Just to the west of Rijeka, the Opatija Riviera (Opatijska rivijera) is a twenty-kilometre stretch of sedate seaside resorts which lines the western side of the Kvarner Gulf. Protected from strong winds by the ridge of Mount Ucka
, this stretch of coast became the favoured retreat of tubercular Viennese fleeing the icy winter temperatures of central Europe. At the centre of the Riviera is the town of Opatija, whose success as a tourist resort in the latter half of the nineteenth century made it the Austro-Hungarian Empire's answer to the Cote d'Azur.The Habsburg ambience survives in some attractive fin-de-siecle architecture, the best of which is in the dainty town of Lovran, just southwest of Opatija. Beaches here tend to be of the concrete variety, unless you head for Medveja just beyond Lovran, which has a much more enticing stretch of shingle.There's an abundance of good accommodation throughout the Riviera, although private rooms and pensions tend to be cheaper in Lovran than in Opatija.

The main Rijeka-Pula road cuts right through the riviera. From Rijeka, bus #32 (daily 4.30am-10.30pm from Jelačićev trg; every 20-30min) travels via Opatija to terminate in either Lovran or Moščenićka Drags, the latter just south of Medveja. If you're approaching from Pula, any Rijeka-bound bus will drop you off along here.

 

Kastav

The best view of the Opatija Riviera is from the village of KASTAV, a worthwhile side-trip 10kin northwest of Rijeka on the karst ridge which overlooks the gulf. A windswept knot of cobbled alleyways hemmed in by scraps of surviving fortification, Kastav is strong on atmosphere but short of real sights. Head first for St Helena's Church (Crkva svete Jelene), from whose terrace there's an expansive panorama of the waters below. On the other, landward side of the village is the Crekvina, the stark remains of an enormous church begun by the Jesuits but never finished. Given the village as a fief by the Habsburgs, the Jesuits proved unpopular masters, greedy for taxes. One of their civilian administrators, Frano Morelli, was drowned in a well on the main square in 1666 - a crime which was committed en masse by the villagers and therefore proved unpunishable.

Kastav is easily accessible from either Rijeka (bus #18) or Opatija (bus #33), but there may not be any timetable information on display when you get here, so check schedules before setting out if you can. There's a tourist office beside the old town gate at Kastav 47 (Mon-Fri 7-1 lam & 11.30am-3pm) and a couple of good places to eat. Vidikovac, on the sea-facing side of the village, has a large outdoor terrace and simple grilled meats; while the considerably more chic Kukuriku, below the tourist office at Kastav 120, offers an upmarket take on Istrian-influenced cuisine, serving up standards like njoki (gnocchi) and fuzi (pasta noodles) with a range of imaginative and unusual sauces, alongside more substantial chicken, veal, game and horsemeat dishes. Cultural events include the Kastav Cultural Summer (Kastafsko kulturno leto), a programme of open-air classical concerts and theatre in July and August; and the White Sunday and Monday (Bela nedeja i beli pundejak) on the first Sunday and Monday in October, when new wine is tasted and there's folk dancing in the square.

 

 

Opatija

Fifteen kilometres out of Rijeka on the main coastal road to Pula lies OPATIJA, the longest established of the gulf's resorts. It's a town in the best tradition of seaside magnificence, pretty in an overpowering Austro-Hungarian sort of way, a monument both to genteel early twentieth-century tourism and to its subsequent decline. Opatija continues to be patronized by central Europeans of a certain age, and even in the height of summer there are times when you can stroll the length of the seafront without bumping into anyone under 40. However, Opatija's proximity to Rijeka (and, by extension, Zagreb) ensures a regular weekend influx of urban hedonists of all ages, when the shoreline promenade becomes jammed with strollers. Thanks to the big-spending habits of middle class Croats, top-quality seafood restaurants have taken off in a big way in Opatija, turning the town into a major target of gastro-pilgrims.

Opatija was little more than a fishing village until the arrival in 1844 of Rijeka businessman Iginio Scarps, who built the opulent Villa Angiolina as a holiday home for his family and aristocratic Habsburg friends, such as the Archduke Maximilian, future Emperor of Mexico, and Maria Anna, wife of Emperor Ferdinand I. In 1882 the villa was bought by Friedrich Schuller, head of Austria's Southern Railways who, having supervised the completion of the line from Ljubljana to Rijeka, decided to promote Opatija as a mass holi- day destination; the town's first hotels - the Kvarner, Krcnprinzessin Stephanie (today's Imperial) and Palace-Bellevue - soon followed. Owing to its mild climate, Opatija was originally a winter health-resort, with a season running from October to May. It soon developed a Europe-wide reputation: Franz Josef of Austria and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany held talks here in 1894, while playwright Anton Chekhov holidayed at the Hotel Kvarner in the same year. A decade later Isadora Duncan installed herself in a villa behind the Krcnprinzessin Stephanie and was inspired by the palm tree outside her window to create one of her best-known dance movements - "that light fluttering of the arms, hands and fingers which has been so much abused by my imitators".

 

The Town

Modern Opatija is a long, straggling resort which has lost much of its original fin-de-sicle character. The town's main attraction is the getalike Franza Josefa, a splendid tree-shaded promenade which runs along the rocky seafront all the way to the old fishing village of Volosko (2km to the north) and the sedate resort of Lovran (6km to the south), and offering a far better way of exploring the town than the rather tatty and traffic-choked main street, Marsala Tita. Squeezed between the promenade and Marsala Tita, about 500m northeast of the bus station, lie the flowerbeds and lovingly clipped shrubs of the Park Angiolina, surrounding Scarpa's original Villa Angiolina and boasting rows of exotic palms. On the western edge of the park is the oldest and grandest of Opatija's hotels, the Kvarner, whose facade, complete with trumpet-blowing cherubs and bare-chested Titans, looks more like a provincial opera house than a hotel. Opatija's beach – a cemented-over lido opposite the bus station – is the biggest let-down in the Adriatic; it's better to walk 3km south to the gravelly beach at Ičići, or catch a bus to Medveja, where there's a much bigger, shingly affair.

Offering a complete contrast to Opatija are the steep, narrow alleyways and shuttered houses of Volosko, once a separate village but now swallowed up by Opatija's suburban sprawl, an easy twenty minutes' walk along the coastal promenade. Again, specific attractions are thin on the ground, but it's an atmospheric place for a short wander, with its whitewashed buildings arranged into a kasbah-like maze of streets, and a small fishing fleet in its tiny mandrac (inner port).


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