We arrived in the small picturesque fishing town of Rovinj and our driver stopped and asked us to exit the car. Having thought we were at Hotel Adriatic, we were then told our ‘on-going driver’ would be here soon to collect us for the final section of our trip. We were intrigued to find out that cars were not able to enter the main town of Rovinj and instead we were to be collected by a concierge buggy from the hotel. Sure enough, a few minutes later he arrived and we were whisked away with our luggage in an open side cart. A lovely way to catch a glimpse of the historic Rovinj town centre. Rovinj is a small town in the north of Croatia, situated in an area called Istria, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Its history extends to before the Roman empire and so were excited to begin exploring.
Stepping into the hotel that began life back in 1903 (but has recently been completely renovated) you instantly note the decor and its modern, trendy vibe. Art is clearly a big focus of the interior design scheme and the artworks that adorn the wall were commissioned for their setting. The art collection consists of over one hundred artworks by world renowned artists from across Europe. In addition to these, specialist art curator, Vanja Zanko, was enlisted to gather a number of visual artists to create bespoke art work installations specifically for the hotel, which can be found throughout the building. You spend your stay continually looking and noticing the decorative contemporary artwork that adorns the walls and even though each one is different from the last they all blend seamlessly into the space. It’s a refreshing point and certainly makes the Hotel Adriatic stand out from the crowd and for us, the hotel can stand up next to the best of the boutique hotels in London. After checking into Hotel Adriatic, we were shown to our room, one of 18 in the hotel.
Our first impressions of the room was that is was much like the rest of the hotel and spectacularly designed which made it all the more important when we realized that there was unfortunately no view, except of a central, unimpressive courtyard. Although it should be said that the hotel does have rooms that face over the harbor – so make sure you request one of these. Our room was very modern and the colour scheme was focused around black and white which usually can feel cold and stark but instead the clever use of textures made it feel warm and inviting. The room was divided by a centre console with TV inset in the black unit. A sofa and table sit one-side, with an tempting looking bed the other. It’s certainly a statement hotel, with a very keen focus on details and modern finishes. There’s a delicious welcome gift awaiting us on the centre coffee table, some iced drinks and a selection of fresh fruit on a platter. Perfect after an early morning flight in. The bathroom is also particularly spacious with a great mosaic floor and a walk in shower. A huge radiator on the wall creates a focus to the room and is a statement piece. We often spend a long amount of time in hotels whilst away on business and this is certainly a room that you could spend some time in, although it would of course be better if one was able to gaze away across the bay. The room has a modern suite of gadgets too, with guests being able to play their iPod through the rooms speakers. Initially, after a quick freshening up, we decided to step outside and explore the immediate vicinity of the hotel.
When you walk out of the front door there is a port with hundreds of fishing boats. It is so picture perfect that you feel as though you could be stepping into a painting. This made us all the more excited to start exploring.
It’s immediately obvious how important fishing is to Rovinj and how the town has been built up around the industry. It’s no doubt slowly changing however as the area becomes more attractive and known to tourists. Cast your gaze past the boats and the open sea is right before you with St. Katarina island a short boat hop across the bay. The hotel provides bicycles for guests to explore the area at a more leisurely pace and in a town that clearly is looking towards more traditional and sustainable forms of transport. There are restaurants a plenty with most of them serving delicious fresh fish caught by the fisherman that morning. Rovinj has a number of hotels that are owned by the same company yet very different in style. We visited Hotel Lone, a local 5* hotel that screams dramatic architecture in again a modern style. Yet this is more of a resort than Hotel Adriatic and may well be suited to families that are looking for a full range of amenities.
One of the main draws to Rovinj or us here at Hero & Leander was the budding Istrian food scene. Istria is fast gaining a reputation for fine cuisine and a stronger presence in the global wine and olive oil market. Much of our trip was to be focused around exploring what Rovinj and the wider local area has to offer foodies. Rovinj has many restaurants serving excellent fresh fish and a market from which to buy local produce.
Truffles are often ascoiated with Italy but Istria also produces some of the worlds greatest. On our last day in Croatia we hired a car from a local company and drove to Livade where we were lucky enough to experience truffle hunting, courtesy of Zigante Restaurant- supplier of some of the world’s finest truffles.
Tip: The drive from Rovinj to Livade is beautiful so make sure you leave in plenty of time to take in the breathtaking views. Don’t forget your camera.
The restaurant owner holds the world record for the largest ever discovered truffle, weighing in at 1310 grams. Rather than selling this for some serious cash, Giancarlo Zigante instead organized a feast to celebrate this wonderful delicacy and in turn created a global name to his brand. Ever since, Livade has played host to annual truffle events and festivals. Truffle hunting, although seasonal can be enjoyed year round due to the differing varieties that grow. For the months of September to through to the end of the year, the valuable white truffle can be found. These are rarer and so do command a higher market price. Our truffle hunter guide did not speak English however we were also accompanied with a representative of the restaurant acting as our translator. Entering the forest accompanied with two spaniels we were told about the ruthless industry of truffle. There are countless ‘hunters’ scouring these forests, and there are regulations to keep them licensed and following good practices. Sadly however, like all profitable industries, there are those that look to exploit. Often dogs are poisoned by competitors and so the truffle hunter must be particularly vigilant with what their dogs are eating. Throughout just 20 minutes of searching, the dogs find 5 or 6 truffles, two of which are the sought after pungent white variety. The smell is particularly strong, yet even so its remarkably impressive that dogs can sniff these out whilst they are underground, often under tree roots.
