Arguably Croatia’s first seaside resort, Opatija was attracting royalty and the well-to-do more than a century ago. They stayed in grand villas and sought to invigorate their health by strolling the Lungomare, a stunning seaside walkway that offers some of Croatia’s best vistas.
The vistas, villas and Lungomare remain, as do the many imposing fin-de-siècle hotels that enhance Opatija’s distinctive Habsburg-era look. This sophisticated destination also boasts a competitive restaurant scene that’s made it an important gastronomic hub in Croatia – and a great place to eat out. Hotels not only oversee many of these restaurants but now also offer top-notch spa facilities too.
Opatija is fancier and pricier than many other Croatian resorts, but if you want a luxurious holiday you can find it here.
In the late 19th century, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire reached its apex, the Habsburgs made this town of dazzling vistas and rocky beaches one of the hottest spots in Europe.
Opatija was the place where royalty took their holidays and Isadora Duncan took her lovers. Wealthy socialites built Secessionist and Neo-Classical mansions on the rocks above the sea, or stayed in hotels of imperial elegance. Unlike most Croatian resorts, where a tourism infrastructure was added on to an existing settlement, Opatija was purpose-built for tourists – rich ones.
Before 1844, Opatija was nothing but a fishing village with 35 houses and a church. Higinio von Scarpa then built opulent Villa Angiolina, named after his wife, and surrounded it with a menagerie, an exotic garden and influential guests. The villa, featuring trompe l’oeil frescoes, now houses the Croatian Museum of Tourism.
The property was bought in the 1880s by the chief of the regional railway board. Soon Opatija was being successfully promoted as an overland getaway destination for a certain class of European, catered for by opulent hotels being built at the same time. An accent on health tourism – spa baths and seaside vigorous walks – kept this clement resort busy year-round. Mahler, Puccini and Chekhov were among the visitors.
This legacy lingers in the stunning architecture, Viennese-style coffeehouses and Central European atmosphere, kept alive by the large number of Austrian tourists.
Meanwhile, there is a local young contingent, coming in from Rijeka and elsewhere along the coast, keep the late night bars busy. And the modern-day counterparts of the fin-de-siècle establishments are the spa and boutique hotels are opening along the riviera, attracting a trend- conscious clientele.
Adventurous chefs have made neighbouring Volosko their base – Opatija has led the way where contemporary cuisine is concerned. The resort is deliberately arranged on a steep hill facing the sea, offering fine views of the Kvarner Bay. Further vistas and several beaches can be found along the 12-kilometre Lungomare, the shaded promenade that follows the rocky coast here. Stretches of rocky beach are fronted by towering villas, some abandoned and others converted into luxury hotels. Further along stretch the quieter, pebbly shores of Ičići and Lovran, before Medveja, with its own attractive shingle beach.