When offered a trip to a “business hotel” in Croatia’s most northerly region, famed for its lush scenery alongside its white truffles and olive oil, the first response from your correspondence was a bemused, “eh?” Croatia on a map looks like a lower-case ‘r’ falling over.The coast is a long, narrow spit dominated by the rugged, beautiful countryside and the intense bustle of its regional hub, Split. The curving arch in the north of the country is peppered by baroque architecture and the looming spectre of Yugoslavia’s communist past.
Hotel Lone on the other hand, is in Rovinj, a sleepy fishing town perched at the northern most end of Croatia’s 1,778km of scraggly coastline and is a secret to both the business and tourist community outside of the region. So it seemed a slightly strange destination for a meeting – unless your business is R&R.
However, architect firm 3LHD has defied business hotels’ fusty image and created a space that feels like an extra wing of the Guggenheim. Your correspondent had a feeling his early befuddlement was part of both Hotel Lone’s and Rovinj’s hidden charm.
Access to the area comes courtesy of Ryanair’s ever expanding empire into the more obscure parts of Europe. The nearest airport to the town is Pula, a slightly drab looking airport from a bygone era. But, thanks to its diminutive size, you and your luggage will be through customs and out the door within ten minutes.
A taxi or hire car are your best options for getting to Rovinj, which is a scenic thirty minute drive through the innumerable olive groves and vineyards in the area. Thanks to the region’s proximity to Italy, historically, the powerful city states of Venice and Ancona didn’t want the Croats muscling in on the lucrative oil and wine trade, and so taxed local businesses. Today thankfully, Istria’s farmers are free to grow their produce and market it across Europe – which, as your correspondent will discover later, is another jewel in the region’s crown.
Arriving, at the five star Hotel Lone, the front aspect hides the building’s form, which was designed to resemble a cruise liner – thanks to its proximity to the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic. Walking into the lobby, the uniform exterior gives way to a contrast of light and dark – the white stone surfaces separated by darkened corridors, and beige and gold fabrics covering the locally sourced furniture.
Conceptual artist Ivana Franke has created a large hanging sculpture called “Room for running Ghosts” for the lobby adding to its Guggenheim-esq feel. Thanks to the gentle slope down to the sea, the lobby looks over the landscaped gardens and the two main restaurants in the hotel, which are accessed via a sweeping staircase.
The 248-rooms are separated into two categories; the superior, grand, and jazz rooms are minimalist affairs with warm fabrics, Slovenian oak, and a terrace overlooking the sea and or the Golden Cape Forest Park. The ‘Jazz’ rooms on the lower ground floor benefit from the addition of a hot tub on the balcony, which itself is connected to an infinity pool that runs the length of this side of the hotel. Skinny dippers beware, your journey in and out of the tub can be seen by anyone walking through the gardens, as your correspondent discovered to his chagrin.
The suites – Gallery, Bay, and Lone – on the other hand, are vast, 1,400 square-foot examples of glass and white wash walls, with painfully tasteful furniture casually littered about the place.
As you may have noticed, none of the above really equates to ‘business’. That’s because Lone wants your stay to not just be focused on the conference facilities, although they are more than ample.
There are 10 multi-purpose meeting rooms and an auditorium with a seating capacity of 650, all equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Together with its sister hotels in the Cap Aureo zone, Hotel Lone is capable of hosting major events with over 3,000 participants. But thankfully, your correspondent wasn’t here to sample sitting in a darkened room.
Connecting the hotel to its smaller, more boutique neighbour, the Hotel Monte Mulini, is the colossal, 18,000 square-foot spa – which doesn’t include Mulini’s ample facilities which are available to guests in the hotel. Inside you’ll find scented steam, Finnish and an infrared sauna – we never quite worked that one out; gym, relaxation area, indoor fresh-water pool with special hydro-massage effects; a nail spa; and two connected ‘sunken‘ rooms, offering the opportunity to float and relax on hydro massage seats.
There are eight multi-function treatment rooms using Bioline and Comfort Zone products, some of which have glass walls with views of the surrounding national park. In essence, it is impossible to be stressed out here – as we found with a traditional hour-long massage that left us in a dream-like state for three hours afterwards.
Thanks to Lone’s proximity to the Golden Cape National Park, the gardens bleed seamlessly into miles of forest, which is accessible via cycle path that stretches for 80 miles down the coast.
We spent an afternoon exploring the rugged coastline on bikes, with a few customary stops at the tiny wooden shack bars on the path serving the passing trade. There isn’t anything resembling a beach at the water’s edge, instead, the coastline is a series of small coves and bays that offer access to crystal clear waters, thanks to the absence of sand.
The gardens also provide access to Rovinj itself – a picturesque town built atop a rock that forms one part of a natural harbour. The town houses just 12,000 residents – with many of the beautiful, dilapidated buildings left empty after the fall of Yugoslavia. In peak season, the narrow streets can feel a little cramped, but go in spring or autumn and you’ll be able to walk up and visit the church of St. Euphemia, a baroque church and landmark that offers panaromic views from its clock tower. Walking through the town feels like you’ve been transported back hundreds of years, as most of it remains unchanged since the days it was sealed off from the mainland via a drawbridge.
A big part of the region is the food and drink, which our guides were very keen to highlight to us. The hotel Lone has three very fine restaurants; a Seafood Bar (“E”) as well as an à la carte restaurant (“L”) and less formal dining experience (“On”).
But if you really want to see what the local food is all about, jump in a car and find one of the numerous small, family run restaurants in the hills surrounding the town. We ended up in a taverna style place owned by a proud couple who insisted we consumed everything on the menu and then take some with us. Here you’ll find strong Italian influences – baked pasta dishes with slow cooked beef – combined with local delicacies including the charcuterie and the famed olive oil.
Istria is the world’s northernmost olive tree growing area, which works to its advantage. The secret lies in lower temperatures, thanks to which olive trees have a shorter vegetational period and the oil accumulation in its fruit begins later than in other regions. When summer heat waves strike southern areas, the fruit already contains oil, and the high temperatures cause a considerable decrease in its quality.
In Istria on the other hand, the accumulation of oil begins after the period of high temperatures has passed, and can no longer affect the oil’s quality. This results in a high quality olive oil of an intense taste and aroma and profound tones of various herbs. Needless to say, our bags clinked through customs stuffed full of the intensely green oil that smelt of freshly cut grass whenever a bottle was opened.
Spending four days in Rovinj felt like two weeks – in a good way. The pace of life is wonderfully slow, the language barrier is surprisingly low for this part of Europe, and being just under two hours away, it’s close enough for you to hop on a plane on Friday afternoon and be having dinner by candlelight in front of the Adriatic by dinner time.
Article by Matt Hussey
Matt Hussey was a guest of Hotel Lone. Current room rates start at 150€, including breakfast and VAT (Lone Suite – 2,000¢ per night)