If you thought Dubrovnik had the longest tradition of tourism in Croatia or perhaps even Split, you would be wrong. That honor goes to Opatija, known as the “Queen of the Adriatic.”
Opatija began developing its tourism industry in the late 19th century due to its spectacular geographical location and mild climate.
The flourish started with the construction of Villa Angiolina, which became the city’s first hotel. Today Angiolina is one of the three historic buildings that house the Croatian Museum of Tourism.
It was a few years later when the Austrian Empress Maria Anna stayed in the Angiolina. The empress was followed by a procession of royals and the city cemented its mark as the go-to destination in the then Austro-Hungarian Empire. When Emperor Franz Joseph visited he fell in love and built a villa where he spent the winter months.
Although the golden age might have passed, Opatija retains much of the Austro-Hungarian past with stunning pastel-colored villas dotting the riviera. Then there’s the waterfront promenade known as Lungomare, or Croatia’s most famous footpath. It stretches for 12 kilometers connecting Opatija to other seaside hamlets.
Known also as a spa destination, the city is packed with luxury hotels offering numerous wellness packages to rejuvenate the weariest of souls. And who wouldn’t be rejuvenated by the beauty of this coastal city whose gardens and street flower beds are perfectly manicured with blooming posies.
Furthermore, the pebbly bays perfect for swimming complete with blue-and-white striped beach umbrellas, all ensure that the charm of this ‘Queen’ is undeniable.
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The Lungomare, officially called Franz Joseph I Promenade is the drawcard stretching from Volosko to Lovran. Walking the promenade is a chance to learn about Kvarner history and enjoy the Belle Époque architecture of the villas and guesthouses. There are also monuments like Opatija’s The Girl with the Seagull, and memorial plaques all helping to tell the illustrious story. Enjoy a stroll shaded by palms, fragrant laurel and evergreen oaks, with plenty of seaside benches to stop.
Take it all in and breathe in that salty sea air.
While strolling the promenade, take a swim break at Slatina Beach, the city’s most famous bathing spot. While Slatina is a great place for a quick dip, keep in mind it can get very crowded during the summer months.
Tip: watch out for sea urchins.
You will find numerous other beaches scattered along the Lungomare, but a bit further south of Lovran, try the seaside holiday town of Medveja. Here at the foot of Ucka Mountain and Ucka Nature Park, you’ll find a long pebble beach. To me it’s one of the most beautiful beach spots in Kvarner.
Luxury is Opatija’s middle name and there are numerous luxurious accommodation options. For a five-star experience try Bevanda with its 12 rooms overlooking the Adriatic. Downstairs there’s a cigar and cognac lounge bar along with one of the best restaurants in the whole country and a 600-strong wine list.
Another goodie is the Astoria Design Hotel housed in the former Villa Habsburg built in 1896. The Astoria is surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens filled with blooming posies and citrus trees. On the other hand, at the Agave, you can relax post-dinner on the terrace that overlooks the main street.
At the Hotel Continental the ground floor offers a sprawling cafe terrace overlooking the Lungomare with the cafe known for preparing coffee in 50 different ways along with a Champagne and juice bar.
For restaurants that set themselves apart try the legendary Plavi Podrum, which offers innovative seafood dishes overlooking the sea while at the family-run Ruzmarin you’ll find traditional Croatian fare. Along with great pizzas.
For wine tasting, a stop at Vinoteque Barolo is a must. The wine connoisseur at the helm is Elvis and with his help, you won’t be leaving empty handed.