Though we love Croatia, we’d have to admit that the overcrowded Dalmatian Coast (thank you Game of Thrones) isn’t quite the respite it once was. So on our most recent visit we ventured north to the authentic oasis that is Rovinj, a still-under-the-radar gem on the Adriatic Sea.
Situated in the northern Istria region, not far from the Italian border, Rovinj might actually be Croatia’s most picturesque destination. The centuries-old fishing village perched on a seaside hilltop was built by the Venetians, and in some ways it feels like a mini version of Venice. And much like that enigmatic city, there is no better way to explore Rovinj than to just get lost in the labyrinth of cobblestoned streets and narrow alleyways, popping into intimate art galleries and charming boutiques selling artisan-made wares along the way.
Idyllic charms aside, Rovinj is home to a burgeoning culinary scene, as the region surrounding it has been recently hyped as the next Tuscany, with its preeminent olive oil, wine, and truffles. Our favorite, rustic-chic harborside café, La Puntulina, served some of the freshest seafood we’ve ever had, and provided the perfect setting to take in the ethereal sunsets that, dare we say, rivaled those of the Greek Islands.
Rovinj also boasts a number of luxurious, design-conscious hotels – none more spectacular than the newly opened Grand Park Hotel Rovinj, where we checked in. From the Maistra Hospitality Group, it’s quickly become a landmark in the city. And located just across the bay from the old town, it offered glorious views – through floor-to-ceiling windows – of the St. Euphemia Church, Katarina Island, and the irresistibly photogenic, pastel-colored facades. Equally impressive was the actual view of the Grand Park cascading down the forested hillside, and blending seamlessly with the surrounding landscape…creating a genuine architectural phenomenon.
The interior design from Milan based Lissoni Associati exuded a low key luxury, abetted by thoughtfully curated artworks that paid homage to the natural surroundings. Impressive indulgences included three rooftop pools, access to a private Katalina Island beach and private yacht service to Venice.
Here’s what we loved.
We could not have felt more at home in our plush accommodations. The corridors are in fact named for trees indigenous to the area, and each guest room reads as an address – for example, we stayed in 251 Cedar Walk. The majority of the 193 rooms and 16 suites (the largest of which top out at more than 500 square feet and come with private plunge pools) offer sea views from private balconies, which allowed us to commune with the serenity of the Adriatic. Minimalist in design, ours was done up in warm wood tones and clean lines.
Still our favorite room amenities were on our nightstand: a Polaroid camera and a small travel journal, which we used to capture and preserve the memories of our stay.
Albaro Wellness & Spa
12,000 square feet and extending over two floors of the hotel, the indoor/outdoor Albaro Welness & Spa featured a thermal circuit complete with two cold plunge pools, two steam rooms, and three saunas; meaning our biggest problem was deciding where to be indulged first. Each treatment began with a shot of local rakija (grappa) and ended with a calming tea drinking ceremony.
The Batana Bodywork treatment is named after the traditional boats of Rovinj that sailed by candlelight at the close of day. For it, we lay on waterbeds, allowing the gentle waves of the “sea” to wash over us, as the wooden oars moved therapeutically over our bodies, genuinely doing away with our city-life tensions.
The hotel has six on-site restaurants and bars, but we were lured by the Michelin-starred status of Cap Aureo. Looking out over the old town and marina, we indulged in a seven-course tasting menu that took us on a culinary exploration of the local cuisine. Notable for being significantly vegetable-forward, it left us sincerely contemplating becoming full-fledged vegetarians.
After dinner, we particularly enjoyed the Viva Eufemia Lobby Bar, named for the patron saint of Rovinj, where we whiled away the night sampling bubbly from the largest selection of champagne anywhere in Croatia.
The bottom floor of the Grand Park opened directly onto the newly reconstructed Lungomare Plaza, a long coastal promenade that connects the hotel to the city center. With a wealth of restaurants, bars, and high-end boutiques, including the exclusive Park Concept Store (similar to Colette in Paris or Liberty in London), the Plaza truly serves as a cultural extension of the town. We particularly enjoyed scenic promenade rides on the hotel’s complimentary bicycles, the perfect way to take in the scope of the city’s ineffable beauty.