The French Riviera, Italian Style… in Croatia
After the first taste of Croatia, I wasn’t quite sure what to share with you next. So many beautiful destinations in Istria itself, such rich history and gastronomy; 1,000 photos to sort and numerous recipes to try… where to begin? How about with my favorite town, Rovinj. Think Italian Riviera, yet with a twist. Street signs are in both Italian and Croatian, and people are speaking in either one of these 2 languages, if not in the Rovinj dialect, which would not be understood in any other region, as one local pointed out to me. A colorful Mediterranean town, with a real Italian flavor, that still feels like an island of its own, even though the old town has been connected to the mainland since 1763.
Easily one of the most photogenic cities in Istria, the town sits on the rocky western coast equidistant between Novigrad and Pula. From one side (first photo above), you see the medieval-like architecture off the old port, most of the time masked by sea gulls reminiscent of Essaouira in Morocco. On the other (second photo above), the bustling harbor has fishing boats and private yachts alike, all spilling out on to the Adriatic Sea. Café tables fill the square between the old town’s narrow alleys and the water, people enjoying the sun and a drink, seemingly impervious to time. Order a fresh lemonade or a cone of gelato, sit back and listen to the Italian language filling the air, the waiters perhaps a bit more friendly than they would be in a touristy Italian city and just say to yourself, “when in Rome…”
If you can pull yourself away from that summertime ambience, a walk through the winding cobblestone streets is definitely a good idea – Venetian houses with pastel facades, charming piazzas, clean pedestrian streets, preserved historical traces, shops with local products, craftsmen’s ateliers and a bustling fruit and vegetable market across from an indoor fish market. Even the laundry hanging outside to dry like I saw in Venice added to the ambience.
You must make your way through the narrow alleys to the top of the peninsula, where the views are simply breathtaking. The calm blue water, terracotta roofs and various funky shaped trees, like the one below left that I spotted through the café entrance, just below the hilltop 18th century baroque church. There isn’t a better place to sip an espresso, feeling like there’s nothing between you and the sea.
Once you have walked the streets, checked out the harbor and perhaps mingled with the locals, you might have learned one important thing about Rovinj – the symbol of the town, a true part of life there: the batana. These small, flat bottomed boats are “the bread of Rovinj,” as the lady at the batana museum explained. The whole town eats thanks to the batana builders and fishermen. And thanks to the cooks at Veli Jo?e too, the konoba (local tavern) just next door to the museum! Worth walking inside if not just to see the fishing paraphernalia and other kitsch which fills the place – oh, and the look on cook Goran’s face, below left, when asked for a smile!
Mercato / Market on central square
Summer: May 1 to Sept 30, 7am – 9pm
Winter: Oct 1 to April 30, 7am – 5pm