Feel like a king or empress by treating yourself to a holiday in Opatija: this world-famous Croatian holiday resort was once a favourite holiday destination for wealthy tourists from the Habsburg Empire.
The first enthusiastic visitors promoted the beauty of the area and, without the need for social media, Opatija quickly became the place to rest and enjoy the fresh air for kings, Russian tsars, scientists, artists, musicians and other celebrities.
Today, anyone can enjoy the splendour of Opatija: lavish villas, almost all of which have been converted into luxury hotels, well-kept parks, elegant fountains and a wonderfully illuminated promenade, perfect for cool walks during the day and romantic interludes at night, remain from the splendour of the past.
Sandwiched between the sea in the Kvarner Gulf and the foothills of Mount Ucka, Opatija is still a popular resort not only for its elegance, but also for its scenic beauty, crystal-clear sea and major events that draw visitors from all over Europe, such as the Opatija Festival in summer.
The best way to explore Opatija, learn about the local history and admire some of the city’s most important monuments is to take a walk along the seaside promenade.
This 12-kilometre-long promenade, shaded by laurel and holm oaks, is lined with lush green parks and sumptuous villas; you’ll always have the blue expanse of the sea at your side, with the sound of the waves as a soothing background.
During your walk along the waterfront, stop and take a few photos of the statues you will encounter along the way and of the characteristic Opatija harbour, a traditional departure point for the boats of the Opatija boatmen: today the tradition continues with tourist boats.
You can also take a rest by sitting on one of the many benches.
One museum, three magnificent palaces to tell the story of the now unbreakable bond between Opatija and tourism: this is, in a nutshell, the Croatian Museum of Tourism.
The most opulent of the museum’s three venues is also Opatija’s most famous attraction after its romantic waterfront: we are talking about the splendid Villa Angiolina, a triumph of neoclassical architecture commissioned by a wealthy man from Rijeka, Iginio Scarpa, who named the villa after his late wife.
The exterior of the villa follows the strict classical rules of harmony and proportion; the interior is a riot of decoration, with frescoes, capitals and mosaics.
The construction of this magnificent residence at the end of the 19th century initiated wealthy tourism in Opatija. The villa changed several properties and functions over time, steadily increasing in value. Recently restored, it now houses an original permanent exhibition that uses photographs and other period documents to tell the story of tourism and its importance to this part of Croatia.
Another venue of the Croatian Museum of Tourism is the 19th-century Swiss House, once used by the caretaker of Villa Angiolina: today it houses an interesting exhibition telling the story of Opatija from the beginning of tourism to the present day.
The third venue is the Juraj Šporer Art Pavilion, an elegant building by the sea: originally built as a pastry shop, it is now used for art exhibitions and concerts.
A true town institution and a testimony to the wealth of the past is Hotel Kvarner, the first hotel on the Adriatic coast and for a long time a favourite winter resort of the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy. Simply fabulous is the Crystal Hall, now used for banquets and congresses.
If you can’t afford to stay in this VIP hotel, you can always admire it from above on a waterfront walk.
Here are some ideas if you still want to stretch your legs after visiting the waterfront:
Opatija’s elegant parks provide a refuge from the scorching sun in the summer months, but also a wonderful view that can be enjoyed all year round.
The Angiolina Park was established between 1845 and 1860 near the villa of the same name, which would be built in later years. More than 150 plant species grow within the park and one of them, the Japanese camellia, has become the symbol of Opatija.
Other beautiful city parks are Margherita Park and St Jacob’s Park.
The church from which the town derives its name is the Church of St. James, built in 1420 to house Benedictine monks who had fled from a Friulian convent.
Its current appearance is quite different from the original one due to numerous alterations over the centuries, but it remains a charming church surrounded by greenery.
Although very recent (it was completed in 1906), the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin is also interesting, easily recognisable by its green dome. The original design was by the Austrians, but the work was completed by the Italians.
The symbol of the town of Opatija is the sculpture of a girl holding out her hand to a seagull, located atop the promontory in front of the former cemetery. It was erected in 1956 to replace a statue of a madonna that was destroyed by bad weather.
Due to its position on a rock by the sea, ‘The Girl with the Seagull‘, a work by the artist Zvonko Car, can be seen both up close and from afar and is certainly one of the most photographed sculptures in Croatia.
As you stroll around Opatija, you will come across many other sculptures, works by Croatian artists, depicting the most diverse characters: an Abbazian boatman, an internationally renowned dancer, the greatest Croatian writer of the 20th century, a violinist… come and find out who they are and what their intriguing stories are.
Opatija may not boast the most beautiful or most famous beaches in Croatia, but there is no shortage of spots along its famous seaside promenade where you can go down to the sea for a refreshing swim, including a cemented city beach.
A pretty pebble beach around Opatija is Ičići, with numerous facilities and voted one of the five best-run beaches in Croatia.
Two kilometres from the centre of Opatija is Volosko, a quaint fishing village with a quiet little harbour that has retained its old-world charm, narrow streets and pretty stone houses with flower-decked balconies. It is definitely a good place for a delicious fish dinner.
To the west of Opatija rises Mount Učka, which at 1396 metres is the highest peak in this part of Kvarner.
The entire area of the mountain plus part of the Ćićarija mountain range were declared a nature park in 1999.
There are numerous paths and guided trails within the park, which will delight all trekking enthusiasts as well as those who want to take an easy walk in the greenery. Beautiful natural landscapes await you, as well as human constructions perfectly integrated into their surroundings such as fountains and castles.
The symbol of the park is the Vojak Tower, built in 1911 by a group of enthusiastic mountaineers and nature lovers to provide a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains, Istria and on clear days even the Italian coast.
Opatija is only 13 km from the city of Rijeka, and the two cities are well connected by direct buses.
Another possibility is to travel by ferry to a major Croatian city, such as Split or Rijeka itself, and from there to Opatija.
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Opatija (Abbazia) è una località turistica situata nella regione storica del Quarnaro, sulla costa Adriatica, a circa 13 km a ovest di Fiume.