Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 1.31.18
Just Outside Washington

All photos courtesy the authors


In Opatija Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Our hotel, Hotel Sveti Jakov, is very near the center of Opatija; an easy walk to the shops and restaurants. Opatija is also the home of our guide, Zoran, who lives back from the water, up the hill; the rents there are cheaper.  Our room has a narrow window that looks toward the water, but the view is blocked by trees and a church.  Fortunately, the bells on the church, which ring every 15 minutes, stop at 10 p.m.

Opatija, a small city of 12,000, is surrounded by beautiful woods of bay laurel. The city is located on a rocky and picturesque sea-coast and home to many resorts. In Roman times, the area was home to several patrician villas connected to the nearby town of Castrum Laureana, the modern Lovran.

Croats settled in the region in about 700 AD, which was followed by many invasions.  After WWI the area became part of Italy with enforced Italianization but after WWII it became part of Yugoslavia and many Italians left.


Opatija is called the Croatian Riviera because of its beautiful coast line.  It wide boardwalk is more than seven miles long.  In the evenings, even this time of the year, there were many people walking.  The weather is sunny, not too cool, and Zoran gave us a walking tour.  As we rounded one curve in the boardwalk, we see this statute, which reminded Kathy of the mermaid in Copenhagen.


However, here the statue faces toward the sea so her face is not visible, so you get to see ours.  We passed the Villa Angiolina, now a hotel.


The town's modern history began in 1844, when the Villa Angiolina was built by Iginio Scarpa, a wealthy merchant from Rijeka.  It became a health spa for the wealthy and in 1873 the Austrian Southern Railway company opened the branch line, which connected to Vienna.  This opened the path for the development of tourism in Opatija and neighbouring Lovran.

It is claimed that, due to the wind coming down the mountains meeting the sea air, the air in Opatija is particularly healthy. This plus the sea and Croatia’s pure water spawned several excellent health facilities.  The Villa Angiolina had large rooms overlooking the sea for the clients and on the street side of the building were smaller rooms for their maids/valets.

The Villa Angiolina had a lovely park, now public, that could be entered from the boardwalk or the main street.  Within the park are many benches and quiet places to sit.  There is also an open-air theater, which has concerts and shows movies in the summer.


Pictured above is a little garden before the park entrance; off to the upper right is the entrance to the theater area.


Leaving the park we came to Saint Jacob’s church, which was built in 1506.  It is on the site of Opatija Sv. Jakova (Abbey of Saint Jacob), a 14th-century Benedictine abbey, from which the town gets its name

The beaches, which in many cases are man-made, are not sand but pebbles.  When there is no room even for pebble beaches, they have constructed concrete ‘beaches’ on which to put up umbrellas, lay on the concrete — or, if you are lucky, on a chaise lounge.  People swim from these concrete beaches — the water is very clear and 2 to 3 feet deep.


After the walking tour, we were back on our coach for a ride up the mountain to the tiny village of Moscenice, to meet our delightful, local tour guide Vesna (not to be confused with the motor scooter, Vespa).


Here, Vesna explains the many values of the local water — something about a replacement for Viagra.  She also mentioned that, when she came to Moscenice, she and a local man courted for five years before succumbing to social pressure to marry.

We noticed that there are many people dog walking and cats roaming freely, but obviously fed and taken care of.


According to the Internet, everyone loves cat pictures; they are so cute!  The cats, of course, think they own the town.  (Actually, we tourists own the town even though some of us had to be careful navigating the narrow alleyways and steps.


The village is located at the top of a mountain overlooking the Adriatic.  This house (not typical), was attractive despite its age.


Because the walls are solid stone and a couple feed thick; most of the modern utilities – water, electricity, cable, etc – has been run on the exterior of the buildings.


In this village scene, Dave, Mary, Kathy. and some of our group are intent on Vesna’s descriptions and stories.

Although there are only 150 people in the village, it has a lovely, newly renovated church. The acoustics are quite good. One of our fellow travelers, George from Illinois, who had not said three words up to this point, stepped up and commented on the acoustics. He then sang a song for us in the church, which was quite a surprise and a treat; he has a beautiful voice. We were so surprised to see him step up and sing that neither of us took a picture at the time.


The altar, our guide, Vesna, in the center, and George, far left. This is a view from the village toward Opatija and Reika, another coastal town.

This is a view from the village toward Opatija and Reika, another coastal town.


After this pleasant visit, we returned for a lunch on our own and an afternoon of free time. With Mary and Dave we visited Konzum, a local chain, for lunch supplies and made our lunch in the park next to our hotel. Later in the afternoon we had an excellent speaker for a lecture on everyday life in Croatia.

To emphasize the changes in governance, he pointed out that many people here have lived in five countries without once moving; they lived in Austro-Hungary, Italy, Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia, and now Croatia. He also stressed the impact of the end of nationalization of land under Yugoslavia and the wars following the break-up, on the economy.

He mentioned that, Croatians are in need of a younger generation, so the government encourages people to have children. Following a birth, there is a year of paternity leave for either the wife or husband, or they can split the time.

The children can go to pre-schools where they learn English, Italian, or German before starting elementary school. Croatia, partially because of the 1990s war, does not have enough schools, so some schools have three shifts in order to accommodate all students.

Their university system is set up so that if you do well, you do not have to pay tuition. However, if you fail too many courses, you have to pay tuition to continue.

The management of drivers' licenses is different from the U.S. The minimum age for a license is 18 and it is necessary to attend drivers' training, which is expensive. Further, there are driving restrictions until age 25.

Croatian research shows that crime starts in the teenage years, so to prevent crime; there are curfews for children, who must be off the streets by 11 p.m. unless accompanied by an adult. They believe that keeping teens off the streets prevents crime and when they have matured, they are more likely to follow laws. They may be right; Croatia has a very low crime rate.

We returned to the hotel and Vantage provided dinner and entertainment, performed by a group with accordion, guitar, and singers.