The "During:" Finally, Relaxing in Rovinj
Updated: Jan 25
As they say, "save the best for last."
Since I was a child, I was always a ferocious reader. I read books in the car, at the dinner table and now even as an adult rarely leave the house without a book in my bag, because in the day's pre-pandemic while commuting in Northern Virginia, you just never knew when you might come to a complete standstill in traffic for undetermined amounts of time.
Experiencing yet another bit of writer's block with this blog over the last few weeks, I started a new book this morning, Tales of a Female Nomad, a book I'd picked up last October on a much needed trip to my favorite used bookstore following my post-Croatia quarantine. While I'm only a mere 60 pages in, it was the inspiration I needed to continue telling my stories from my time in Croatia.
In all my years of traveling there have been a few places I've instantly felt this overwhelming sense that I knew I'd revisit time and time again from the moment I arrived. If you've followed my blog for a while, you'll know New Zealand and Australia have long been at the top of that list, as I often feel giddy with excitement each time I arrive and the longing of wondering when I'll return as I leave each trip down under. Perhaps, it was partly the ties to the friends I've come to call as extended family there, or perhaps it is just the feeling of being somewhere familiar that I'd grown to love and one that made me feel welcomed and at home from the very first visit.
September 19th-27th, 2020
When I arrived in Rovinj, I got that same feeling. One that I knew almost instantly it was going to be a place I'd love and that I'd be grateful to spend the remaining seven (which later became eight) days of my trip. While I'd loved every part of Croatia I'd visited thus far, there was a comfort in wandering the winding cobblestone streets of Rovinj and overlooking the picturesque harbor full of boats that I hadn't quite found in my other stops. Perhaps, it was because my time in Rovinj was in large part what drove me to make this trip work and I had succeeded in getting there with no major bumps along the way.
It was my fourth yoga retreat with Yoga Escapes that brought me to Rovinj, a town I'd never even heard of before. My first three experiences with Yoga Escapes; the last of which occurred just as the pandemic was taking over the world a mere six months before in Marrakech, Morocco, were so incredible I knew it was what I would need to round out my time in Croatia. I planned my trip around this retreat and knew after eight days of sightseeing being in one place where the sole purpose was to relax would be the quintessential "icing on the cake." While I'd been solo for the first week of my travel, my arrival in Rovinj would allow me to meet more like-minded people from all over the world and reuniting with others I'd grown to know simply by being in the same place at the same time.
After I arrived at the luxurious, sleek and highly recommended Grand Park Hotel, Rovinj, I ran into Laura, Yoga Escapes fabulous owner and director, who also is quite well traveled and is known for picking amazing locations and hotels for her luxury retreats. As we took in the view, we reveled in the fact that the retreat was actually happening before I, still in very much in "explorer mode," set off to walk to town and explore the streets of this charming seaside town.
As I spent that afternoon getting lost in the narrow walkways and streets and ultimately making my way to the church at the top of the hill, I think I finally exhaled. There were no more legs of my trip. This was my final stop. The week ahead would be full of yoga, relaxing in the sun, good food and wine and meeting fellow yogis. I took in the colorful streets, quaint shops and restaurants tucked away in each little corner. To say the town is a photographer's heaven is a true understatement. I could've gotten lost for hours. I stopped for a glass of wine on the way back to the hotel before checking into my room where I learned our rooms had been upgraded with plunge pools on our balcony's. I changed and "plunged" in with my book, taking in the view of the town I'd just wandered around before setting off later that evening to meet my fellow yogis for our first evening dinner.
There were nine of us on our retreat that week including Laura and our yoga teacher, Dani. We represented quite a few places; Germany, Ireland, the UK, Slovenia, Israel, Italy, Canada and of course the U.S. Like all my other retreats, everyone was open and friendly from the start, though I will say the wine flowed more liberally as the week went on at our evening dinners! Our yoga practice was twice daily (once in the morning and the second in the late afternoon) on a beautiful terrace near the pool on the top floor of the hotel with a view of the sea and town nearby. We all enjoyed the many choices of wonderful food options at breakfast and had our afternoons to do as we please. Nothing is required, you attend what you want and make your retreat what you want it to be. Laura arranged dinner's for us at "prescreened" restaurants in town each night- each one better than the one before. Due to it's history and proximity to Italy, the food in Istria reminded me a good bit of my time in Italy the year before. I indulged in seafood, pasta, truffles and of course wine! Everything was very tasty!
One afternoon, Laura arranged for a private sailing trip around the harbor with Istraordinary and our captain, Paolo. The six of us who opted to join, enjoyed a pleasant afternoon taking views of the town from the sea, learning a little bit of history about the area and a lovely feast of food and wine prepared by Paolo. While we crammed this four-hour trip in between our yoga practices, breakfast and evening out, it was well worth the busy day to experience Rovinj from the water.
