[Originally published on my Croatia Chronicles Tumblr on May 6, 2013; re-published here with some revisions]
I woke up on May 1, 2013 with sun lighting the floor of my room. Stepping outside onto my apartment balcony, I breathed in the fresh, salty air—the air of a Croatian summer.
It was a beautiful day, and one that marked the beginning of Rovinj’s summer season and a national holiday called Worker’s Day (the European equivalent of U.S. Labor Day).
As a busy and frequently stressed-out teacher, I was determined to take advantage of my one-day holiday and the summery weather. And what better way to do that than by going to the beach?
Venturing Out to Rovinj’s Other Side
Initially, Stephanie [fellow teacher and friend] and I had intended to go to Punta Corrente as BBQs and parties are held in celebration of Worker’s Day along the beach and throughout the park. Instead, we opted for a more low-key locale and ventured out to Rovinj’s “other side.”
Located northwest of Rovinj’s Old Town, along the road of Luigija Montija, Rovinj’s other side features beaches and an charmingly eerie hospital complex (which I’ll talk more about soon).
During the summer, Rovinj’s other side is filled with tourists, like most of the town, but before the peak season comes into full swing, it’s quiet, serene.
We walked about 20 minutes to get there from the main town area and met up with a friend and her husband for the day. Upon arrival, we laid down our towels and took in some much needed sun.
First Swim of the Season
May 1st is considered by most to be a little too early for swimming since the Adriatic Sea is still quite cold. Yet we decided to push discomfort aside to celebrate the start of summer with a proper swim.
But holy f’ing WOW. It was cold. Oh. So. Cold.
I let my legs dangle in the water over the side of the stone pier to get used to the chill. After about five minutes, I started out slow. I went up to my calves, then to my knees. And then I stopped.
With each small step forward, the water stung like ice on a sore wound. I shook my head “no” to Stephanie, who was already well into the water, swimming around.
Yet I knew I had to go in. In my mind, it marked some rite of passage that would make me a real coastal Croat.
So I sucked it up and dove into the water, adding a yell of mild horror for good measure. I swam until I got some feeling back into my body and found one of those random warm spots in the sea (and no, it wasn’t warm from pee).
The initial jump was the worst part of the experience, but after I was in it felt like the Adriatic Sea I knew and loved–only a bit colder than usual.
I’m glad I took the plunge. I felt I had achieved something–to swim on the first day of the summer season–even though the act didn’t mean much beyond me and my friends. But that didn’t matter. It was a thrill nevertheless, and we made a wonderful memory in the process!
Exploring Rovinj’s Other Side
Once late afternoon rolled around, we decided to pack up and explore the rest of Rovinj’s other side.
Rovinj’s most famous building is its hilltop church, St. Euphemia, yet Rovinj is also home to a lesser-known landmark, the orthopedic hospital and rehabilitation center, Prim. Dr. Martin Horvat, one of the oldest orthopedic hospitals in all of Europe.
One reason the hospital doesn’t garner much attention is because it’s not open to the public and it is generally frowned upon to visit the grounds as a tourist.
We got lucky. Since we looked more like locals than stereotypical tourists that day, we were able to pass through the area without a second glance from the hospital guard.
The Prim. Dr. Martin Horvat Hospital was built by the Austrian government in 1888 and was originally intended to be a children’s treatment center. Following WWI, it was converted into its current purpose, a clinic for orthopedic care.
The hospital was constructed on on this particular side of Rovinj (i.e. the St. Pelagia Peninsula) because of its special microclimate that is said to aid in recovery.
While the hospital is still operational today, the small buildings constructed around it, including a cinema, lookout tower, pool, church, and greenhouse, no longer function. These forgotten buildings are all in various states of disrepair.
Walking through the area, a feeling of sadness comes over me as I long to see this place restored to its former glory, but that would likely destroy its eerie, curious charm.
The hospital grounds are closed off from the rest of the world, enveloped in a pine forest and boarded by a secluded sandy beach.
As you enter from the beach side, you see the hospital—alive, yes, but coated in peeling yellow paint and splintered window frames and shutters. Immediately to its right, there’s the old, crumbling, unused pool–a hulking piece of grey concrete.
If you zigzag a bit to the right and keep walking for a minute or two up another path you’ll reach the hospital lookout tower. Climb up to the top and catch a glimpse of Rovinj’s picturesque Old Town and the Figarola Island.
As we walked back to the hospital building, we passed the old cinema (now used as a gym), whose gothic-style exterior gave us all the chills.
Right next door is the Church of St. Pelagia, also abandoned. It’s architecturally beautiful, despite its unkempt nature.
Inside, you’ll find that it’s used as storage space, filled with old documents, binders, and books, some even dating back to the 1930s.
Upon leaving the grounds, we all agree that the hospital would be the perfect horror movie set. While I’d love to see the buildings repaired, repainted, and revitalized, I like them this way. It gives the place a sense of struggle, of loss even, which, like any good writer will say, builds character.
I’ve lived in Rovinj for almost a full year now and I’ve seen its many sides from its crowded summer to its lonely winter and all the craziness in-between. Many picture Rovinj as an idyllic, romantic coastal town and while this is true, the town is so much more.
Rovinj is complex, layered with history, culture, and many stories—both remembered and forgotten.