After our truffle experience we returned to the shop at Zigante Restaurant where there was a full tasting platter laid out, where we were able to sample a huge variety of condiments produced under the Zigante name. Breads, cheeses and chutneys all alongside truffle butters, truffle shavings and oils – we were in truffle heaven. When it came to purchasing some goodies, it took some serious consideration. Whilst truffles are indeed expensive, they have such a unique flavour and if you can stretch your budget – definitely should be sampled in a restaurant such as Zigante.
Istria as mentioned before, is quickly gaining a good reputation on behalf of its vineyards and the Malvasia wine they produce. Malvasia is a group of wine grapes typically from the Balearics. The land in Istria is characterized by two types of soil, the red and the white and this is reflected in the wine’s taste and aromas. As an introduction to the industry, we visited Villa Dobravac inside the Rovinj town limits. A lovely villa that overlooks the harbour and the town. Villa Dobravac is a family run business that has built a reputation on producing wine by what at first was simply a hobby of the owners. Throughout the last two decades they have carved out a good reputation and sell their wine, that comprises of 6 labels, to the local community. Over the afternoon we had a fun session of wine tasting, each wine being accompanied by a small hors d’ouvres dish – a unique way of tasting. We, for the first time, tried orange wine, a wine that is macerated for longer with skins of the grapes to give it a unique colour. For a desert wine we were treated to an Allegro that is beautiful in its caramel colour and honey and apricot flavours. Making for a delicious pairing with a light cheesecake. Not yet stocked in the UK, we deciede to buy few bottles to enjoy at home.
Overlooking the town of Rovinj sits atop the hill, the church of St. Euphemia. Ever the one for ascending a bell tower, this one looked particularly high given the hill the church sits upon. Our editor David has visited a great number of buildings and been to the top of most – although his experience of this one sounded particularly harrowing. The tower has an original timber staircase that sits along the interior brick walls. There are gaps between each stair tread and minimal siding supports to the staircase. Continually passing visitors on their way down looking mildly terrified let him know that this was going to be a little bit ‘dodgy’. Ever the adventurer, continuing the climb without looking down and eventually reached the top. A magnificent view awaits the brave, where you have a complete 360-degree perspective of the town. You can see the peninsula land formation and the ocean that surrounds. It is stunning and far below you sit the many red tile roofs of the regions beautiful architecture. From this vantage point you also gain a view of the town’s unique geographic location with water on three sides. It’s stunning- just try and not to look down as you are climbing down. It’s hair-raising!
The town used to be located on a peninsula and accessible only by bridge. However, this has now changed although the old architecture of the town centre very much remains. Walk up to the church tower on the hill and you’ll cut through small photogenic alleyways and cobbled streets with vendors selling homewares. The passageways make way to views of the open sea creating quite a unique walk through the town where architecture meets nature and creates a different stunning view with each step. One evening we stop at a small bar and have a cocktail overlooking the bay to witness a stunning sunset as the fishing boats bring in their catch for the day. It’s a simple and delightful life, away from the craziness of cities.
Our dinner awaited us at Hotel Adriatic and we had certainly worked up an appetite after an afternoon of exploring. We were given a warm and friendly reception from our waiter who was very charming and spoke excellent English. This excellent knowledge of language was also paired with what we quickly came to realise was a passion for food and Croatian wine. Rarely do you find waiting staff that convey such a passion for the cuisine they are serving you and this was certainly great for our dining experience. We were given our first little lesson in to Istria’s wine – although we weren’t complete novices after our tasting session at Villa Dobravac! For starters we were treated to a pljukanci a pasta dish that is served with prawns and zucchini. We also tried gnocchi with prosciutto and asparagus. Both dishes were really tasty, served hot and alongside some fresh bread with Koreniki oil, giving us a cosy feeling after a day spent walking in the autumn air. Of course the Vina Coronica (2014) wine also went down a treat and the flavours and aromas of the first course all blended excellently. A fantastic pairing from our waiter and head chef. Our mains were a fillet steak and a fresh turbot fillet. Whilst we hardly had any room for desert we made a little space and managed a crème brulée paired with of course some Allegro desert wine from Villa Dobravac. It’s always good to support the local community, especially when they’re producing one of the tastiest desert wines we have ever tried.
After dinner we headed to the bar because we had been told that they had an excellent selection of whiskies from around the world; the largest selection in Rovinj with 100 beautiful bottles stacked in a whiskey wall! So where better to sample them than Hotel Adriatic’s super stylish bar with the town’s fishing port in the background.
Istria is not only limited to food and drink tourism. There’s a whole host of entertaining options for the visitor. If you want a lazy and sunny break, explore the numerous beautiful beaches in the area. Azure blue waters meet stunning rocky outcrops – where better to lie and relax under the Mediterranean sea. Nearby towns such as Pula are also hubs of life and history to explore. Pula is the nearest airport to Rovinj, so if you have time make sure you stop off and visit sights such as the Roman amphitheatre or the many markets in the town. Rovinj and Hotel Adriatic is a fantastic visit for those looking to explore a destination that is not at the top of tourist destination lists. Off the beaten track of the ever growing in popularity Croatia, you should visit soon if this is what you are looking for. As it offers tourists a wide range of activities and history which as a result is giving the town much popularity. Discover this gem of a destination before your friends do.
52210 Rovinj, Nazora 6
T: +385 52 800 250
Karmelo ul., 52210 Rovinj
T: +385 52 813 006
Livade 7, Livade, Croatia
T: +385 52 664 302