By Jenna Scatena
September 08, 2015
Credit: Courtesy of Hotel Adriatic

There are hotels with art, and then there are art hotels. And that buzz term—art hotel—has been tossed around so flippantly lately, it’s easy to question what it truly means. But Croatia’s latest major opening, the Hotel Adriatic, makes a strong case for what the definition should entail.

Set between Rovinj’s historic old town district, which is just behind the hotel and brimming with ateliers, and the sea of its namesake, Hotel Adriatic was transformed this summer from an underwhelming historic inn to a four-star, luxury boutique hotel with a provocative art collection. Here, nothing is only decorative—and the works were commissioned by the hotel specifically for the spaces they inhabit.

Artwork in the 18 guestrooms tends to blur the line between the waking and dreaming worlds. The very top room in the hotel contains an installation that’s a tribute to eternalizing summer with a concrete replica of an inflatable pool lounger. (Exhibits at the top of the hotel tend toward the lighthearted, then become more conceptual on the way down.)

In room 11, black paint has been splattered across an entire wall by French artist Abdelkader Benchamma. Even the hallways offer their own experiential exhibit: black carpet, walls, and ceilings are meant to create a moment of silence and intimacy amid the typical social chaos of travel.

Credit: Courtesy of Hotel Adriatic

On the ground level, in the hotel’s Istrian-Italian brasserie, works bend the idea of space and time. Enlarged photos of Rovinj’s archipelago appear almost like windows to the natural world, a trick to communicate visually with the hotel’s surroundings. Three identical stuffed owls leap from the ceiling in succession, toward the well-heeled diners, as if to introduce stop-motion into the reality of a restaurant.

In the lobby bar (which boasts Croatia’s largest whiskey selection as well as classic cocktails), bartenders and servers float by in grey and denim workshop aprons by Zagreb-based designers, I-GLE. On the walls, framed grey splotches are allusions to condensation dripping on the inside pane of a greenhouse.

Almost every artist who created a piece for the property—from Croatian artists like Igor Eškinja and Goran Petercol, and international artists such as Chris Goennawein to Abdelkader Benchamma—created them within the hotel’s walls, as a nod to the Adriatic’s long history as a place of encounter between locals and travelers.

Jenna Scatena is on the San Francisco Bay Area beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.