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Travel guide to Rovinj, Croatia and Istrian day trips


Rovinj Croatia

While the  sun-drenched islands and cities on the Dalmatian coast tend to dominate Croatia's tourism scene, the gorgeous Istrian peninsula offers an array of  sites and beauties of its own and should not be overlooked Jutting out into the northern Adriatic, Istria is a heart-shaped region that straddles three countries - Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. This unique crossroads location has infused Istria with an incredible mix of influences from the Venetians, Austro-Hungarians, and others. This is one of my favorite areas in Europe. With medieval hilltop villages, ancient Roman ruins, charming port cities and coastal towns, rolling hills, olive groves. characteristic old towns and lush forests, it has it all.  In this travel guide to Rovinj I will cover Rovinj as well as some day Western Istrian day trips.  


door in Croatia

A little history

Istria's strategic location in the northern Adriatic has made it a coveted territory for centuries, resulting in a fascinating and complex history. The peninsula's earliest inhabitants can be traced back to the Histri tribal group in the Bronze Age. They were followed by Greek colonists who founded cities like Pula in the 6th century BC. Istria came under Roman rule in 177 BC and flourished during peaceful times, leaving behind an incredible architectural legacy like the famous amphitheater in Pula. After the Roman Empire's collapse, Istria was controlled by the Byzantines and then the Republic of Venice during the Middle Ages. The Venetians left a large cultural stamp that is still evident today. In the 19th century, Istria became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before being ceded to Italy following WWI. Following WWII, Istria was incorporated into Yugoslavia, and then became part of Croatia when they gained independence in 1991. This tangled history has made Istria a unique cultural melting pot unlike anywhere else in Croatia.


Istrian hills

When should you go

High season is, of course, during the summer months of July and August. This is when the area will be the busiest, although it doesn't get as busy as further south in Croatia. It can also get very hot in the summers. There are, however, many festivals during July and August. It seems like you can find a festival somewhere in Istria at all times during the summer. If you want less crowds, cheaper prices and milder weather, come in May, June, September or October. If swimming is a priority, the water in September should still be warm, otherwise any of these shoulder season months are ideal. Winter can be chilly and rainy at times but for this Canadian girl it seems nice for winter with average highs around 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Some shops and restaurants will be closed in the winter and the streets will seem quiet and empty, especially in the evening. 


Rovinj houses

Getting there

By Air: Pula has an international airport. Many European airlines have flights into the city. There is a shuttle bus from the airport to Rovinj. If you are looking for a bigger airport with more options, Ljubljana Slovenia is your best bet. It is about a two hour drive from Istria. 


Public transportation: Many of the coastal cities are well connected by Bus to other cities in Croatia and Europe. Flixbus connects Istria to much of Europe. Trains in this region are very limited and can sometimes be unreliable so I would probably skip them.


Car: It is easy to reach Istria by car. The highways are well maintained and signs are good making for smooth driving.


By Boat: Ferries run seasonally connecting Rovinj to Venice, Italy as well as from a few islands. Arrivals are at the town's picturesque main harbor. There is a ferry to Venice from Porc and Pula as well.


Croatian hill town

Getting around

The best way to travel around Istria is going to be by car. It will provide you with the best access to everywhere you will want to go and the flexibility to go when you want to go. If you don't want to rent a car, there are a number of bus companies that run between the cities. Each city has a bus system that runs within the city and sometimes will go to nearby attractions such as beaches. The hill towns, however are more difficult to get to on public transportation. For this, I would suggest joining an organized tour or renting a private driver if you don't have a car.


Motovun Croatia

Food

Life in Istria revolves around the region's remarkably fresh and flavorful cuisine. The food centers around  ingredients like fresh seafood, pastas, charcuterie, truffles, wild herbs, smoked ham, and cheeses. Be sure to sample specialties like manestra (hearty Istrian stew), fritaja (frittata), and bakalar (dried salted cod). Truffles are everywhere. I do not like the taste of truffles so I have to be careful to make sure they are not added in the dish I am ordering but if you love them, you will be in heaven. 


plate of pasta with truffles

Outdoor adventures

Istria has many outdoor adventures available to those that love nature. Hiking, cycling, kayaking, rock climbing, sailing, wind surfing, scuba diving and simply relaxing on its picturesque beaches and coves are some of the options.


Places to see

Rovinj

view of Rovinj

Perched on the western coast of the  Istrian peninsula, Rovinj is a  romantic and charming coastal town.  With its colorful houses lining the narrow marble streets, towering church steeple, and quaint harbors filled with fishing boats and yachts, Rovinj has pure Mediterranean charm and has rightly earned the nickname "the little Venice of Istria." This historic city has roots dating back to the 7th century, though it really flourished during Venetian rule in the Middle Ages. It consists of the the pedestrianized old town on the hill, surrounded mostly by water, and the newer town, which spreads out on the flatter ground.


