think I had ever come across a stairway like that before. All in all, it seemed pretty sturdy. It’s just the ability to see in between the steps to the bottom below that’s a little freaky.
I was staying at the Hotel Adriatic – an older hotel that was located in the middle of the old town square right alongside the harbor. It had an outdoor restaurant and a separate café that had nice views of the harbor area. The rooms were pretty dated; however, the staff indicated they would be renovating the entire inside of the hotel starting this fall.
Besides strolling around the old town area and visiting the basilica, I found a number of great trails to hike and/or bike on. On one of the days, I got in a great six-mile hike. There are three very extensive trails, each one 20 km or more, in the Rovinj area. The trails are well signed, fairly level except for some occasional hills and run along the coast or through the nearby countryside. So besides providing a great activity for a couple or a family, they’re a very picturesque place to be. If you’re looking to find a nice, little alcove to sunbathe and swim, this is a great way to find one.
Most of the people sunbathe with their suits on; however, an occasional woman will sunbathe sans her bikini top. If you’re going to remove everything, you should find some place that is somewhat secluded and you won’t be disturbed. I veered off the path down towards the waters edge and came across one such couple – an older couple who probably should not remove any clothes in public. I quickly got back on the trail. That’s the one downfall to trying to find a great photo op. If you didn’t bring your bike with you, there are plenty of bike rental locations around town to rent one for a reasonable hourly or daily rate. One thing I noticed is that there were no really nice beaches with fine sand. The shores along the coast are rocky. People either lay on flat rock surfaces that have been installed by the local community or on a beach that consists of golf-ball-size rocks that don’t appear to be very comfortable.
Next to one of the paths that I hiked along, are some vertical cliffs that were being used by rock climbers. They seem like a great place to get in some climbing practice.
There are many boat activities. There are little kiosks throughout the harbor area that sign up tourists for a panoramic trip around Rovinj and the local islands. Trips last anywhere from one hour for a relaxing, panoramic ride to one of several hours to places like Lim Fjord where the boat stops for people to swim in the water and stops at some caves to meander around in. There are fishing charters for the big catch (e.g. tuna) or just sport fishing for smaller catch. One kiosk I stopped at told me the one thing about the big catch boat is that anything that is caught remains with the owner of the boat. For 600 euro per boat (for up to four people), I don’t think I would want to walk away without the large tuna that I caught. On the sport fishing boats, you could keep your catch said the boating company rep.
There are plenty of outdoor cafes and restaurants throughout the area. Most have awesome views while sipping on a cold beverage or enjoying a delicious meal. How do you select one over the other? They all look and feel alike.
One restaurant that stood out is Puntulina. It’s located on the side of a cliff in the old town. It might have the best location of any restaurant I have ever eaten at. This part of Croatia is very rocky. Puntulina is situated on the side of the cliff and you just might be able to dive into the waters from your table. It’s pretty awesome. Throw in being able to watch the sunset while having a delicious meal and it can’t get any better. During the summer months, reserve a table at least a day or two in advance for the 7:30 seating and you should be all set. I had an octopus salad to start off the meal followed by pasta with lobster accompanied by a white wine from the local area. All in all, it was an excellent evening.
Being the summer season, Rovinj was packed with tourists – primarily from the eastern European countries of Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and local Croatians just seeking to get away to the coast for a holiday. The city is primarily accessed by car or by bus. The bus is a great way to get to Rovinj. I took a three-hour bus ride from Zagreb on Brionni Bus for 155 Kuna (about $27). It was easy and comfortable. The bus station is located right in town - an easy ten to fifteen minute walk to most of the main hotels or guesthouses.