If you envisage yourself jogging, in slow motion, over bleached sand before gracefully diving into the ocean on your next holiday (David Hasselhoff & Pamela Anderson style), then give Croatia a wide berth and jump on the next plane to Florida. There is nothing glamorous about fumbling over rocks and stones to finally trip or slip and hitting the water face first.
However, how many countries in the world offer the opportunity to dive off an ancient fortress, or thousand year old castle walls, into the crystal waters of the Adriatic Sea? Potentially a few, and Croatia is certainly among them. Croatia, like much of Europe, is replete with fascinating history, with every cobblestone having borne witness to anything from a Roman Legion’s relentless advances, to epic battles that changed the course of history itself.
Among the many specific destination possibilities across this wonderful Adriatic land, Rovinj, located on the western coast of the Istrian Peninsula, would have to be worth a visit. Croatia is possibly best known for its many Islands (over 1,244 at last count), and this fortress city which pre-dates the Medieval period, was, in fact, initially built on an Island (back when there were 1,245 of them), before the channel was filled in 1763, making it part of the mainland.
As is common with European cities, Rovinj has been known by many names, and played host to a plethora of hosts, inhabitants and conquerors. It’s recorded origins lie in the Istrian Tribes who first settled there possibly as early as the 3rd Century, followed by Roman, Byzantine, Frankish and Venetian occupations, before falling victim to Napoleon’s ambitions in recent history, and later becoming part of the Austrian Empire leading up to WWI.
“Croatia, like much of Europe, is replete with fascinating history, with every cobblestone having borne witness to anything from a Roman Legion’s relentless advances, to epic battles that changed the course of history itself.”
Its fortunes did not improve thereafter, with the advent of communism subsuming Rovinj under the banner of the former Yugoslavia, before independence was once again achieved post 1991, following the Croatian War of Independence. Unlike another of Croatia’s tourist hotspots, the southern ancient city of Dubrovnik, Rovinj escaped shelling, thereby retaining the integrity of its old town, where you can wander through its narrow streets, polished to a shine by the procession of feet over millennia. Peeking into its tightly squeezed houses will expose you to the usual tourist shops, some genuine artisan occupied nooks and crannies, as well as fun cafes & bars. But, consistent with the mantra of all sophisticated travellers, look beyond the main tourist trail to find the real treasures, such as Bar Valentino, built into the outer permitter of the city walls, where you can watch the sun set over a shimmering sea, in good company.
“Its fortunes did not improve thereafter, with the advent of communism subsuming Rovinj under the banner of the former Yugoslavia, before independence was once again achieved post 1991, following the Croatian War of Independence.”
It is perhaps little wonder that a place of such ancient history has recently aligned itself with one of the world’s oldest sports, yet with a modern twist, consistent with its ability to seamlessly mix the old with the new. Beach Polo, as the name suggests, is a variant of the traditional game played on sand, and it has arrived in Rovinj with much fanfare. But not without extraordinary effort. As there is no sand in sight in Rovinj, it has to be trucked in from afar, at significant expense! No beach in Rovinj for Beach Polo? No problem for the resourceful Croats- they imported one.
First pioneered in Dubai by Rashid Al Habtoor and Sam Katiela in 2004, Beach Polo has spread across the world to a number of countries, with instalments played, at least periodically, in diverse locations such as Ibiza (Spain), Glenelg (Australia), Miami (USA), Timmendorfer Strand (Germany) and Sandbanks (UK), to name but a few. There is hardly a more impressive spectacle to be conjured than combining equine and human athletes to compete against an oceanic backdrop, while you sit back to observe with Champagne in hand and sand between your toes. The event has quickly become a magnet for the who’s who of Europe, and beyond, with many teams converging to compete from around the world, such as the USA, India & Argentina, among others.
Rovinj Beach Polo probably offers one of the most spectacular settings for what is already a notoriously spectacular sporting and social event in any context. Guests watching the games can admire the iconic Church of St Euphemia’s tower across the bay, where it occupies a commanding vantage point atop the old town, or simply revel in the beauty of the turquoise Adriatic waters, watching the fishing boats head out to sea, as they have done since time immemorial.
“The event has quickly become a magnet for the who’s who of Europe, and beyond, with many teams converging to compete from around the world, such as the USA, India & Argentina, among others.”
Our suggestion, however, would be to concentrate on sipping your Champagne and watching the game, as you can do all that sightseeing stuff on another day- after the Beach Polo. In fact, if you are predisposed to that kind of thing, we would also strongly suggest a visit to the astounding Limska Draga Fiord to sample the local oysters with a glass of Rose, or if archaeology holds greater sway, then perhaps a more appropriate sojourn would be the excavated ruins of Monkodonja only a short drive out of the city, which will take you back to approximately 2,000 BC.
Croatia is truly one of Europe’s gems, replete with natural beauty and a past that reads, not surprisingly, like a chapter from Game of Thrones. It’s magnificent rocky coastlines, endless islands, tranquil azure bays, nature reserves and ancients cities, render it a truly rewarding destination for travellers with diverse persuasions. Rovinj incorporates all of these features within its proximity.
If, despite all these attributes, the lack of sweeping sands was the only thing keeping you at bay from this wonderful coastal city, you really have no excuses left at all now that Beach Polo has even brought its very own sand for your enjoyment.
We strongly suggest, however, that if you plan your glamorous ‘Baywatch’ style run into the sea for a dip, you do it in between chukkers.