What if I were to build a house in the middle of nowhere … would people come and be my neighbours? How long would it take before there was a hamlet? Weaned on the Little House on the Prairie, I’ve long had a fascination with the origins of places, how they started, and who was the first person ever to build in what now might be a sizeable metropolis. The one who began the begun…
In Opatija, a town in western Croatia, that man was Iginio Scarpa. A man of means from the neigbouring Rijeka, Scarpa built Villa Angiolina in the mid-1800s. In 1872 the railway came and some ten years later, Friedrich Julius Schüler, the boss man at Southern Railways, started building the grand hotels and villas that are still there today.
Walking up and down the promenade that separates the Adriatic from the town itself, these once single-family homes are a reminder of what life was like back when the Opatija was a holiday destination for the rich and famous (Austrian Emperor Franz Jozsef was a frequent visitor apparently.) All boast a clear view of the water and it doesn’t take much imagination to add some parasols and posh-frocked ladies to complete the picture. It’s like stepping back in time.
The first thing that hit me was the smell – salted air tinged with laurel. It’s beautiful. Its beaches might be concrete slabs laden with sun lounges and umbrellas, a tad reminiscent of Malta, but the water is clear and fresh and the fish swim right in to the shore. The prom is lined with cafés and restaurants and the tourists (from what I can gather) are mainly German-speaking. With an above-average Cosmopolitan hitting my glass for just under €5, you’ll not find me complaining about prices.
Situated as it is within easy reach of other towns along the Adriatic, Opatija’s promenade is part of the 12 km lungomare that connects the town of Volosko and Lovran. It’s less than 100 km from Trieste in Italy, and Ljubljana in Slovenia isn’t that far either. The possibilities loom large.
Opatija has a tameness about it that might be more to do with it being slightly off-season than anything else. Yet this is what I came for: the feeling that time has stopped, that the wheel has stopped turning long enough for me to catch my breath… that and the seafood!