At the end of a long journey, the windswept and empty road in front of the hotel does not make for a particularly welcoming sight. But once through the door, the jaw-dropping view of the Adriatic through the giant window makes up for it. Desk staff are professional and courteous, if a touch stiff, although it could have been the imposing charcoal-grey uniforms they were wearing rather than a lack of friendliness. Bags were whisked to my room efficiently and my jacket was hung up in the wardrobe, which would have been a nice touch if I had thought to look for it in there.
Better explored from the back of the hotel rather than the front. Situated on the seafront, the hotel is a 15-minute amble from Rovinj, a small, pretty town clustered on the Istrian peninsula, with the old town perched high on a hill. Narrow alleyways framed by Venetian-style houses wend their way up to the 18th century church of St Euphemia, and down by the harbour, fishermen mend their nets, gulls circle and tourists and locals lick ice creams and sip coffee in waterfront cafes and restaurants. A few minutes in the other direction from the hotel is a national park, where you'll find pine forests, sandy paths and a series of sheltered rocky bays, perfect for swimming.
The Monte Mulini claims to be the area's first five-star hotel, but don't expect five star service equivalent to that of London or Paris. Despite there being very few guests in the hotel, which opened in March, the maid service had a great knack of turning up just when I wanted to take a shower or work in my room, for example. The therapists in the hotel's spa were also slightly hit-and-miss, with my masseuse wandering off at the end of my massage without an explanation. Staff are eager to please, however. When I asked if the hotel had an adaptor plug for my computer, Mario, the unflappable receptionist, dispatched someone to the next town to buy one for me.
There are no duff choices here. All the rooms face the sea and have a balcony. Furnishings are modern, the bed is huge and comfortable, and free internet access is most welcome. The bedside lights - once I spent half an hour working out how to use the control panel - were a delight. The bathroom came with the obligatory free-standing tub and dinner plate head shower, and as a bonus the wardrobe can be accessed from either the room or the bathroom. There were no facilities for making tea or coffee, however, and the selection of drinks and snacks in the minibar was quite lacklustre. I also could have done without the art that adorned my room - and the rest of the hotel. It may be contemporary art by Croatian artists but the muted abstraction it offered was neither here nor there.
Very quiet at the time of my visit. A smattering of couples - some youngish, some not - and businessmen made an appearance at breakfast times, but the overall vibe could hardly be described as "hip and happening". It is, however, the hotel's first season and if the interiors are anything to go by, the Monte Mulini has ambitions to attract the smart set. Modern Murano glass chandeliers and sculptures adorn the restaurant and lounge, and a palette of gold, cream and purple creates a warm atmosphere, which is reinforced by the large open fireplaces in the entrance hall and central atrium. Nevertheless, the contemporary features of the hotel run to comedy at times. Gigantic pepper mills and oversized china and glassware are the norm in the restaurants and the carpet in the lounge is headache inducing. At the rear of the hotel, a series of swimming pools, perfect for posing beside, are set in landscaped gardens.
Outstanding. There are two restaurants, Mediterraneo which serves Mediterranean fusion-style dishes, and the Wine Vault, which has a small number of tables for more intimate dining. Both are overseen by the executive chef Tomislav Gretic, who opened Dubai's Asia de Cuba restaurant and has returned to his home country after a stint at Zurich's Dolder Grand. Produce is locally sourced where possible - wild asparagus was in season at the time of my visit - and seafood is the star attraction. Grilled octopus was a hit at Mediterraneo and down in The Vault Gretic cooks dishes ranging from delicate fried squash flowers to baked dentex - a flavourful local white fish - with braised fennel and puréed potatoes.
The view from the hotel - sea, air and light everywhere you look.
The view of the hotel. The three-storey high window and the contemporary design of the building are best enjoyed from the inside. From the outside, the building squats imperiously and uncomfortably in the beautiful Istrian landscape.
Monte Mulini is comfortable, well resourced and well placed for both walking in the nature reserve and visiting Rovinj. However, it's hard to see exactly how a five-star hotel fits into the low-key ambience of the town which, although a popular tourist destination, does not yet attract high rollers. If you've got money to burn, the Monte Mulini makes for a great, luxurious base from which to explore Istria. And if you're in need of a gourmet meal, look no further.
A double room costs from US$329 (Dh1,208) including breakfast and taxes. Hotel Monte Mulini, A. Smareglia bb, 52210 Rovinj, Croatia (www.maistra.hr; 00 385 52 636 001).