After a few days in pristine Slovenia, the next leg of our trip was based in the seaside town of Rovinj on Croatia’s Istrian peninsula. Istria was part of Italy up until the end of World War II and the evidence of Italy’s impact on the region’s culture and cuisine remains very apparent. Most signs in the area are bilingual and the food is strongly influenced by their boot-shaped neighbor.
Rovinj is a beautiful town on the Adriatic coast with a well-intact, pedestrian-only old town. In addition to spending each evening in the town, we also unexpectedly stayed for one of the days that we had planned on taking a day trip as Brittany was out of commission with a cold. We quickly fell in love with the town and got into the routine of grabbing gelato (perhaps hazelnut from Adria or maybe chocolate and lemon from Al Ponte Gelateria, where the gelato scooper literally laughed out loud at Rico for wanting three scoops of lemon) after dinner (perhaps waterside outdoor dining of truffles—one of Istria’s specialties—with great views at La Puntulina or maybe delicious takeaway “Slavonska” pizza from Pizzeria Da Sergio) and snagging a spot on the water to watch the sunset.
There was plenty to do in the old town that kept us entertained—some things planned, others not. For one example, we were caught in the middle of a wedding photo shoot on the rocks during one of the sunsets. For another, we happened to be in town during the ramp up to a massive air show; seeing the planes practicing their tight turns and acrobatic maneuvers right on the water by the old town was absolutely mind-blowing. There was just a great vibe in the town with all of the live music and traditional dance performances in the squares.
Any visitor to Rovinj should have at the top of their list strolling Ulica Grisia up to Sveta Eufemija. Ulica Grisia is a hilly, cobblestoned street through the center of the old town that is renowned for being the center of art in Rovinj and a great place to pick up a souvenir. We did just that, strolling into an artist’s studio on one of the side streets off the main drag and finding a beautiful painting of the town from the water. Though the man at the studio did not speak much English, he and Brittany were able to talk a bit about art and he even gave us traditional good luck charms for our marriage at no extra cost. Sveta Eufemija is an amazing Baroque church capping the top of the hill—the highest point in Rovinj. We climbed some of the thinnest and steepest wooden stairs we’ve ever encountered to the top of the bell tower for a magical 360-degree view of the town and its environs.
From our home base of Rovinj we took a handful of day trips throughout the region, primarily staying along the coast but also venturing inland for a different look at Istria.
Motovun is a tiny medieval town perched atop a hill in central Istria. We parked at the foot of the hill and took the shuttle bus up to the top for a modest fee. The main square is a small one but we took a seat to enjoy the calmness of the town and people watch the few visitors and locals that were out and about. We made our way to the edge of the hill where you can walk around the old city walls and take in the views of vineyards and rolling hills stretching as far as the eye can see. We made our way around twice before seeking refreshment in the form of lemon gelato from Kastel. After some more wandering, we caught the bus back down to the car.
Poreč is a seaside town a 45-minute drive north of Rovinj. The town’s main draw is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Euphrasian Basilica which did not disappoint. As if the basilica was not beautiful enough, we walked up to the top of the bell tower for some more great views from above. We wandered through the town, even stumbling on some kind of community-run outdoor home for orphaned cats and dogs, before making our way to the water to find somewhere to eat. Sharing vegetarian tagliatelle and spaghetti pomodoro (after a starter of amazing goat cheese on crostini), we sat and looked out to the water, taking a hint from the locals and savoring the long meal.
Pula is situated at just about the tip of the peninsula and is home to one of the six largest extant Roman arenas on the planet. Built 2,000 years ago, the arena still serves as a place to hold performances, hosting plays, ceremonies, and other events. We spent our time sitting and watching everyone marvel at the venue before setting our sight on the town center’s main street. Ulica Sergijevaca is Pula’s main commercial way and is crowned at its origin by the Arch of the Sergii, another ancient Roman artifact that was built around the same time as the arena. The street leads to what used to be the old city forum which is now occupied by a modest square and the small but impressive Roman Temple of Augustus. We sat for lunch and strolled through the town some more before making our way back toward Rovinj.
After four nights in Rovinj we were due to make our way south toward Plitvice Lakes National Park, but not before stopping in the town of Opatija.