Five-star in first-class Croatia
A visit to the first five-star hotel in Rovinj, Croatia, was a real eye-opener to a little-known area for Terry Redhead.
Discovering new locations for a holiday or short break always comes with a degree of risk or uncertainty. But any pre-trip worries or anxiety about spending time in Croatia's finest five-star hotel were quickly dispersed.
The Hotel Monte Mulini is the first to be built to international five-star standards in beautiful Rovinj on the Istrian peninsula. Certainly no one could be disappointed with its luxury, its situation, its food and all-round hospitality.
Set into the hillside, the hotel, designed so that windows in all public areas frame views of the glorious bay, is spread over three levels, stepping down from the entrance hall, which boasts a dramatic side glass wall greeting guests with an undisturbed view of the sea.
Five-star attention to detail ensure guest comfort in the 99 generously-sized bedrooms and 14 luxurious suites.
Rovinj has already become established as a Mediterranean gem for summer holidays, but the Monte Mulini will do nothing but enhance the destination and enable the quaint, delightful old town to welcome even more discerning travellers.
It was said in 2008 by ABTA magazine that if a beauty contest was held among Croatia's coastal resorts, then Rovinj would win every time.
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Accessible via a flight from Stansted to Pula and then a short 20-minute drive from Pula's small but efficient airport, Rovinj is known as the 'blue pearl' of the Adriatic.
The old town itself, and the Monte Mulini, is about 15 minutes walk from its centre, a walk incidentally which is glorious in that you simply amble around the corner of a lovely bay. It is very picturesque, perched on a pear-shaped peninsula high up on a hill packed with Venetian terracotta-roofed houses and crowned by the imposing 18th century Church of St Euphemia whose bell tower dominates the skyline.
It is hard to resist wandering along the cobbled alleys in the old town and the prize is colourful galleries and shops filled with local arts and crafts and an open-air market selling fresh asparagus, olives, tomatoes, herbs, figs and cheese.
And the harbour, crammed with sailing and fishing boats, is an ideal spot to relax and watch the world go by.
But there is more than the old town to explore and while I was there I was fortunate enough to enjoy some special trips.
Travelling back to Pula, where I landed, I found the town had the sixth largest amphitheatre in the world. And if you are lucky enough to meet my particular tour guide, you will quickly become immersed in the history and atmosphere of a special place which has the ability to spark life and laughter.
Motovun, a dramatic hilltop-style town which stages an international film festival early every August is another half-day excursion to recommend while a short boat trip away from Rovinj are the Brijuni Islands, a stunning archipelago of 12 islands where a safari train will take visitors across the main island.
Rovinj is in the heart of gastronomic Croatia and Hotel Monte Mulini was more than happy to provide locally-grown and world renown heady white truffles, freshly-caught seafood and Istrian prosciutto washed down with exquisite Teran, Merlot or Malvazija, the local blossomy white wine.
I was fortunate enough to trek out to a local forest to meet a local truffle-hunter and his two dogs. Truffle-hunting dogs take around four years to train but while I was there one of the dogs, the other was clearly still learning his trade, managed to unearth the very valuable prize.
I was also lucky enough to visit the Ipsa family olive plantation in the lush green valleys of north-Western Istria where sunshine, rain and soil provide ideal conditions for growing olives.
The olives are hand-picked, crushed and pressed the same day, giving the naturally decanted oils a fresh, aromatic and slightly spicy flavour. The Ipsa extra virgin oils are stored in state-of-the-art stainless steel tanks in a controlled temperature environment to ensure the most premium quality and freshness. Do take advantage, should you visit, of buying some to bring home. You won't be disappointed, especially with the 'frantoio'.
But while it was easy to be occupied with the sights and surrounds of Rovinj, the islands, the nearby Lim Fjord – a protected nature area ideal for sea-kayaking or Nordic walking, with Pula, Motovun, or the olives, truffles and wine, the Hotel Monte Mulini actually provides enough for a special break all of its own doing.
The location is stunning. Swim or relax in the hotel's pools but even more fun is the chance to take one of the well-maintained mountain bikes, provided free, and pedal off for a ride around the bay and into the adjoining woods. There are plenty of places to stop by the water's edge or in the forest and simply enjoy the sights and smells. And the exercise will do you good because dining at the Monte Mulini will undoubtedly put on some pounds and expand the waistline.
Gourmets are well catered for with two top-class restaurants. Mediterranean a la carte has 54 seats in a spacious terraced area for alfresco dining with guests sampling delicious Mediterranean fusion cuisine while enjoying views of the bay and romantic sunsets. There are a further 118 covers inside.
The traditional Croatian wine vault restaurant on the lowest level offers fine dining with 60 seats serving French delicacies. Alongside world-class chef Tomislav Gretic, sommelier Emil Perdec presides over the wine vault which features an extensive wine cellar with more than 550 superior Croatian and international wines on offer.
All that fine dining will make you feel good. But to feel even more special, take advantage of the spa and wellness centre.
The centre includes VIP salons with zones which can be booked by individuals or groups for individually-designed treatments which can last for up to four hours. I opted for the stone signature massage which was wonderfully relaxing.
The Istrian Peninsula will become more and more popular as Croatia continues to develop its tourist industry.
Rovinj is a delightful gem of a small, old, picturesque town with plenty to offer both in town and in the surrounding areas.
The Hotel Monte Mulini, with its beautiful setting, gastronomic delights and opulent attention to detail, will ensure that more and more tourists will be pleased to discover a relatively new destination.
Rovinj is easily reached from the UK by flying to Trieste, Ljubljana, Zageb or Rijeika, but the closest airport is Pula (served by Ryanair). Rovinj can be reached by boat from Venice.
St Euphemia's Church towers over Rovinj but other delights include the Batana Museum House, the clock tower with St Mark's lion and the Baroque Archway.
The Hotel Monte Mulini has 113 suites/rooms and was opened in March 2009. Room rates start from 324 euros including breakfast and VAT for a double room.
For information or reservations visit www.montemulinihotel.com or telephone +385 (0) 52 636000. The hotel is owned by Maistra Inc, the leading hotel company in Croatia and part of the Adris Group.