Kvarner and Gorski Kotar

rijekaKvarner is the tourist region that encompasses the Rijeka-Vinodol area with the city of Rijeka as the gravitational center, the Velebit seaside up to Tribanj, and the islands of Kvarner (Krk, Rab, Pag, Cres and Lošinj). Kvarner is still the most visited Croatian region by tourists with over a hundred years of tourism tradition. The important early Croatian sacral monuments can be seen here (Krk) in the monuments of Croatian writing (Bascanska ploca, around 1100 and Valunska ploca, 11 th century) and of the legal sciences (Vinodolski zakonik, 1288). Among the important cultural and monumental heritage are the old town of Rab , the cathedrals in Krk, Rab, Pag, Osor, Senj, and Rijeka and the old Croatian heritage – the churches of St. Donat and St. Krševan on the island of Krk .

 The most famous natural heritage: the massif of Velebit, the largest and most beautiful Croatian mountain range, which is a nature park in its entirety with certain areas under special protection, Rožanski and Hajdučki kuk (strict nature reserves), the Botanical garden, World Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO, 1978); Dundo forest on the island of Rab (vegetation reserve); Punta Križa on the island of Cres; Vransko Lake on the island of Cres (crypto-depression); Zavratnica near Jablanac (cove).

Cultural events that are important to mention are the Osor Musical Evenings, Rab Musical Evenings, the Summer Carnival (Novi Vinodolski), the Melodies of Istria and Kvarner ( Rijeka ), International Festival (Krk) and pilgrimage to the Mother of God of Trsat.

The Kvarner region has several tourist attraction wholes: Gorski Kotar, a mountainous oasis of unspoiled nature, peace, and vegetation, only an hour drive from the coast, the seaside from Opatija to Karlobag, and the islands. The islands of Kvarner are very developed in the tourist sense: Krk, the largest island of the Adriatic is the cradle of Glagolitic writing and boasts picturesque settlements; Cres, an oasis of unspoiled nature with the Griffon vulture sanctuary and numerous endemic plant species; Lošinj, with its dense coniferous forests and mild climate; Rab, one of the most developed islands in terms of tourism, on whose beaches the Duke of Windsor and Lady Simpson used to bathe. Pag offers picturesque coves and beaches, rich hunting grounds, famous Pag cheese, the celebrated lace of Pag, and valuable monuments. Also interesting are the ornithological reserves Povljansko and Kolansko blato. Among the smaller islands are Unije, Susak, and Ilovik.

Along the shore of Kvarner , beneath the Učka Mountains , is a group of small towns by the Adriatic road. Mošćenička  Draga is clustered around the small port and the beach that attracts a great number of bathers every summer.

Lovran is a small town with an exceptionally beneficial climate and vegetation and was inhabited as early as Roman times. In the vicinity of the town, there are thick forests of chestnut trees, a very prized delicacy and the main object of Marunada- a chestnut-harvest festivity that takes place every October.

Ika and Icic are two picturesque towns by the Adriatic road where one can see many beautiful settings in which architecture is in harmony with the natural environment. There is also a large marin a in Icici.

Opatija is situated on the very border of Istria and Kvarner and was named after the Benedictine monastery, first mentioned in the 15 th century. This town is one of the most beautiful tourism resorts on the Adriatic, a town from movie dreams, with hotel facades decorated in historical styles, and tourists walking down the sunny waterfront even in the winter months…everything seems to exude a breath of history. For good reason, since tourism in Opatija has a truly long tradition that dates back to 1844 when Villa Angiolina was built as the first pension, with numerous hotels, villas, summer residences, sanatoriums, baths, and promenades built as early as the 1880s. The entire town lived and continues to live for tourism and from tourism. Due to its position at the foot of the Ucka Mountains , the climate is mild with sufficient humidity, making Opatija famous for its lush vegetation and parks. The bathing season lasts from June until the end of September, and the winters are mild, making vacationing in Opatija pleasant all year round. Near Opatija is the old fishing village of Volosko and above it are Matulji and Kastav, the places where every chance traveler may try a local delicacy while enjoying a beautiful view of the sea.

Whoever follows the map from Istria towards Kvarner will experience the first change upon entering the city of Rijeka , the largest city and the port of this region. A walk through the town reveals the impressive central European residential palaces that nostalgically look towards the anchored ships, which send a promise of a travelling adventure to every curious soul.

The picture of Kvarner cannot be complete without visiting the islands, particularly the largest island on the Adriatic and the one closest to the shore, Krk, whose dual appearance of the shores seems to share the fate of the continent. The north shore is rugged and has very little vegetation, resembling the colossal cliffs of Velebit on the continent while the south side is more gentle, greener, and rich in gravel and sandy coves. It is here in Baška that the oldest evidence of Croatian writing was found – the Bascanska ploca (Baška plate), it is here in the wall of the little church of St. Lucy in Jurandvor that the relief was chiselled with the oldest known motif of chequered fields, still present in the Croatian national coat of arms. It is here, finally, that the church of St. Donat near Punat is located. This construction is the best example of the modest architecture of the old Croatian builders, the architecture of quiet piety and simplicity. One should definitely visit Vrbnik and try the “žlahtina”, an indigenous sort of white wine, swirling it gently in the glass on one of Vrbnik’s melancholic spots on a tall sea cliff. And finally, visit the Franciscan monastery in Košljun and see the rare example of the reproduction of Ptolemy’s Atlas.