Another afternoon, another yogi Yael, and I set off to explore a winery about 45 minutes from the hotel. I had arranged for a seated tasting at Kozlovic, a winery recommended by a few others in my travels around Croatia with hopes we might have time to visit another winery also recommended and close by, Kabola. As Yael drove, we took in the beautiful countryside from the hotel into Istria's wine country. Vastly different from the wineries I'd visited earlier in my trip, the vines grew away from the ground (like I was used to in the U.S.) and the rolling hills reminded me a LOT of the short time I spent in Tuscany the year before. I'd been told Istria's wine region was a lot like Italy and I could see why. We arrived a Kozlovic and were instantly greeted by a tasting room staff who provided us with glasses, a beautiful tray of meats and cheeses and led us through tasting 5-6 wines. She provided a lengthy history of the family-owned winery by showing us a book including pictures of the generations of family members who owned and ran the winery. To say the experience was lovely is an understatement, I was truly in my element. And Yael, who isn't much of a drinker, provided wonderful company and even found a wine she liked.
Having a tiny bit of time before we needed to head back to catch our afternoon yoga practice, we headed to Kabola, which was less than a ten-minute drive away. While we didn't have time to taste, we wandered around the property for a short while and I made note to visit on a return trip. On a side note, as I was planning to visit the two wineries prior to arriving in Rovinj, Kozlovic had been a bit more communicative as I set up our visit. It was harvest time, so I knew all wineries were BUSY. While that didn't deter me from wanting to visit Kabola, I received a very kind and apologetic email from them months later (mid-December) apologizing for not responding to my emails when I wanted to visit months before inviting me to visit when my travels brought me back to Croatia. Totally out of the blue, and yet another example of the wonderful hospitality I experienced all throughout Croatia.
On afternoons we weren't off sailing or drinking wine, time was spent on the beach (in the beginning of the week before the weather started getting cooler), or by the beautiful pool overlooking the town and sea. On other days we enjoyed spa treatments at the beautiful spa in the hotel. I had TWO amazing massages during my time there. It truly was a "rough" life.
And yes, we did actually practice yoga. Dani led us through a progressively challenging (and much welcomed) practice each morning for 90 minutes to start our days. We had one morning off mid-week allowing our bodies to rest a bit, then a calming (and also very welcomed) yin class every afternoon. Practicing daily outside with that amazing view was just well, AMAZING.
And then there were my fellow yogis. We all came together at a time when the world was still greatly immersed in this pandemic. While Istria had few to no cases and the region had remained largely unaffected by COVID, I think we all knew what had been left behind in our home countries and were immensely grateful for time we had in this beautiful place. Nearly everyone had a story like mine as to how they got there and most were going home to 10-14 day quarantines or flying off to somewhere else to evade that quarantine a bit longer. Our evening dinners out were full of laughs, good food and wine and friendships that will hopefully be reignited on retreats to come.
Two days before I was to bring my time in Croatia to a close and knowing I had a 17-hour layover in Frankfurt's airport on my return (and a very pricey room at the hotel in the terminal booked since I knew I could not enter Germany), I just randomly checked United's website to see if there was a better flight option for my return. And, lo and behold there was. So, I ended up staying one more night in Rovinj, one I would have spent in a tiny airport hotel room, and would arrive home an hour BEFORE my original itinerary. I wasn't alone that last day and evening, two others were not flying until later that night and another was staying a few more days. The four of us enjoyed one more dinner together at one of the restaurants we'd visited during the week and took in one of the best sunsets we'd seen all week (and there were some amazing ones).
While every trip I take often feels like the trip of a lifetime, this one in the midst of a world-wide pandemic will remain with me for quite some time. The camaraderie amongst our small group was priceless and the town of Rovinj magical leaving me almost speechless. I did say, "almost."
Susie, Heiki, Yael, Triona, Ricki, Michelle, Dani and of course, Laura, thanks for making this week so memorable. Until we meet again!
If you want to experience a yoga retreat in beautiful Rovinj yourself, Yoga Escapes will be hosting two retreats later this year. Click here for more details!
This wraps up my "During" series of my time in Croatia. Since I started this post with the current book I'm reading about another writer's travels, I'll leave you with a quote from another book of travel stories I read a few years ago.
"Because you can't know who might cross your path or who [or what] will take your breath away. You can't know what friends might actually become family because they stayed by your side. You can't know when there'll be an unexpected detour that'll take you to the place where you were always meant to be. The only leaps of faith you'll ever regret are the ones you don't take." - The Lost Girls, 2011