Opatija
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Ten dazzling Rijeka day trips

With excellent roads and transport provision, Rijeka is the perfect base for exploring the many attractions of the surrounding region of Kvarner. The following ten suggestions are all viable as day trips or overnight stays

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Rijeka is the main city of Kvarner, a region spanning the deep bay of the same name at the northern tip of the Adriatic. Providing a natural barrier between the Italianate peninsula of Istria and the continental mass of northern Croatia, of patchwork Habsburg heritage, Kvarner offers Belle-Époque resorts, gastronomic delights and a mountainous national park populated by lynx, bears and eagles.

All of this is viable as an easy day trip from Rijeka, though top-quality accommodation around the region also means that you can turn your visit into an overnight stay or even long weekend. Nature comes to the fore in Kvarner. Its main islands have long been developed for tourism, but around them hilly terrains, the Bura wind and havens for dolphins and griffon vultures contrast with easy pleasures. Easy transport links include the bridge between continental Croatia and Krk, location for Rijeka’s airport, allowing for easy
exploration of the most populous island in the Adriatic.

Without question, the showcase destination is Opatija, round the curve of Kvarner Bay from Rijeka.

Kvarner getaways

Opatija
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Opatija

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.

Lovran
© Tourist Board Lovran

Lovran

Arranged along the foot of sheltering Mount Učka, and set on a rise above the sea that provides astonishingly beautiful views, Lovran is an ancient settlement with a centuries-old town centre and Habsburg-era villas dotted along a lush, green seaside promenade. The town is smaller and feels more exclusive than Opatija, its neighbour about five kilometres away.

Despite this, there’s still plenty of life here, taking it easy on the pebbly beaches and or getting busy in the jumping bars, which get packed with a generally younger crowd. And, as with other towns along the Lungomare promenade, Lovran’s collection of superb restaurants is sufficient
reason to visit.

Lovran, with a population of 5,000, wasn’t always the small fry in Kvarner. A busy settlement since at least the seventh century, ‘Lauriana’ was named after its many laurel trees. In the 12 th century, the Arab writer and geographer Al Idrisi said: ‘Lovran is a large and progressive city, which has ships always ready, and shipbuilders always employed.’ Along with shipbuilding, Lovran traded locally grown cherries, peaches and their well known sweet chestnuts, called marrons, celebrated with their own festival in October.

Lovran was ruled by the counts of Istria until the 15th century, when Austrians took over. It remained under Austrian rule until the Habsburg empire fell apart at the end of World War I. Modern tourism came here in the late 1800s, as the wooden sailing ships that had employed Lovran’s builders were being replaced by steam vessels built elsewhere.

Following the lead of Opatija, which was becoming known as a destination for holidaymakers seeking a healthy climate, Lovran shifted its economy toward tourism. Many luxury villas went up by the sea, mostly along the main road of Šetalište maršala Tita and the Lungomare promenade.

Today, many villas have been restored into superior forms of hotel accommodation, offering relative seclusion by the sea, with four-star extras. Even if you don’t check in, it’s worth checking out the grand exteriors of these old mansions while taking in amazing sea vistas on the shaded Lungomare.

The Old Town of Lovran is perched above the harbour. It’s easiest to access through the eastern city Gate, Stubica, which faces the sea. Inside is a quaint asymmetrical clutter of streets, courtyards and old houses centred around St George’s Square (Trg sv Jurja). The square is dominated by St George’s Church, built in the 12th century and reconstructed in the 15th, when local artists added Gothic frescoes. The church was enlarged in the 17th century; Baroque chapels were added and the bell tower was attached to the rest of the structure. Both the square and the church are named after the town’s patron saint, a likeness of whom can be seen slaying a dragon in one of the decorative doorway arches in the old town. With the exception of the Old Town Tower, diagonally facing the church, the medieval fortifications are gone, most built over with houses. Left unprotected, the Old Town attracts the bulk of tourists.

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Ičići
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Ičići

The most bijou of the resorts along the Opatija Riviera, right on the Lungomare, Ičići has always attracted tourists thanks to its pretty Blue Flag beach but further developments have sprung up around its well equipped marina, including a new four-star family-friendly hotel, the Remisens Hotel Giorgio II, opened in 2017.

There’s also an all-round better choice of gastronomy. Sailing and water sports are the main outdoor activities here, and all is backdropped by the verdant heights of Mount Učka.

Kastav
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Kastav

North-west of Rijeka and north-east of Opatija, Kastav has enough attractions to warrant the short drive over from either.

A historic walled city on a hill, Kastav has been ruled by Romans, Ostrogoths, Croats, Habsburgs, Jesuits and, once again, Croats, who reinstated Kastav as a city in 1997. For the previous four decades Kastav had been incorporated as a district of Rijeka and has since rediscovered its rich history and identity.

