THE ADRIATIC’S TRUE BLUES – The Coast of Croatia

CRES

One of the largest but least developed of Croatia’s islands, the relatively untouched gem of Cres contains

400sq km of rugged wilderness, an estimated 8o breeding pairs of the rare griffon vultures and only 3,000 full-time human residents. There are a couple of resort settlements, but not much else in the way of luxury

Eurasian griffon vulture at Caput Insulae Eco Centre

vacations. For more sophistication, take a room in ancient Cres town; for wilderness, get a campsite in the hills. Either way, you can expect a simpler and quieter time than many of Kvarner’s other resorts.

In the north is the settlement of Beli—home to the Caput Insulae Eco Centre, which works to protect rare resident birds. There, fishing boats bob in the cafe-lined harbour, behind which serpentine, car-free streets weave between attractively austere and fading pastel buildings.

Cres town dates back at least a couple of millennia, and the island itself has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic era. It was successively ruled by Romans, Byzantines and the first independent Croatians around 822. If you continue west from Cres town harbour, you reach the Lungomare seaside promenade that leads to the town’s pebbly beach. In the opposite direction you get to the town marina, and beyond that to a beautiful natural seaside walk along the wide bay of Cres town.

Between north and south are the ancient villages of Lubenice and Valun, both with nice beaches; and Martinščica, a small tourist development centred around a 16th century monastery and a good pebbly beach. The 4,000-year-old settlement of Lubenice is home to 20 ageing souls and crumbling stone buildings, including a Romanesque chapel used as storage space. On the jagged coast, a series of secluded pebble coves are reached by a steep footpath leading through the underbrush. Nearby Valun is a charming fishing village whose parish church contains the Valun Tablet. Its inscription from the 11th century is an early example of the ancient local tongue of Glagolitic.

In the middle of the island, freshwater Lake Vrana, its surface above sea level, its depths below the sea bottom, supplies both Cres and Lošinj, and is strictly off-limits to visitors. In the late igth century, when the Austro-Hungarian empire reached its apex, the Habsburgs made this town of dazzling vistas and rocky beaches one of the hottest spots in Europe. Opatija was the place where royalty took their holidays and Isadora Duncan took her lovers. Wealthy socialites built Secessionist and neo-classical mansions on the rocks above the sea, or stayed in hotels of imperial elegance.

Unlike most Croatian resorts, where a tourism infrastructure was added on to an existing settlement, Opatija was purpose-built for tourists – rich ones. Before 1844, Opatija was nothing but a fishing village with 35 houses and a church. Higinio von Scarpa then built opulent Villa Angolina, named after his wife, and surrounded it with a menagerie, an exotic garden and influential guests. The villa, with its neo-classical interior featuring trompe l’oeil frescoes, now hosts jazz and classical concerts, as well as exhibitions.

An accent on health tourism – spa baths and seaside vigorous walks –kept this clement resort busy year-round. Mahler, Puccini and Chekhov were among the visitors. Pricey Opatija has traditionally drawn wealthy, conservative visitors, who prefer seaside strolls to raucous nightlife. But there is a young local contingent from Rijeka and elsewhere along the coast, who keep the late-night bars and the town’s disco busy.

Opatija – Croatia

And the modern-day counterparts of fin-de-siecle spa establishments in the shape of ‘Wellness’ and boutique hotels are opening along the riviera, attracting a trend-conscious clientele. Meanwhile, few other Croatian towns can boast the gastronomic quality offered by adventurous young chefs who have made Opatija and neighbouring Volosko their base.

The water around the island is among the cleanest in the Adriatic, which is why this area is a magnet for dolphins – you may see the beautiful creatures chasing the ferry boat that brings you to this island.

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