To sail out from Krk in the early dawn towards Cres, means to dedicate at least one day to touring this elongated island which, at the town of Osor , draws gently close to the neighboring island of Lošinj . In the coalescence of the two islands, it seems as if there is a hidden herald of what every traveler can expect to find, should he or she head out east of Istria down the Adriatic. Due to its vicinity to the shore, Krk may be considered part of the mainland, which by its nature and culture Krk truly is, while Cres and Lošinj are indeed the beginning of the magnificent row of the Adriatic islands, those small diverse and countless specks of land in the middle of the sea that make it so special. This unique Adriatic island “scene”, namely its peculiarities, begin on Cres with one natural phenomenon- in the middle of the island is Vransko Lake, whose bottom is 68 meters beneath sea level.

Unlike Cres, Lošinj is an island that was inhabited only in the New Era when it gained fame for its exceptionally mild climate, and its companions, Unije and Susak, enjoy the same benefits. These islands as well, have their Adriatic peculiarities: while Lošinj is proud of its nautical and fishing traditions, Susak is a natural and cultural phenomenon composed of almost a hundred meters of sand deposited on top of a limestone plate, such the entire island is one great vineyard where the hundred year old customs and the tradition of the old Croatian language are still preserved today.

One should return to the shore in order to experience the Kvarner islands in their full glory, to examine, for instance, the size of Krk that seems like a different continent from Crikvenica or Novi Vinodolski, or to look in the direction of Prvić from Senj. Such diverse views in less than forty kilometres. And to get the full experience, one should visit the oldest hotel Therapia in Crikvenica, built in 1895 although today even the old Paulist monastery has been turned into a hotel. The town was named after the church of that monastery. Crikvenica is equally beautiful in the winter as well, particularly due to the magnificent carnival festivities in January and February. In its vicinity there is a group of small towns including Grižane, where the famous painter Juraj Julije Klović, the Renaissance Michelangelo of miniature, was born.

Not too far from Crikvenica is Novi Vinodolski, a town on the estuary of the Suha ričina River . Heading down the road from Novi Vinodolski towards Senj, one will enter a significantly different landscape of the seaside under Velebit where the strong bura (the indigenous north-easterly wind) from the cliffs of Velebit sometimes blows at great speeds, foaming the sea. In the middle of this whirl is the town of Senj – an old Illyrian and Roman settlement, then a fortified town of the Frankopan family, and later a free king’s town in which, towards the end of the 15 th century, a Glagolitic printing house was already in function.

Senj is the largest of the group of towns and villages situated along the road under the Velebit Mountains , all the way to Novsko Zdrilo in the direction of Zadar. The barren landscape and the eternal bura determine the way of life in these parts to a great extent. Viewed at night from the sea, the towns appear as tiny fireflies that have landed at the foot of the mighty mountains. The attachment of the Adriatic Sea and the Velebit Mountains is complete at this point where the mountains virtually descend into the sea. The values of this wild landscape are harmoniously completed with the mountain vegetation, mostly in the region of Paklenica National Park , that stone area situated between two canyons that can be easily reached from the coastal town of Starigrad under Velebit. The seaside of Velebit is another typically Adriatic phenomenon- diverse and full of natural, sometimes even atypical peculiarities in one small area such as the Bay of Zavratnica , cut into the land almost a kilometer, near to Jablanac.

Right across from this unique combination of mountain and sea environment is the island of Rab , resembling a reduced segment of the mountain, with its rugged and dark appearance. Its indented coast is not easy to sail around but every view of a new cove is worth the time and effort, while the true culmination occurs when sailing into the town of Rab with the view of its medieval bell towers and crowded houses. The peninsula on which the old part of the town of Rab is situated spreads out into the sea like a stone ship, and its polished paving stones preserve the memory of bygone centuries in the hot summer air.

Rab is not only peculiar for its monuments of the cultural history, the island is also well-endowed with nature: with the unique helm-oak forest and the evergreen shrubs on the peninsula of Kalifront, and with the rare springs of fresh water, over two hundred on this island, and as much as thirty on the peninsula of Lopar alone. On this peninsula, famous for its long sandy beach, the stonemason Marin was born, later the founder of the Republic of San Marino . Or, according to the legend at least.

For all those who love sailing, a special attraction is the island of Pag , elongated and irregular in shape, and about fifty kilometers of length from its most western cape Lun to its most eastern point Fortica. The biggest part of the island’s surface is covered in barren rocky pastures grazed by the sheep, whose milk is used to make the famous cheese. In the cheese from Pag, nature has made a full circle and in its intense salty taste one can distinctly feel the salt risen from the sea surface by the bura wind, spreading the salt throughout the entire region under Velebit including onto the rocky terrain of Pag. And this dark grey shield of the island and its complex structure seem to have received their natural counterpart in Pag’s famous lace. However, while wild Mediterranean nature created order hidden in chaos on Pag’s surface, Pag lace is truly orderly, a geometrical ornament which strongly expresses the desire for the creation of a well-adapted environment in an environment not overly friendly to man. The town of Pag as it is today, also arose in the fifteenth century from that very desire for the implementation of order, according to the urban and architectural plan of the architect and sculptor Juraj Dalmatinac who consciously transferred the memory of ancient town plans from the majority of the Adriatic towns, to found the new city of Pag.