Opatija, Kvarner bay
© Petar TrinajstićOpatija, Kvarner bay

Five fantastic health and wellness holidays in Croatia

Croatia's finest holidays for healthcare, rest and relaxation

Written by
Time Out contributors
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Croatia's seaside tourism is typically busiest in summer months, but for those in search of healthcare, fitness or wellness holidays, the Adriatic is a fabulous option year-round. Croatia offers stunningly attractive locations to experience natural and traditional therapies. It also has some of the most distinguished healthcare practitioners, operating at among the lowest rates in Europe. Here we pick five of the best destinations in Croatia for health and self-improvement.

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Croatia's capital is the hub of the country's medical practices and the city in which the finest practitioners are found. The city offers several private and public hospitals, dental practices and an ever increasing number of options for cosmetic surgery. The attractive city centre filled with parks and characterful Austro-Hungarian architecture is a great place to explore by foot. Three luxurious five-star hotels, the Westin, The Sheraton and The Esplanade, are all centrally located and offer a relaxing stay. They are soon to be joined by the city's fourth hotel of this standard, Capital. 

In Croatia, around 400 organ transplants take place every year. 100 of those are liver transplants, one of the most complicated and difficult forms of surgery. Clinical excellence ensures that Croatia and in particular Zagreb, where most of these surgeries take place, remains at the top of the European league in these regards.

Medical treatment is of such high quality and at comparably smaller prices than in the home nations of visitors, that it is the first choice not only for those in northern Europe, where treatments are considerably more expensive but also from its nearest neighbours.

Visitors from neighbouring Slovenia, less than an hour's drive from Zagreb, make up a large number of Croatia's health tourists and Zagreb is an increasingly more viable option to Italian visitors for dental surgery. But with over 25 different airlines flying direct to Zagreb from all over the world, including many budget airline routes from major European cities, there's no reason why Europeans from further afield shouldn't take advantage of Zagreb's fantastic facilities.

The island of Lošinj was declared a health resort as far back as 1892, due to its unique microclimate. The Croatian nickname is the Island of Vitality and is well known for its healthcare, which is offered by health institutions, hotel complexes and local entrepreneurs.

The combination of Lošinj's climate and natural attributes are combined with modern health services, led by the Veli Lošinj Health Care Centre, to create a unique environment for wellness. The Centre offers programmes which treat respiratory tract illnesses and asthma, allergy and psoriasis treatment programmes, as well as classic rehabilitation programs for diseases of the locomotor system and neurological diseases. Being so well established on the island, its health tourism is complemented by services offered at many Lošinj hotels.

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The city of Opatija is one of the oldest tourist destinations in the region and was designated as a climatic health resort in 1889 via an imperial decree. In 1873 the Austrian Southern Railway company from Vienna opened a line from Pivka in Slovenia to Rijeka via the nearby Croatian town of Matulji. In 1908 a tramway line was opened, running from Matulji along the coast via Opatija down to nearby Lovran, enabling easy access to this western side of the Istrian peninsula from the heart of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Kings and emperors stayed in Opatija and the immediate vicinity and the town proved a source of inspiration to many artists and architects, many of whom contributed to the distinct and grandiose beauty of its buildings, promenades and parks. This tradition has continued and Opatija still remains a beautiful tourist destination, famous for the rich offer of its wellness centres, as well as medical tourism.

The fact that Korčula has previously existed under Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, French, Austro-Hungarian and Yugoslavian rule is a testament to handsome appeal and the advanced nature of the settlements that have existed there for thousands of years. Today, this is reflected by the fact that despite only being connected to the mainland by boat, Korčula is Croatia's second most populously inhabited island. Its healthcare and wellness industry has grown in correlation to its expansion. A special institute for contemporary physical medicine and rehabilitation was developed on the island, taking advantage of rich natural attributes such as the wild aromatic and medicinal herbs that grow nearby and the healing mud and naturally radioactive mineral water, which can be found in the bay of Kali, near the town of Vela Luka. These therapies are combined to effectively treat chronic rheumatic, neurological and gynaecological issues.

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Lika
National park Plitvice

Lika

With the Croatian coast often stuffed with tourists in the summer season, heading inland to continental Croatia can offer a calmer and quieter environment to rest and recover. The air and water in the vast Lika region are absolutely pristine and the area offers splendid isolation.

Continental Croatia offers beautifully bucolic scenery, like the waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes, Croatia's most famous national park. The park itself is much larger than the area known for its water features. Plitvice is teeming with wildlife, including 321 species of butterflies, 157 species of birds, 20 species of bats and some of Europe's largest predators including the brown bear, wolf, and lynx. Much of the area is covered by dense forest. The combination of the trees and valleys in the region make it a much cooler and more comfortable place to spend the night than the seaside or the city in mid-summer. Yet, in places, it is still only an hour's drive to the seaside for those who want to jump into the Adriatic.

Plitvice Lakes is such a popular destination that local areas are well equipped to handle tourism at every level, from camping to wooden huts, guest houses, apartments, lodges and the occasional plush hotels. Plitvice Lakes is not the only national park in the region; the one to the north of Velebit mountain is the youngest of Croatia's national parks and has received special status due to the diversity of its karst, flora, fauna and landscape. To the south of the same mountain lies the heavily wooded Paklenica National Park.

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