Rovinj Street

The old town of Rovinj remains remarkably well-preserved. Wandering the cobblestone alleyways and piazzas of Rovinj is one of the best things to do with an afternoon. Hidden cafes, art galleries, and shops are everywhere you turn. There is a nice market as you enter the town that sells locally made food and handicrafts.


Rovinj market

At the heart of Rovinj's old town lies St. Euphemia's Basilica, a Baroque church with a soaring bell tower that dominates the skyline. Originally dating back to the 8th century, the church you see now was constructed in the early 18th century. The basilica is dedicated to the patron saint of Rovinj. The  interior features a striking altarpiece and beautiful stained glass windows. Make sure to climb the tower for the best view out over the town and Adriatic Sea. It cost 4EURO to go up.


Rovinj church

Rovinj's harbors and marinas are also delightful places to soak in the atmosphere. The main harbor is picturesque and lively, with restaurants and cafes along the promenade This is the perfect place to grab some food and people watch. Early risers can watch the local fishermen bringing in the day's catch and readying their boats. 


Rovinj harbour

Rovinj has some excellent beach options within walking distance of the old town. A pretty promenade winds along the water to lone bay and on to the Punta Corrente forest park which includes multiple beaches.  If you continue south there are even more options. There are also a few beaches north of the town. The beaches around Rovinj, however, are either rock or pebble beaches so bring your water shoes. Some of them are clothing optional as well so be aware of that. 


Rovinj beach

After exploring Rovinj itself, consider taking a boat trip to the nearby Red Island (Crveni Otok). From the Rovinj pier, boats leave for the island every hour starting at 5:30am and only cost around 5EURO. This uninhabited island has one hotel. There is also remnants of a monastery and beautiful trails and walkways throughout the island. Cliff jumping on the western side of the island is a popular activity. There are several beaches on the island. Again, be aware, at least one of them is a nude beach. 


Pula


Pula forum

Situated at the southernmost tip of the Istrian peninsula, Pula is a city that blends its history and cultural heritage with a lively, modern vibe. From its stunning Roman ruins to its vibrant waterfronts, Pula really offers visitors an authentic taste of Istria. It is the commercial hub for the area and home to almost half the population of Istria. 


Pula arena

At the heart of Pula, in the city center,  lies its extraordinary Roman amphitheater, one of the world's best preserved from antiquity. This massive stone structure was constructed between 27 BC and 68 AD, about the same time as the Colosseum in Rome. It once hosted bloody gladiatorial contests and could seat up to 20,000 spectators. Today, it provides a striking backdrop for summer concerts, festivals, and sporting events. During the summer you can watch gladiators fight and learn about their clothes, hairstyles and weapons. It is open daily but hours vary so check the schedule before you go. It costs 10EURO to enter.


pula arena at night

After marveling at the amphitheater's arched exterior and exploring its underground passages, be sure to also visit the adjacent Temple of Augustus and Roman Forum ruins. The temple was built in the 1st century. Originally it was one of three temples in the forum but it is the only one that has survived. After being used as a temple it was transformed into a church and then used for grain storage. Today it is a museum which houses ancient Roman scuptures. It is open daily from 9:00-8:00 and cost 2EURO to get in but only takes cash.


Pula Roman temple

There are other Roman ruins throughout Pula as well which include Roman city gates, a Roman arch and a Roman theater.  The streets and archways that make up Pula's Old Town make for a nice stroll. The lively Giardini square (garden square), lined with trees is a great place to start and Sergijevaca  street is one of the busiest streets in town because it is lined with shops, cafes, and Renaissance-era buildings. 


Roman Gate Pula

With its advantageous peninsula location, it's no surprise that Pula revolves heavily around the sea. The Lungomare promenade is 3 miles long with beaches along the way and is a great place to watch the sunset.  


The Pula Castle or Citadel was originally built by the Venitians on a hill in the middle of Pula. It was built in 1630 and completed three years later. Because of its location it has always been an important defensive point for the area. The stones from the large Roman theater were used in its construction. Today it houses the historical museum of Istria and is one of the best places for views in Pula. It cost 6EURO to enter.  


pula castle

Pula has a series of other fortifications built by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There were a total of 27 forts and 60 other fortified buildings making it the strongest navel base on the Adriatic coast. Many of these structures can still be seen today. Punta Christo, for example, is a circular fort with beautiful views. It also has an underground section that visitors can explore, as well as a rooftop bar.


