Villa Rainis was the 19th-century home of Venetian chemist Giovanni Rainis – today rebuilt as boutique hotel and spa Palazzo Rainis. This refined stay is a deftly dosed prescription for upscale R&R by the sea. All that’s good about its past has been conserved – stately proportions, ornate balconies, towering pines in the grounds that were built around. Its balconied rooms, most with sea views, are a soothing tonic; its destination restaurant, a triumph of Istrian cuisine you should take twice daily. A location close to town, on a coastline of feted Istrian beaches, means Villa Rainis and its Novigrad setting have great chemistry, too.
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A welcome glass of wine, beer or soft drink. GoldSmiths get a room upgrade where available and a bottle of wine
11am. Earliest check-in, 2pm. Both are flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £144.01 (€170), including tax at 13 per cent.
Rates include buffet breakfast with hot dishes cooked to order.
May we alert your attention to room service hours: coffee and pastries on your balcony accompanied by a gentle sea breeze is the simplest of breakfast upgrades.
At the hotel
Pool, spa, gym. In rooms: free WiFi, satellite HD TV, minibar, free tea, coffee and free bottled water, local botanical bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Suites in the annexe offer excellent value with generous living space and broad balconies. Although interiors are equally calm and contemporary across all buildings, the allure of staying in the main villa is hard to resist: first-floor suites have stately proportions and elegant arched windows framing sea views, but it’s the top-floor Suite Villa that has stolen our hearts – a tucked-away charmer with serene sea views from its balcony under the eaves.
In front of the hotel, flanked by annexe rooms and suites, the chlorinated pool (unheated) is open from 10am until 6pm.
In the basement of Palazzo Rainis, a tucked-away spa is a sleekly dressed den of saunas, ice-bucket showers, a treatment room, relaxation area and a Jacuzzi, plus a small gym.
Casual, loose-fitting threads for wafting around Novigrad; nautical stripes and deck shoes for yacht adventures.
Pine-shaded tables on the terrace are the most sought-after.
What would Beth Harmon wear? Channel tailored separates, pleats and retro prints to bring a little Queen’s Gambit flair to the chequerboard dining room at Chemistry.
With room for only 30 diners and a gourmet menu overseen by esteemed Croatian chefs, Chemistry at Palazzo Rainis is something of a hot ticket. In a 50s-cool dining room of chequered floor tiles, peacock green walls and brushed nickel details, dine on Istrian cuisine with Mediterranean and French influences thrown in: chef patron Tom Gretić has always championed local, seasonal ingredients and at Chemistry – a collaboration with executive chef Miro Marić – you can expect the same with added kitchen alchemy: ingredients such as tartufi and wild asparagus are reimagined with more than a nod to the science of cooking.
Named in deference to Venetian chemist Rainis, the villa’s original owner, Potions bar is at the heart of the restaurant, allowing guests to move seamlessly from apéritifs to dinner; curvaceous velvet sofas at one end of the restaurant are the place to linger over cocktails or sample your way through the Istrian and Croatian wine list – with additional high stools at the bar.
Breakfast is served, 7am–11am; lunch between noon and 3pm; dinner, from 7pm–10pm.
A tale of two menus, breakfast can be ordered to your room between 7am and 11am; from noon, a dedicated menu of Istrian-influenced dishes is available until 7pm.
Palazzo Rainis is in Novigrad on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula in northern Croatia.
Pula (50 minutes by road) and Trieste in Italy (80 minutes away) are the nearest international airports to Palazzo Rainis; Slovenia’s Ljubljana Airport is less than two hours away, too. The hotel can arrange private airport transfers (€130–€460 each way).
Istria is not known for its rail infrastructure. Trieste in Italy is the nearest train station with good connections, still an 80-minute drive from the hotel: Pula train station is less well connected and routes from Zadar, Dubrovnik and Zagreb often involve lengthy stints on buses as well as rail travel.
The hotel is a car-free zone with a private car park 200 metres from the hotel, which has charging points for electric vehicles.
Ferries from Venice cross the Adriatic in less than three hours to Poreč, which is only a 35-minute drive from Palazzo Rainis.
Worth getting out of bed for
Town does not preclude beach in the scenic port of Novigrad: shingled gems such as Plaža Maestral, south of the old town, and City Beach, alongside the town walls, are bathing spots in easy reach. Further along the coast, popular Plaža Pineta is a broad, pine-fringed stretch of pale pebbles lapped by turquoise shallows. The hotel can arrange a day trip by yacht to explore the pristine blue-and-green beauty of the Brijuni National Park (off the coast of Pula). The Roman amphitheatre in Pula has Colosseum-like grandeur and is yours to visit on a full-day private guided tour of Istrian towns and sights. Join a truffle hunter in the woods on a quest for the famed fungi and feast on your finds for lunch. The picturesque fishing port of Rovinj and seductive summer resort Poreč, which has lauded beaches and a charming old town, should also be on your Istrian checklist.
A trio of fish and seafood restaurants are all within walking distance in Novigrad… First up, the gourmet one – Damir i Ornela – where elegant, simply dressed plates of the freshest seafood confirm its fine dining status. The award for best dressed goes to the linened tables bathed in a warm glow from pendant lamps at the Marina Restaurant, where prettily presented fish dishes are as smart as your polished surroundings. With less formality but just as much flavour, Konoba Čok (better than it sounds) is a casual spot for ceviche, oysters, pan-fried scallops and whatever catch of the day has made its way from the Adriatic to the kitchen, plus its wizardry with truffles and pasta is good news for vegetarians.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this coastal hotel in Istria and unpacked their olive oil and clay wine jugs, a full account of their Croatian beach break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Palazzo Rainis in Novigrad…
A contemporary stay with a storied past, Palazzo Rainis owes its old-fashioned good looks to a loyal reconstruction of the turn-of-the-century villa it’s replaced. High ceilings and arched windows on the first floor, a roof ribbed with salvaged beams from the original villa, wrought-iron balconies – some spacious, some Juliet – mean every room is a little different; yet all are dressed in a refined modern style punctuated with heritage details that nod to the hotel’s past (an aesthetic that extends to annexe rooms, too). History here does not mean antique: beds are four-poster but with clean lines free of flounce; seemingly antique mirrors are in fact bespoke brass commissions. You’ll find this magnetic mix of heritage and innovation in the restaurant, too: chef patron Tom Gretic (well known in Croatia) showcases seasonal, local produce (tartufi, wild asparagus, olive oil), but reinvents them with experimental aplomb (the restaurant, after all, is called Chemistry). From restaurant to room, the result is a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel brimming with local character. The spa and pool may encourage staying put, but this is Novigrad – a vibrant port town – where pine-fringed Adriatic beaches, history-steeped streets, inviting restaurants and bars are all within easy reach.