There were strong winds and thunder storms forecast over the next couple of days so we booked into Opatija Marina in the shelter of Mount Učka, which stands at nearly 1400m. The journey was 30nm, we had a strong breeze and sailed to the bay at the northeastern end of the Istrian peninsula.
The friendly and peaceful marina is situated in the small town of Ičići, surrounded by hills and mountains with a popular beach at the end of the docks. It does not appear to be on the charter route, the marina was full of locally owned boats and so a lot quieter than some of the others that we have visited.
This coastline is known as the Opatija Riviera. Until the 19th Century, Opatija was a sleepy fishing village developed around an Abbey (Opatija translates to Abbey). This changed with the construction of a railway linking the area to Vienna and making it accessible to the European aristocracy.
As its popularity increased the development of the area accelerated. Numerous grand villas, hotels, summer houses and parks were built along the coast and Opatija became a very fashionable resort which was often compared to Nice in France. It was officially declared a climatic health resort in 1889.
The story began with Villa Angiolina opening its doors in 1844, it is located in wonderful gardens and was considered the most beautiful Opatija villa at the time. The gardens have a great variety of plant species from different parts of the world including Californian cedar, Japanese banana, giant sequoia, Himalaya cypress, laurel and camellias along with a quaint bandstand and statues, the gardens later became one of the most famous parks in Croatia.
Word quickly spread to the court of Vienna and Emperors, Empresses and other prominent figures stayed here. The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy fell in love with the area, attracted to its mild climate and therapeutic air and were happy to spend their winters here.
A footpath was cleared along the waterfront linking the villas, officially named The Franz Joseph I Promenade but known locally as the Lungomare. It continues 12km along the coastline connecting the picturesque fishing village of Volosko with Opatija and further on with Ičići, Ika and Lovran giving fantastic views of the coastline, towns and neighboring islands.
On our first day here we walked along the northern section to Opatija town and onto Volosko. The Lungomare passes the marina at on old abandoned villa.
The stone promenade is shaded by plants and tall trees, notably rock samphire, evergreen holm oaks, several species of deciduous oaks, fragrant laurel, and evergreen pittosporum, many of which were giving off fragrant scents as we passed.
Walking along the path of previous Emperors and Empresses, we had great views of the magnificent villas and grand hotels, all with well maintained gardens. People were sitting outside the hotels enjoying a drink or afternoon tea giving a real feel of what it would have been like to visit 100 years ago.
There are lots of small hidden bays, coves and beaches but with the strong winds the sea was quite rough, however, plenty of people were still braving the waves!
Many statues are placed along the walk and around the parks, the most famous being of a girl extending her arm to a seagull which is now an iconic symbol of Opatija.
She is situated just outside Opatija’s small harbour, locally known as Portić. It was the starting point for excursion boats run by traditional boatmen, referred to as barkajoli. Initially with small wooden boats built in local boatyards, the barkajoli were always at the service of their passengers, spoke several foreign languages, and their boats were neat and tidy, with cushions and a small railing for increased comfort during the ride. The barkajoli transported their passengers along the Riviera. The monument to the barkajoli was placed here as a small memory of this tradition.
Opatija’s larger harbour dates back to the early 19th century. Ships regularly berthed here bringing goods to and from nearby Islands. Nowadays it is the harbour where excursion boats dock and the Opatija sailing club practice.
A creek came down to the small port of Dražica, next to Opatija harbour, bringing the inhabitants fresh drinking water. A stone surface was constructed for hard working women to do theirs and other peoples washing. They used a special backpack made of wood to carry the laundry. They would also go to the creek at 4am to fill the backpacks with water and carry to the showers at the beach for the tourists to use……and we think it’s hard work getting hold of water at times and having to go to the laundrette!
We eventually arrived at the small village of Volosko, inhabited by fisherman, sailors and shipbuilders, it is more than 600 years old and was once the trading and commercial centre of the entire region. The harbour is now full of small fishing boats and the waterfront is lined with cafes.
The walk back towards the marina took us through St James park which has well maintained lawns and colourful flowers. In the centre of the park is a fountain with sculptures of the Greek god of the Sun and goddess of the Moon.
The following day we walked the southern part of the Lungomare which has even more extravagant seafront villas and hotels. It passes many more secluded coves, beaches, and small harbours with tall trees again sheltering us along the way.
Ika was the first village on this route and was named after the Illyrian goddess of water and springs due to its position at the foot of a steep-sided wooded valley through which a stream flows to the sea. The well sheltered cove was a thriving fishing and shipbuilding harbour until the mid 19th century. A long commercial pier juts out from the bay and is a remnant of its past history.
We continued on to Lovran, the oldest town on the Opatija Riviera dating back to the 1st Century. During its long history, ships from all over the world have docked in its small harbour because of the sort-after local produce, including the fragrant laurel from which the place derived its name.
The old town once had massive walls, a tower and a town gate, some of which still remain. It has traditional colourful houses, narrow alleyways and the imposing 14th century Church of St George.
All of the parks are very well maintained, we found a great spot for our picnic shaded from the sun under the tall one hundred year old trees before returning back to the marina.
Our two days sheltering from the wind turned out to be very relaxing and it was great to discover a corner of Croatia that we didn’t previously know existed. We can definitely recommend a stroll along the Lungomare if ever you are in the area.