Exploring Rovinj’s Other Side

[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).

View of the secluded hospital grounds from the beach

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.

Together, we played Briscola, ate delicious vegan chocolate cake, and drank some Italian spritz. We also went on our very first swim of the season.

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.

Prim. Dr. Martin Horvat Hospital, Rovinj

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. Pelagio Peninsula) because of its special microclimate that is said to aid in recovery.

Staircase in one of the old hospital buildings / Prim. Dr. Martin Horvat Hospital, Rovinj

While the hospital is still operational today, the small buildings constructed around it, including a cinema, lookout tower, pool, and greenhouse, seemed to no longer function as we found them in various states of disrepair.

Walking through the area, a feeling of sadness came over me as I longed to see this place restored to its former glory, even though that would likely destroy its eerie, curious charm.

Dated building in the hospital complex / Prim. Dr. Martin Horvat Hospital, Rovinj

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.

Hospital lookout tower / Prim. Dr. Martin Horvat Hospital, Rovinj

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. Pelagio, which appeared abandoned when we were there, but as a blog commenter from Rovinj let me know—it’s still in use for mass and concerts.

The Church is architecturally beautiful, despite its dated nature.

Church of St. Pelagio / Prim. Dr. Martin Horvat Hospital, Rovinj

Inside the Church, we found an area that appeared to be used as storage space, filled with old documents, binders, and books, some even dating back to the 1930s.

Upon leaving the grounds, we all agreed 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.

Old books and binders / Prim. Dr. Martin Horvat Hospital, Rovinj
Storage box / Prim. Dr. Martin Horvat Hospital, Rovinj
A binder from the 1930s  / Prim. Dr. Martin Horvat Hospital, Rovinj

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.

3 thoughts on “Exploring Rovinj’s Other Side

  1. Hello Kristina, I’m from Rovinj and I’ve been in St. Pelagio (the saint was a male not a female btw) many times…it is not abbandoned, it’s not used as a storage place. There are some documents stored in some boxes and books in the towers but rnothing like you described it. There is a mass every sunday at 9:00 AM and from time to time there are some concerts in front and in the church as well so… the informations you give about the place are wrong. Regards from Rovinj

    1. Hi Tomislav. Thank you for your comment. I have updated the post to reflect the correct spelling for St. Pelagio, thank you for that. I have also updated the post on the functioning nature of the church. However, in terms of the items we discovered there–that is accurate; those items were indeed there and it did appear like the church was at least partially used for storage. What’s more, my reflections provided here are of our experience exploring the property some 5 years ago. Given that, there is truth in our impressions as they reflect our experiences and feelings at that time.

      I expect that a lot has changed since then, especially considering the rapid structural improvements and new developments in Rovinj over the last couple years. I’ve also heard that the hospital will be under renovation at some point (if that hasn’t already come to pass). And so, thank you again for your comment and alerting me to corrections that needed to be made.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s