Istria is soothing to the soul. It’s beach towns pull you in and the hilltop villages make you linger. Life is slow and good, you can hear yourself breath, and it feels like a world that was 50 years ago. But there is one place in Istria that sits in contrast to the rest of the rustic calm this part of Croatia excretes… the east coastal town of Opatija.
Opatija is for big boys and girls. Nobody in this glamorous place says
ah, I think I’ll go without make up today
or ties their hair in a ponytail or forgets to put on their aftershave. Opatija thinks carefully about style and fine culture and has long drawn the kind of holiday-makers who prefer to arrive by private yacht than share a charter flight with others. It was once the holiday destination equivalent of St Tropez for Russian Oligarchs and old Austro-Hungarian money and beautifully there is still a classy trail of wealth and opulence in this traditional seaside resort. It’s easy to see why it attracted Royalty.
Incidentally, if you are looking for a great hotel in Opatija, please consider Hotel Mozart – it is sooo beautiful! You will definitely feel like royalty staying here and if at all possible go for a sea view room because, well, waking up to these views would be so heavenly!
Opatija sits on the Kvarner Gulf, has a Mediterranean climate and views of Paradise islands. It has managed to remain a bit of a secret from Western Europeans for decades, who have instead been distracted by the glitz and glam of the French Riviera. But don’t be mistaken, Opatija in Istria is no less opulent or grand. In fact, Opatija far outranks in terms of architecture and beauty – overtourism never forced this town to build monstrous dwellings to keep up with the hordes of visitors.
So what is there to do and see in Opatija? And how can you make the most of this charming little seaside town on the west coast of Istria?
A Day In Opatija
It may seem at first glance that ‘things to do in Opatija’ could be inscribed with a crayon on the side of a frozen chip, but this beautiful old-style seaside town is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. After spending a few hours here I am confident you will have absorbed its charm and decided as we did that Opatija is a definite Istrian gem of a town.
We love a circular stroll and Opatija throws out a great one : start at one end of the Lungomare promenade, walk the coastal path and return through the town – jobs a good’un.
The Lungomare has to be one of the prettiest walks you could do in Istria – the cobbled pathway weaves in and out of gorgeous little bays with the sea on one side and beautiful Belle Époque style villa’s on the other. Fishing boats bob up and down, tanned holiday makers bathe in natural pools cordoned off by posh hotels and cafe dwellers sit with their coffee and their sea-view on glamorous terraces under the shade of ancient pines. Every now and then you will pass a sculpture dedicated to someone who the world has never heard of but that invented the atom and used to live in Opatija, or even just a girl with a pet seagull. It’s the most romantic of scenes and you could easily fall in love here.
The path will eventually meet with the road again and below your feet is Opatija’s very own walk of fame – marbled stars given to even more local renowned personalities who you will never have heard of. A nice touch none-the-less when I consider that absolutely no one became famous from my home town, Hartlepool, and even if they had, the marble would’ve been ‘transported’ to somebody’s kitchen worktop before the cement had chance to set. So, good on ya Opatija, and I did at least recognise one famous name on there, the tennis legend Goran Ivanišević!
Next to the walk of fame is an area of beach that seems to be thriving but if you are feeling like a paddle there is still plenty of room, even in the busy holiday season, so grab yourself a lounger and kick off your shoes.
Do an about turn and head back the way you came, but instead of taking the coastal route, you must have a look at the town, if only to admire the grandly built hotels, shops and cafes which line the High Street. Hotel Wagner makes the best praline anywhere apparently and you may as well enjoy it with a coffee on their terrace. There are also several other great cafe’s and restaurants along this stretch which take pride in their seafood dishes and offer you a seaview too.
A smattering of lovely gift shops and designer boutique-style establishments in the town offer you the chance for a bit of shopping if paying €200 for a t-shirt is your thing. But ultimately, just enjoy rubbing shoulders with folk who smell divine and know the secret to eternal youth – I still believe style and sophistication can be achieved by osmosis (and plastic surgery).
Retail therapy can leave you feeling shallow and vacuous so how better to rectify your empty soul than to take a detour from the road through one of Opatija’s famous green spaces? You have a choice – Park Angiolina or St James Park, one with a bandstand the other a fountain but both a chance to escape the sun under the shade of the great Pines and Cypress trees. Find a park bench and slow down your scented bit of respite with views through to the ocean.
And that is pretty much it for Opatija but was certainly one of the most charming sea-side towns we visited when we were in Istria and could definitely be considered a Croatian gem, a place very much worth a few hours of your time.
If you arrived by car and still have a few hours spare then head a few miles north to the sleepy fishing village of Volosko for a much more relaxed vibe and some excellent casual dining options. Submarine Burger does a great triple mini-burger platter with the prettiest of views and a great Croatian wine list.
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