As found elsewhere around Kvarner, Kastav harks back to the earliest use of the written Croatian language, in Glagolitic script – the city statute from 1400 is a rare example. As a former seat of the Jesuits, churches abound, dotted around the medieval loggias and fortifications.

Not all rulers proved popular. In 1666, after an imposing one draconian tax too many, local governor Captain Morelli was taken from his Kaštel stronghold by an irate band of citizens and drowned in the town well. Still centrepiecing the square below Kaštel in Kastav's historic centre, the well is daubed with the inscription, ‘We all did it’.

Today the fortress provides stunning views of the Opatija Riviera, reason alone to visit. Alongside, the Hotel Kukuriku is one of the great boutique lodgings and gourmet restaurants in the Kvarner region.

In tandem with Kastav’s rediscovery of its past, it has improved and modernised its main museum, detailed on local prehistoric and World War II history, and on the traditional trades of baking and barrel-making. Annual cultural events include the Kastav Summer of Culture, Kastav Blues Festival and Kastav Guitar Festival.

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Učka Nature Park
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Učka Nature Park

Encompassing Mount Učka and the Ćićarija range, Učka Nature Park extends over 160 square kilometres. Its long eastern edge running parallel to the Adriatic close to Opatija and Lovran, with the other half in Istria, Učka offers other sports as well as hiking and climbing. Paragliding and hang-gliding are big attractions here, with national and international competitions held, participants taking off from ramps at Vojak and Brgud.

There are eight recommended routes for mountain bikers while climbers can choose from 62 routes in the canyon of Vela draga.

Alternatively, you can explore one of the picture-postcard villages dotting the landscape within the borders of the nature park. The wine-producing and sheep-farming community of Lovranska Draga is lined with ancient paths, one leading to Oporovina, where prehistoric remnants were found in 1929. Another leads past a rushing stream all the way down to the resort of Medveja on the coast. Close by, the Draga di Lovrana hotel and restaurant offers four-star lodging and gourmet cuisine.

Tucked inside the border with Istria, the mountain lodge of Poklon was established by the Austrian Tourist Club in 1887 and named after the local custom of bowing (poklon), practised by pilgrims in the direction of Our Lady of Trsat church in Rijeka. Poklon is today a handy destination to head for, served by an information office, public toilets and a car park. Hiking maps are readily available. Those exploring the inland slopes may spot roe deer, wild boars and even bear.

Platak
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Platak

Set alongside Risnjak National Park, Platak is all about outdoor activity. The focus for that outdoor activity is winter, when this ski centre comes into its own. For the 2017-18 season, Platak even opened before the main one at Sljeme, outside Zagreb, used for the World Cup.

Here, seven ski runs serve visitors, of varying skill levels, with night-time skiing also available. Non-skiers can even hire sledges.

In summer, Platak is ideal for family barbecues, surrounded by nature, perhaps after a long walk in the woods. The cablecar, otherwise busy in winter, also runs on summer weekends and bank holidays, four times a day, for panoramic rides and perfect views of the Kvarner Bay and surrounding mountain tops of Risnjak.

Kids will love the year-round, 160-metre-long tube track for zooming down. The grown-ups can more sedate sport of hiking, with three marked trails leading from the large car park in Platak, and each taking about two or three hours, light climbs with a mountain lodge en route or near the top.

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Risnjak National Park
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Risnjak National Park

The most northerly and arguably least known of Croatia’s national parks, Risnjak is frequented by climbers, hikers botanists and spelunkers. Lying just off the main road between Zagreb and Rijeka, it’s also a popular weekend destination for daytrippers.

Here you’re in the heart of unspoiled Gorski kotar, an unspoiled region of wooded slopes buffering up to the border with Slovenia, somewhat ambitiously referred to as the Croatian Switzerland.

Nevertheless, it is undeniably beautiful and, as its name suggests, a haven for rare wildlife. There’s lynx (ris in Croatian), wild boar, eagles, chamois, brown bears and even wild cats.

Most visitors come here to hike or climb. From the picturesque village of Crni Lug, where you find the main office and entrance to the park, a signposted educational trail runs through the forest for 4.5km. Regular instruction boards detail the fauna and flora to look out for – higher up you find Alpine snowbells, edelweiss and Alpine yellow violets. From Crni Lug, those with stronger calves and proper hiking boots can take a more challenging route up to Veliki Risnjak, the highest point in Risnjak National Park. Most reach the top in around three hours, perhaps resting at some point at Šloserov dom, named after the 19th century botanist and explorer who first detailed much of the nature and landscape here.

