Monday, June 04, 2007

The sea and a bit of history

It looks like a scene out of the movies. The sea sits pretty on one side while the road winds along its edge, curling around pastel villas and freshly brewed cafes. We drive around these twisty roads, half in search of our hotel and half in awe of the prettiness that we've arrived at.

Opatija (pronounced Opati-ya) is one of the most popular costal towns in Croatia. It is also the first. Tourism came to these parts in the 1800's with a rich merchant from Rijeka. Ignio Scarpa and his wife fell so much in love with this idyllic little town, they decided to build a summer home here. With the sea at their door step and a lush green garden around, the Villa Angiolina (named after the wife, of course) was opened to family and friends in 1844. Within no time, they were playing host to famous businessmen, aristocrats, even royalty. Hotels followed the tourists and an industry sprung up. And since that time Opatija has been on holiday.

Today the Villa is the centre of Opatija, standing tall in pink, around the history it has created. It isn't hard to see why the town attracts so many. Sapphire waters like these and the delicious breeze will entice anyone to give up the city.

What more could you want then to while away the hours sitting on the beach, with a cool drink in hand. A beach ball here, a bikini there, the waves singing their song, serenading the trees beyond their reach.

When you've had enough of the beach, the streets beckon. They take you across faded old homes and past big bright hotels. They take you to the old Abbey, from which the town gets its name. They bend in at the waterfront and onto the gorgeous promenade. They draw you to the touristy little shops selling hats and souvenirs.

The Opatija Riviera is a string of stunning spots which just have to be explored. Take your car and head out to Icichi, Lovran and beyond. Drink in the sea, a brilliant blue, and discover the colours of the little towns.

The thing to do in these parts is to bring your own boat along and chart the seas. But if, like us, you don't have one, you can always sign up for a cruise and join in the fun.

Opatija is picture perfect, but it does come with a warning: there is very little parking around the town, and finding a spot can drive you off the cliff. Even hotel parking is paid for, and fairly hard to find. (This is true only for car owners, if you've got a boat, well ... )

All said and done, this is the kind of place you come to when you want to get away. A couple of days here and you'll feel fresher and younger than you have in weeks, maybe even years. There is something very calm about the place. The air is sweet and carries with it a general cheer. By the time you drive out, you have a smile on your face, the knots have come undone, and the world seems like a nice place again.