Pula fortress

Just south-west of Pula is the main destination for water sports - Medulin. You can find sailing, diving, windsurfing, jet skiing, banana boats and more.


Fazana


Fazana Croatia

Fazana is a beautiful seaside town with a delightful old town featuring picturesque squares, churches, terraced houses, alleyways and a beautiful promenade. Fazana has many nice beaches as well to enjoy. It hosts the sardine festival in August, which is a fun experience.  


From the seaside, visitors can hop on a 15 minute boat ride for a day trip to explore the brilliant blue waters, coves, and beaches of the Brijuni National Park islands. This 14-island archipelago was once the summer retreat of former Yugoslav leader Tito and is home to ancient ruins, dinosaur footprints, and abundant plant and wildlife.  Only 2 of the islands are open to visitors. Veliki is the largest one and has a golf course, bird sanctuary, safari park and botanical gardens. A 1 hour tourist train ride can take you around the island making it easy to see the sights.  


Brijuni Island

Porec


Porec Croatia

Porec is a picturesque city along the coast and it is a true gem. Set on a peninsula similar to Rovin, Porec has a history that dates back to ancient times. The city's crowning glory is the UNESCO-listed 6th century Euphrasian Basilica, an wonderful example of Byzantine architecture with intricate mosaics and stone carvings. The Old Town is a labyrinth of narrow streets lined with charming houses and hidden courtyards. The city's beaches, such as Punta Verudela and Punta Molina, provide ample opportunities for relaxation and water activities, with crystal-clear waters and pristine shores. Aquacolors is a fun waterpark outside the city. It is one of the largest waterparks in Southeast Europe. It cost 36 EURO for adults and then kids are reduced price. You can also get a reduced price for a shorter amount of time. Bardine cave is also right by Porec. Tours lasting 40 minutes takes you almost 200 feet underground through underground lakes and by many interesting formations. It cost 11EURO for adults. Times vary throughout the year. 


Hill towns


Hill town in Croatia

While the sun-soaked coastlines and historic port cities tend to grab the spotlight in Istria, some of the region's amazing destinations are tucked into its rolling inland hills and valleys. Here, incredibly preserved medieval villages have retained their traditional Istrian cultures and ways of life. Touring these hill towns provides an unforgettable glimpse into the heart and soul of the Istrian peninsula.


Pazin


Pazin zipline

Although Pazin is the seat of Istrian County it is lesser known to tourist and therefore, feels a little sleepier. Set on the edge of a sinkhole formed by the river, the location of this town is stunning. The river runs into the Pazin cave which has an underground lake. You can visit the caves and actually Zipline in the cave. It cost 30EURO and takes 2.5 hours. You need to make a prior appointment. Another option is to Zipline across the sinkhole itself or to rope jump off the cliffs. There are many beautiful hiking options in the area as well and the 10th century castle now holds two museums.If you are there in the summer make sure to go to Zarecki krov waterfall and take a refreshing swim under the waterfall or hide in the shade of the cliff roof. The Pazin bridge crosses the chasm and offers spectacular views of the area. 


Pazin waterfall

Motovun 


Motovun Croatia

Perched atop a steep crest at over 900 feet, Motovun is the quintessential Istrian hill town and the one that draws the biggest crowds. Its formidable walls and towers enclose a romantic tangle of cobblestone alleys, Gothic palaces, and charming piazzas. Views from the town stretch in all directions, gazing out over the lush Mirna River Valley vineyards and olive groves below. No visit to Motovun is complete without walking along the fortified ramparts.


Grožnjan 


Groznjan

Just down the valley from Motovun, Grožnjan is another exquisite medieval town that has evolved into a thriving hub for artists and musicians from around the world.  The cobblestoned lanes are lined with art galleries, studios, and workshops located inside historic stone buildings. It is a true delight to wander this beautiful town. You will not stop taking pictures. Grožnjan comes alive during its summer classical music program with concerts taking place in the  Church of St. Vitus. Be sure to roam the defensive walls with panoramic vistas across the Istrian landscape.


Hum


Hum Croatia

For a taste of one of the most minuscule and peaceful places in all of Croatia, Hum steals the show as Istria's tiniest town. With an official population hovering around 20 residents, Hum makes up for its tiny size with loads of character. Its stone dwellings and narrow lanes date back centuries, topped by a small church and surrounded by preserved medieval defense walls. It won't take you long to explore this adorable town but it is definitely worth a stop. 


There are many other hill towns to choose from. The ones I talked about are my favorite but you may want to consider others such as Buje, and Oprtalj.


Rovinj and its surrounding area is full of beautiful sights, gorgeous scenery and interesting history. Whether you are looking for beaches, hill towns, ancient ruins or even exotic animals, this area will deliver. 


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