Back down below, from the nearby village of Razloge, many also set out to explore the source of the river Kupa that is one of the largest and deepest springs in Croatia. Other natural attractions include Vražji prolaz, a canyon 800 metres long wedged between steep-sided rocks, lined with bridges and stairs for easy exploration. Close by, the dramatic waters of Zeleni vir once provided Gorski kotar with its power supply.

Accommodation in Crni Lug mainly consists of private lodging, complemented by the somewhat upscale chalets of Runolist, sauna, outdoor jacuzzi and all. A better option might be to stay in Delnice, where the Hotel Risnjak is a comfortable three-star choice with its own restaurant. Delnice, right by the highway, is around 10km from the park, along road 32.

Crikvenica
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Crikvenica

A resort town a short ride south of Rijeka, Crikvenica has been attracting visitors since the Habsburg days. An easy walk from the centre, its beaches still bring tourists here today, accommodated in family-friendly hotels mainly run by the local Jadran Crikvenica group.

Here focus falls on outdoor activities, water sports, hiking and cycling, with pools, trails and tracks to accommodate all ages and levels. Safe, clear waters beckon nearby, while diving, sailing, fishing, surfing and paragliding can all be practised.

On quieter days, the nearby coastal villages of Jadranovo, Dramalj and Selce provide easy relaxation, the latter connected, as is the nearby island of Krk (and therefore Rijeka airport) by a speedboat service in summer. Among the number of Blue Flag beaches in and around Crikvenica, Dramalj’s caters to naturist visitors.

Alternatively, a lovely stroll awaits along the eight-kilometre promenade that stretches from Cape Kacjak in Dramalj to the Bay of Slano in Selce, past sandy beaches, naturally pebbled coves and lush Mediterranean vegetation.

On the way, you’ll be following in the footsteps of the Habsburg Archduke Josef and the cream of pre- war Zagreb society, who also took in the air and the fine views back in the day.

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Novi Vinodolski
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Novi Vinodolski

Known by the Romans as Vallis Vinearia, the historic valley of Vinodol was ruled by the leading medieval Frankopan dynasty, responsible for a number of cultural attractions that now dot the landscape of the modern coastal resort of Novi Vinodolski.

Centrepiecing the riviera of the same name, a short drive south of Rijeka, the town also gave its name to the Vinodol Code, the oldest legal document in the Croatian language, that recognised Frankopan rule in the late 13 th century, and is today stored in the National Library in Zagreb.

You needn’t look far to find local evidence of the Frankopans, as the remains of one of their towers stands right in the main square of Novi Vinodolski. In total, three of the nine Frankopan castles that remain in their former princedom are to be found in relatively small area around the Vinodol valley: Bribir; Grizane, and Drivenik. The latter is the best preserved, commanding a superb hill-town view of Lake Tribalj below.

But Novi Vinodolski isn’t about history alone. Europe’s biggest spa centre and newly built five- star hotel, with luxury apartments overlooking the Kvarner Bay, its own stretch of beach and hub of heated swimming pools, comprise the Novi Spa Hotels & Resort, one of the finest facilities on the Croatian coast.

If you’re staying elsewhere, perhaps at the four-star Hotel Tamaris, then the sea-facing Restoran Vinodol has more than three decades of experience in providing quality fish and seafood.

Krk
© L. Tabako

Krk

As you cross the high-altitude bridge connecting the Rijeka motorway to Krk island, the sea looks huge, but the tall rocky cliffs that swallow the road ahead are even more imposing. By the time you reach Croatia’s largest and most populous island, the mainland feels miles away.

A widely varied group of attractive resort towns awaits. Heavily touristed Krk town has bustling bars, and fancy gift shops, arranged in and around ancient buildings. Krk’s tradition of tourism goes back as far as almost anywhere on the coast – they were issuing picture postcards here in 1866.

Rijeka airport is located on the island’s northern tip. The nearest town, Omišalj, provides a typical introduction to Krk island, a cliff-top community dating back to Roman times, though the main tourist attraction is a short hop across on the east coast. Near the village of Rudine, the cave of Biserujka features spooky stalactites and stalagmites in the so-called Great Hall, 13 metres below the point of entry. Sometimes concerts are even given here. As most visits are quite short, a 30-minute educational trail has been created,
linking Biserujka to nearby Slivanjska Cove, taking in windswept sea views along the way.

Further down the eastern seaboard, Vrbnik is a medieval tangle of a town set atop a limestone outcrop dramatically half-surrounded by the Adriatic way below. Those who love obscure European history can spend a while amid the Glagolitic manuscripts kept in the Parish Church, living examples of a dead Slavic language. Others might want to dander over to idyllic Kozica beach. But most will want to sample Žlahtina, the straw-coloured dry white cultivated here and here only. Though stocked at every local restaurant, it’s probably best enjoyed at Nada, whose spectacular panoramic setting creates the perfect backdrop for the divine lamb and fresh mussels on offer.

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