Matt and I recently marked what feels like a momentous occasion. We have now lived in an apartment above the outdoor vegetable market smack in the center of the lovely old town (stari grad) of Rovinj, on Croatia’s Istrian seaside, for 12 months – cumulative. (Naturally, this time has been split over many years of travel and with frequent back-and-forths to our home in Lucca, Italy).
We first arrived here in early summer 2010 or 2011 – we actually cannot remember, only that the trip was decided on a whim. We were vacationing in Venice (while still having a home and careers in the U.S.), and, as much as we love that magical island-city, a craving for something different took hold. We yearned to stretch our legs, find breathing space, and cycle and run as far as our bodies could take us. Deciding it was time to expand our horizons, we checked ferry lines. Where can we get within a relatively short time by boat along the Adriatic?
“Do you know anything about this Rovigno?” I asked Matt. Discussing the option with Italian friends – many of which had never made the short journey themselves – we learned that Rovigno / Rovinj was a fishing village with two official languages (Italian and Croatian), rich cultural heritage and a gorgeously-Venetian town center. So far, so good.
We continued asking questions and digging into the region’s history marked by the reign of vast empires from Roman and Venetian to Italian and Austrian. We were fascinated to learn more about its recent Yugoslavian days along with the present realities of an independent Croatia. We were ready to experience Rovinj for ourselves!
Nearly three hours after embarking, excitement grew as a soaring tower reminiscent of St. Mark’s materialized across the water. Before long, a maze of red-tile roofs, with strange, leaning chimneys began to appear. Soon, we were able to make out the ancient houses underneath, pops of yellow, red and blue propped together for support, open windows to the sea. The visual was pure magic.
Upon arrival, Matt grabbed a terrace table at Riveria Cafe (still one of our favorites) to wait with our backpacks while I went in search of accommodation. Half an hour later, we clinked glasses (filled to the brim with the region’s crisp white Malvasia wine) to celebrate scoring a seaside room for $30 per night and beginning a new adventure, Croatian-style.
We couldn’t have known then how this place would deliver on a quest that has become our reoccurring theme during these last five years of nomadic life: Finding balance between art and nature, city and countryside, activity and quiet. This quest led us to find Rovinj’s wonderfully-unique balance:
Venetian heart meets Istrian lungs.
A few years later, as we began nomadic life, that visceral combination lured us back to Rovinj for a three-month immersion. An apartment with a window overlooking the outdoor vegetable market provided an unfiltered peek into daily life of the increasingly-popular resort destination.
Since that time, we’ve returned most years for at least one month, sometimes longer. And, now, here we are once again, riding out the pandemic wave with a view of the Adriatic. For us, it’s a ultra sweet spot.
So, What’s It Like to Live in Rovinj, Croatia for 12 Months? Here’s 12+ Images to Share the Journey.
- Every Day, You Find Yourself in Awe of the Setting. It Really is Postcard Perfection.
The dramatic cityscape is the perfect place to begin. The bell tower of St. Euphemia (modeled on Venice’s St. Mark’s tower) rises 60-meters high above the maze of yellow, orange and red buildings leaning together, seemingly held in place by cobblestones below, archways and clothesline above.
An island until 1763 when the canal was filled and mainland connected, the town boasts multiple harbors and operates as a hub for fishermen and ferries of all sorts.
Because one image could never do it justice, here’s a few of our favorites.
2. From Fishermen to Boat-Builders, You Witness the City at Work with Every Walk
While tourism is without question the driving force of Rovinj’s modern economy, the impact of other industries is part of the town’s rich tapestry.
From the now-defunct tobacco factory on the edge of town (which today houses corporate offices for one of Croatia’s largest companies) to the still-going-strong sardine factory, and the evident-in-every-direction industries of boat-building and fishing.
How we love sitting on the harbor and watching the fishing vessels coming and going, always with a trail of seagulls in tow.
3. It’s Easy to Find Breathing Space.
Our search for outdoor goodnesses is always rewarded in Rovinj. Less than a mile along the harbor front brings us to Golden Cape Park, featuring mile after mile of shaded seaside running and cycling trails, along with a popular rock climbing quarry and series of beach huts selling cold drinks and good vibes.
Matt can cycle out into the Istrian countryside quite easily, climbing to hill top towns or cruising along coastal roads. And, naturally, there’s ample opportunity for swimming, beaching and lounging on ocean-view rocks.
4. You Eat and Drink Really, Really Well Here, Thanks to Istrian Olive Oil, Seafood and Wine
Yes, the olive oil is too tasty not to mention in the heading! The earthy-grassy olive oils produced in Istria continually win awards and recognition as the world’s best.
Local grape varieties make for distinctive wines from Malvasia whites to Terrano reds. And, naturally, seafood is the star of Rovinj’s cuisine scene. Squid, octopus, and orata steal the show and mussels and clams are ever-popular. But, the humble (and delicious) sardine is king.
5. Shopping in the Daily Outdoor Vegetable Market Will Forever Change Your Notion of Food
Because the vegetables of Istria deserve their own recognition. One of the joys of traveling extensively in the Balkans is the affinity for outdoor vegetable markets (especially handy these days).
We are incredibly fortunate to look out onto Rovinj’s outdoor vegetable market every day. I can lean out the window and see what’s on offer.
Stalls surround the outdoor stand including the town’s fresh fish market, a cheese shop, the butcher and, naturally, the sardine factor’s retail shop.
6. You Learn More Than You Ever Imagined About the Culture Through the Eyes of Its Artists.
Rovinj has long been known as a haven for artists. There’s something in the live-and-let-live atmosphere and salty-dog vibe that attracts artists of all sorts. You can feel that spirit most strongly in this small town’s relatively large assortment of artist ateliers and galleries.
There’s always something new to discover while wandering around the cobblestone alleyways.
7. You Appreciate the Harmony of Modern Architecture Playing Off the Natural Landscape.
It surprises most people to discover Rovinj racks up substantial architectural credentials with two stunning seaside hotels. First, there’s my favorite, the cruise liner-inspired Hotel Lone. And, recently opened in Spring 2019 is Maistra Group’s newest beauty, the five-star Grand Park Hotel.
While overnights in either hotel are not exactly part of our nomadic-budget’s landscape, we do often indulge in drinks, dinners and spa treatments in these treasures.
8. You Learn to Butcher Words and Phrases in Not One, But Two Languages
Rovinj is officially a town of two languages: Croatian and Italian. So, friends, you know what that means, right? We are able to continue butchering the Italian language while living in Rovinj. Joy for all!
I love how the town announces events and happenings via hand-painted signs propped outside the local grocery market. I love how you can hear locals speaking in two languages, often housed within one sentence. I love following “Grazie!” with “Hvala!” and realizing I’ve just given thanks in two languages with drastically different origins and sounds.
9. You Find Inspiration in Every Direction.
Simply put, it’s uniquely beautiful here – a fact that never ceases to inspire and remind us of the incredible beauty of this amazing world we share. I hope these images inspire you, too!