Rovinj is the medieval storybook port town of your dreams. Shiny white stone streets spiraling up the hillsides in odd, often impossible-seeming pathways, claustrophobic lanes crisscrossed with drying laundry like Tibetan prayer flags waving in the cool evening air. All leading ever upwards to the hilltop and the Church of St. Euphemia.
We wanted a place to unwind and settle a bit. And we found just that.
It’s hard to imagine places like this still exist. Being born in a country that was only founded in 1776. To wrap your head around a place that has been in constant operation since before the time of Christ. To imagine how many histories this place has endured. How many seemingly endless empires and eras and tragedies. The ebb and flow of religions and power.
But at the same time, a place that is timeless. Resistant to easy changes. And however many ways it has to make its living, to persist, moving ever forward, until the next empire’s fall, until the next improbable epoch.
Where Split was overrun with tourists for most of the day, Rovinj had already closed down for the season in mid October. The streets were mostly deserted and we seemed to have the town to ourselves. Which on one hand was very relaxing like we wanted but on the other most of the better restaurants and cheaper spots had closed for the winter. All of the seaside joints and most of the town spots had the exact same menu. Fish platter, fish of the day, pizza, seafood pasta dish, an overpriced langoustine dish with sad langoustines, risotto, maybe a cevpapi option, fish soup, maybe a fried German dish like schnitzel. That gets old pretty fast and you’re paying top dollar for mediocre tourist fair. We ate twice at a walk up wok joint that made a sort of stir fry with so much sauce it was soupy but it was cheaper and unfried and a welcome change.
But convenient food isn’t everything. We managed just fine. And it helped break me of my excited tourist food hunt which is important if I want this adventure to go as far as I want it to. And we had some of our best memories so far, just lounging in the cool night ocean breezes, drinking local wine, and getting slow. Slowing down. Finding our center. For the adventures to come.
Old town is magical. So perfect it crawls up under your hackles and turns itself over on it’s head. I blame the evil mouse for doing such a good job at recreating magical places like this with such precision that actually experiencing the real thing seems cheap and unreal. It’s hard to explain. But I’m entranced and annoyed somehow at the same time.
On our first night we set out into the darkness and echoing stone streets with a childlike giddiness. This shit is amazing and I’m not ashamed of the joy I get just exploring these places. I feel like I’m an extra in an epic pirate saga or walking through a cheesy fantasy novel. Like anything is possible.
Old town is a peninsula and is ringed by a beautiful harbor with magical tiny boats of all sorts. It’s sunny, it’s jaunty, it’s fun. The full waterfront is packed edge to edge with the regular variety of tourist cafes, most of which aren’t worth the time to peruse their menus. Save one or two that I’ll mention later. It’s a great place to catch some sun and listen to a saxophone rendition of Tears from Heaven.
The shore around Rovinj is edged with vertical precipices of razor sharp rocks meeting the ocean. Seemingly inhospitable, the rough edges have been laced with ambling stone pathways down to the sea, often with convenient ladders down into the water and railings to hold onto. These areas have been constructed with care and provide many spaces to hide away and catch some sun or sit late at night at the lapping shores and share a bottle of wine in the night winds of the ocean. Which we did. It was beautiful and I loved it.
On our last sunny day we worked up the nerve to suit up and plunge ourselves into the ocean. The water was cold as we expected but we knew this would be our last chance for a while. We wanted to prove we could do it. We made our way down the rocky pathways to the little boulder platforms I’m sure are packed with swimmers in warmer months. As I edged down the ladder into the frigid water, the water level dangerously close to the testicle line, the line of no return, I realized I was surrounded by a thousand jellyfish, tiny puffed up white guys that looked like ice cubes floating all around me. Which is what I felt like, floating in a glass of ice water. I don’t know much about these guys, so I thought the better path would be retreat. We found another spot on the far side and eeked our way into the ocean, gasping for air and covered with goosebumps. Slowly down until we were floating. Into the ocean and baptized by the Mediterranean water. Only a few ice cube guys floating by to keep us company.
Tavern Kantinon Rovinj
Most of restaurants around the seaside are total garbage. Overpriced low quality seafood. But this place was the exception. We ate here twice and both times were quite good. On our second visit they even remembered all of our weird food preferences. A good time was had by all.
Adria was a quaint little cafe tucked away into the curving alleys. I got a cevapi that was absolutely enormous, bigger than my head. I couldn’t finish it. Good atmosphere for a decent price. And I liked the waiter.
Restaurant Orca (Peka)
I finally found my peka!!
Restaurant Orca sits about 1.7 miles outside of old town so you need to grab a taxi at the taxi stand by the bus station but it’s well worth the trouble. Packed with locals celebrating various events, we found the place joyous and fun. The menu has all sorts of local traditional food, including peka which they call out as “under a dome” like “veal under a dome”. Luckily we had already been schooled on ordering ahead so when we made the reservation we ordered the peka and it was waiting for us when we got there.
Oh. My. God. This dish was ginormous and could have fed 6 people. They rolled it out on a cart and it took up most of the table. Peka is meat (in this case veal) cooked with vegetables (potatoes and carrots) under a metal dome covered in hot coals for hours. The dish comes out butter tender with caramelized veg and a fucking delicious gravy perfect for being mopped up by the provided soft white bread. A must try if you can find it.
Monte received Croatia’s first Michelin star in 2017 and sits just beneath the Church of St. Euphemia. A beautiful location and a delicious thoughtful meal. Read my full post here. Monte offers three 6 course tasting menus with a flexible pairing option. Great meal.
Pizzeria Da Sergio
Rovinj is a very Italian Croatian city and pizza is everywhere. We wanted good pizza and this is where people said to go. Up the alley just a bit from Adria, it was easy to get a seat and the service was fast. The pizza was fabulous even though we were peer pressured into eating it with a fork. My anchovies were real anchovies. So much better than American anchovies. Quite good.
I’m always looking for the local hooch and I found two varieties in Rovinj. The first is Rakija, a type of local flavored brandy. The bar under our apartment had four flavors so I ordered all four. Maslini I badem (olive and almond), sohu smokva (dried fig), divlja kruska (wild pear), and bisk (mistletoe). They were all great! I think I liked the mistletoe and Katy preferred the olive and almond.
The second I picked up at a tobacco counter late one night. Pelinkovac. I saw a bottle of this stuff in every bar we went into so I know it had to be drunk by someone. It sort of had a character like Becherovka, that face squawnking cologne taste, but mixed with cough syrup and bile. I found it undrinkable. I just had a swig to confirm my memory and yes, it’s sucks. Sucks hard. This stuff makes dog urine mixed with essence of radicchio sound pleasant. Maybe, if in the proper mental state, sogged down by a night of heavy drinking and egged on by similarly pickled locals, I might gag down a glass or two, just to prove my manhood wasn’t lacking. But it doesn’t make my christmas list. Not today at least. Bleh.