The beginning of what can be called “organised tourism” started In Opatija in 1844 when a wealthy merchant named Ignacio Scarpa tired of living in the nearby busy city of Rijeka. He searched for a place of beauty and peace where he could rest and escape for a while. He found it just 15 kilometres away in Opatija, in a little grove by the church of St James and right by the sea. He constructed a beautiful summer residence there and called it Villa Angiolina in memory of his late wife. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful part of the Adriatic coast looking out over the Kvarner Bay and the Kvarner islands.
In 1873 the railway opened connecting Opatija with Ljubljana (modern day Slovenia) and Vienna (Austria) and more people arrived seeking relaxation by the sea. The railway line is still in operation today and Opatija to Ljubljana is a journey worth doing (despite taking twice the time as by road!)
Villa Angiolina kind of started a trend. More luxurious villas were built (often named after ladies) and were joined by stylish, grand hotels.
Due to the high quality of the air, the content of minerals and salts in the sea and the benefits of wild herbs and plants including pine and rosemary, in 1889 Opatija was established as a health resort. Opatija was on her way.
In the late 19th century, when the Austro-Hungarian empire reached its apex, the Habsburgs made this town of dazzling vistas and pebble beaches one of the hottest spots in Europe. It really was on a par with the French Riviera. European royalty and aristocracy took their holidays here and American dancer Isadora Duncan took her younger lovers. There is a statue of her in Angiolina Park.
Grand villas and grand hotels – the legacy lingers in the stunning architecture, Viennese style coffee houses and a healthy feel-good vibe.
Famous people who chose Opatija for inspiration include composers Gustav Mahler and Giovanni Puccini, writers Anton Chekhov and James Joyce, and of course – Miss Isadora Duncan.
Today, visitors often refer to the Opatija Riviera which encompasses a number of seaside places from Volosko in the east, moving west through Opatija, then Icici, Ika, Lovran ending in Moscenicka Draga. The wonderful number 32 bus connects all these places in around 35 minutes from one end to the others.
Opatija has some small pebble beaches and the wide Slatina beach which is a man-made circular space with sunbeds and parasols for hire. Pretty bays in Lovran and Volosko can be reached by the number 32 bus or by walking the lungomare.
There is a wide choice of accommodation including hotels and villas, excellent restaurants to suit most tastes and budgets. Shops include traditional beachwear and designer boutiques. There is an excellent covered market selling fresh local produce, fish, meat, cheeses, oils and some good supermarkets.
The longest lungomare (pedestrian seaside promenade) in Croatia is here. It is 12 kilometres long. It starts in the pretty former fishing village of Volosko to the east of Opatija and continues through Opatija, through Icici and Ika, finishing in Lovran to the west of Opatija (or start and finish the other way round, depending on how you look at it). It’s a fabulous walk, either some or all of it. The official name is Franz Josef I Promenade but in Croatia everyone uses the Italian term “lungomare”.
Dating back to the heyday of Opatija as a health resort for European aristocracy (especially Austrians) at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was built in parts: the part from Volosko to Opatija was completed in 1889 and the part from Opatija to Lovran was completed in 1911.
From Opatija and anywhere in the Kvarner region, it’s easy to visit the Risnjak National Park, home to brown bears, lynx and wolves. Bear watching is possible and is carefully controlled by the National Park Office. Under a two-hour drive into the neighbouring Istria region, visitors can visit Brijuni National Park involving a 15-minute boat crossing from Fazana, one of two island chains in Croatia which are national parks. It's around a two-hour drive from Opatija to the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park and the road is good. Easy in your own car or on an organised day excursion.
Did you know?
- Opatija is the closest Adriatic seaside town to Zagreb, the capital – just a two-hour drive (fast motorway) meaning the capital and the coast are easy in one holiday (something special is December for the big Zagreb Christmas Festival followed by Advent by the Sea in Opatija.
- Opatija has a rather glorious open air “summer theatre”. Two in fact, one smaller and one larger. Spectacular location for concerts and films (Elvis, the movie, July 2022 had a serious waitlist). Tom Jones performed here in July 2022.
- A seven-night stylish casual cruise leaves from Opatija, Saturday to Saturday from April to October, taking in the unforgettable Kvarner Bay islands of Krk, Rab, Cres and Mali Losinj with even a dip of the toe into the Northern Dalmatian waters at Zagreb. Dolphins and white-headed Griffon vultures often say hi.
- Opatija “played” Portofino in Italy in much of the 2021/2022 Netflix series “Hotel Portofino”. A further series is planned as filming continued into November 2022.
- Day trip fish picnic boat excursions from spots on the Opatija Riviera are a great way to see a little of the islands of Krk and Cres (where there are stops), for those short of time.
- Water taxis are a great way of exploring the Opatija Riviera, just a phone call away.
- Opatija has Croatia’s first chocolate museum, called Choco-World and located underneath Hotel Continental. Tastings and talks – involves a special hammer (supplied with ticket).