03 April 2011

Kvarner Gulf - Opatija/Abbazia

From the mid 19th century, Opatija served as a “health spa” for the wealthy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (AHE), thus the plethora of villas along the sea (most converted into hotels or restaurants). For whatever reason, Opatija still retains this feel of “winter tourism” with little to entice you here in July or August  for a summer on the (concrete) beach, although a weekend in the spring or fall, with promenades along the lungomare running along the coast really makes you feel as if you are part of the Austro-Hungarian nobility, enjoying the gardens of the Park Angiolina while blissfully ignoring the collapse of the empire. With dinner at Le Mandrać, a stroll (the lungomare runs 12 km/7.5 miles from Volosko to Lovran), and drinks at the Hemingway, you might have that weekend you and your significant other have been awaiting. If you need a break from the AHE interior style, drop in to check your email (daytime) or have a cocktail (evenings) at Monokini (M. Tita 96).  And if your need for kitsch  gets the best of you, there is always the "Croatian Walk of Fame".

The Opatija Tourism Office is located on the main drag at M. Tita 101 (tel: +385 (51) 271 310) and their website has a fairly comprehensive listing of sites, restaurants, accomodation, and other information useful for your weekend here.

Hotel Mozart
M. Tita 138
+385 (51) 718 260
There are numerous hotels in Opatija (that’s about all there is), but this small hotel in a Secessionist style house from 1887 has been recommended by several trusted friends, although it is a bit too AHE for the editor personally. 25 rooms plus a few suites.

Astoria Design Hotel
M. Tita 174
+385 (51) 706 043
If the standard AHE style is a bit over the top for you, try the Astoria. As minimal as you can get in a 19th century AHE villa, the hotel is comfortable if not overly luxurious, and the service was solid. It somehow managed a recommendation as one of the Condé Nast Traveler Hot List Hotels 2006, and is one of only ten hotels in Croatia listed with Tablet Hotels, including the amazing Villa Dubrovnik and  Hvar's Hotel Adriana.  It was also one of the first hotels in Croatia to list itself as gay-friendly, which is a nice sentiment as well.  All in all, still our choice for Opatija.

Le Mandrać
Obala F. Supila 10, Volosko
+385 (51) 701 37
If you thought that innovative cooking was strictly forbidden in Croatia, then you haven’t been to Le Mandrać. From first site of the modern glass patio emerging from the traditional harbour-front stone structure, you get a sense of what the chef is trying to achieve - a modern approach that appreciates the tradition of the area. They certainly come close to this goal. Joys to the palate include the smoked octopus on greens and the sea bass with octobus ‘burger’. The four or nine course tasting menus give you a chance to see what they have going on with the ingredients of the day. If you do go with the nine-course, you had best not have any post-dinner plans. Not inexpensive, but certainly worth it. Located in the seafront village of Volosko on the tiny harbour (mandrać in Croatia) , Le Mandrać is about a 30 minute stroll from the centre of Opatija along the lungomare.

And after the romance is over?
Once you get your taste of Opatija and have thoroughly enveloped yourself in the romance of empires past, you are at an easy point to head to Zagreb (1 1/2 hours), Ljubljana, anywhere in Istria (Pula, at the bottom of Istria, is 1 1/2 hours away), or even Italy. (At this point, you are closer to Venice than to Dubrovnik.)

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