‘Europe? Now? In all this craziness? How?!’
This is what I heard when I proclaimed to friends and family, “I’m headed to Croatia!”
Where to begin on the state of international travel in October 2020?! Countries are adapting and implementing their COVID-19 response requirements and testing has become quicker & easier to access.
As an advisor, it has been difficult to keep up with the ever-changing rules and regulations each country is following. As a whole, “European borders are closed” is the message to American tourists. However, there are a few gems that consistently remained open and available to international travelers throughout the pandemic, one being Croatia.
Croatia simply requires a negative COVID-19 PCR test 48 hours before border-crossing into the country. Be careful not to mix up the “PCR” and “rapid test,” as the rapid is not accepted.
I flew United Airlines from Sarasota, FL via Newark and Munich to reach Zagreb, Croatia. The United Airlines attendants in Sarasota were helpful and checked that I had the proper testing information to present upon arrival at customs in Croatia.
Each airport tended to the safety of travelers by implementing contactless food/drink ordering, providing sanitizing stations every 100 feet, and requiring face coverings while inside the terminals.
My flight to Munich was at about 20% occupancy. I had about 5 rows to myself! While flying, I felt quite safe and secure. Meals were individually wrapped, attendants took extra precautions, and best of all, the plane was extremely clean. While having to wear a mask throughout the flight was slightly annoying, I slept most of the way and just chalk it up to doing what I must.
My inter-Europe flight from Munich-Zagreb was full. It was nice to see that Europeans are ready to spread their wings and enjoy some time away. Once arriving in Zagreb, customs and immigration asked the now customary questions about current health and reviewed my proof of negative testing.
I had a private car for the 3-hour drive to Rovinj, which is on the Adriatic coast. My driver wore a face covering and offered sanitizer. While I was growing weary of my mask, the scenery was fabulous and I chose not to let it bother me!
As the province of Istria was in a COVID “green zone” in Europe, the rules and regulations were a bit more relaxed than in the US. Face coverings were only required when inside establishments (i.e. grocery stores, shops, etc). I was a bit more cautious and played by the USA’s rules.
Rovinj – what a magical little harbor town. As the province formerly belonged to Italy, the influence of culture, language, food, and wine shined through.
Rovinj is a port city, sitting in the northern part of the country bordering the Adriatic. Wandering the cobblestone streets and stone buildings reminded me of the small Italian towns that I’ve had the good fortune to explore in Tuscany.
A perfect afternoon in Rovinj was to sit at a harbor restaurant overlooking the fishing boats in the crystal clear water with a glass of crisp Malvasia wine, enjoying the fresh catch of the day! Don’t forget to try this region’s wine specialty: Orange Wine, a varietal of wine made from white wine grapes. The grape skins, interestingly, are not removed! This is unique to wines from Croatia and neighboring Slovenia.
Spend your days in and around the water while in Rovinj. Boat or kayak the bays. Bike the Golden Coast to find hidden, rocky beaches for swimming and sunning. If you’re lucky with a very clear day, you can see the Italian Dolomites from Rovinj – WOW, and what an incredible sight it was.
Not only will you find fresh fish on every menu, but you’ll also find some Italian specialties and various meat options. Don’t miss out on the Istrian boards where you’ll get a variety of Istrian meats and cheeses local to the area.
If you want to get out of town, rent a car and explore the countryside. They refer to the Istrian countryside as “mini Tuscany,” filled with vineyards and small, hilltop medieval towns. There is a large truffle presence in food dishes, and a wonderful experience is to do a truffle hunt, complete with dogs, and a fabulous meal with your found truffles. For lunch, find a recommended “Konoba” for a fabulous dining experience.
We are in an uncertain time and travel is certainly uncertain! But, it is critical to remember we are all in this one together. These restaurants, shops, market vendors, fishermen, tour operators, drivers…they NEED us. You will still find the same joy, and perhaps a little more, in exploring old and new regions, meeting locals, watching local life happen. There is still so much to see, learn, and experience. If you’re ready to travel, there are wonderful spots available and I say, “Bon Voyage!”