Question: Which seaside promenade was built as a spa feature in the 19th century only to become the 20th-century playground of fascists and a Yugoslav dictatorship, before reclaiming its luster as a national treasure?
Answer: The Lungomare in Opatija, Croatia
At the end of the 19th century, when Opatija, Croatia wanted to establish itself as a sanitarium town, some of the local bigwigs decide it needed a calling card no other could spa town could match: the Lungomare, a seaside promenade running along more than six miles of gorgeous Adriatic coast. From Preluk to Lovran, with Opatija as its centerpiece, the Lungomare was a popular idea from the get-go—though its builders met opposition from landowners unwilling to part with their water views, so it took 25 years for the full vision to come to fruition.
Once it was finished, it was a magnet for visitors as well as hoteliers and restaurateurs eager to take advantage of its stunning views. The Lungomare did more for the region’s economic health than any health sanitarium could, and it has been a beloved national treasure ever since. For much of the 20th century, however, the pleasures were enjoyed by iron-fisted rulers, with Italy seizing the region during the Fascist era and then handing it over to Yugoslavian control. Happily, in the era of Croatian independence, Opatija has returned to its role as grand dame of the Gulf of Kvarner and the Lungomare remains its glittering star attraction.
Starting in Opatija you can stroll along the Lungomare several miles in either direction and never see the same exact view twice. Section by section, its personality changes, with features including quiet parks, lively water slides, and charming cafes. Here are some of the sights you can choose to see on a glorious stroll.
- The Maiden with the Seagull is the icon of Opatija. Stepping out of the sea, a bird alighting on her hand, the timeless maiden invites viewers to gaze upon the Kvarner Gulf. But this statue is a relative newcomer; from 1891 to the 1950s a Madonna statue stood here, weeping for the loss of a drowned count. When decades of wind and weather had damaged the Madonna near-irreparably, it was removed, restored as best as could be, and placed in a museum. A Croatian sculptor spent over a year crafting the maiden as a replacement. The girl depicted is based on the artist’s next door neighbor, a fact she revealed years later, though he refused to confirm it to help preserve an air of mystery.
- At one point the promenade becomes man-made Slatina “beach”: the curving concrete path widens to allow lounge chairs, lifeguards, and rows of striped umbrellas. Eager bathers may enter the water gradually from stepped terraces and ladders. If the water’s too cold for a dip, you can wade while still standing on the terra firma of the Lungomare.
- Actually preceding the Lungomare, Villa Angiolina was built in 1844 to take advantage of sea views (whereas old mansions were build further from shore). Named for the deceased wife of its builder, Iginio Scarpa, the villa was so grand with its monumental staircase, Palladian stucco work, and friezes, that it drew visitors like Austrian empress Mary Ann. The lush surroundings, which included a park-sized garden, inspired the resort town idea, which in turn yielded the Lungomare, which runs below the villa.
- Stroll north and you will find yourself in Volosko, a picturesque fishing village, where small boats bob on the blue waters of the harbor and artists paint in studios lining the old town. Standing on the waterfront here, the sweeping views of the Adriatic are uninterrupted and it's easy to imagine life centuries ago. But head into town and you’ll discover its very up-to-the-minute reputation for having some of the best food in Croatia, including renowned seafood—caught fresh locally, of course.
- Right on the Lungomare, a lesson in history and culture awaits in the Croatian Walk of Fame, akin to Hollywood’s walk of stars. Launched in 2005, a series of stars set in the sidewalk honors Croatians living or dead who are known for their contributions to arts, culture, sports, and science. Voted on by Croatian people, honorees so far range from beloved actor Pero Kvrgic to world-famous scientist Nikola Tesla.
- Less well-known to outsiders but cherished by locals is the barkajol, the Boatman of Opatija. This statue on the Lungomare depicts a simple man who used to welcome tourists and made his living offering boat rides. His outstretched hand symbolizes the way local people have made travelers feel welcome since the dream of the spa town was first set in motion—and his location on the Lungomare serves to remind all who visit how important this route by the sea is to the fabric of local life.
Discover the gems of not just Croatia but Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Slovenia when you join O.A.T. for Crossroads of the Adriatic. Spend 36 hours in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, in this short film:
Produced by Fritzie Andrade