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Cavort your way around Kvarner

12th April 2011 Print

Croatia's national carrier, Croatia Airlines is relaunching its London Heathrow to Rijeka route this spring.

Direct flights will operate on Wednesdays, starting on 20 April 2011 and take just over two hours. Fares are available for booking now and start from £154.60 return, including taxes. Rijeka is also served by Ryanair with a new flight from London Stansted.

The Kvarner region lies less than two hours drive west from the capital Zagreb and borders the heart-shaped peninsula of Istria in the north west. The region’s main city, Rijeka, attracts over 100,000 international visitors each February with its show stopping carnival – a great alternative to Rio and Venice – and its young, fashion forward crowd enjoy a thriving jazz scene (locals will disclose the best hang-outs).

A new railway link established in 1873 between Vienna and Opatija put this unassuming corner of Croatia firmly on the map and it continues to delight today. Seduced by the warm waters and microclimate in the Gulf of Kvarner, the Austrian elite fell in love with Opatija and transformed it into the Adriatic's most fashionable year round resort. Today nostalgia pervades, yet it is easy to imagine the glitterati at play within the walls of slightly faded, but still glorious waterfront villas. As part of a new celebratory cycle of classical music concerts, visitors can hear Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", Dvo?ák's "Serenade for Strings" and Bartok's "Divertimento" during the first Kvarner festival on 23 April 2011 in the Crystal Ballroom of the legendary Hotel Kvarner. 

Isadora Duncan once entertained lovers here and was said to have been inspired by swaying palm trees outside her hotel window, a movement she later incorporated into her dance. Artists, writers and composers including Mahler, Puccini and Chekhov all stayed and responded to the exotic, heady atmosphere. A must-do is to walk the lungomare – admiring those villas and inhaling the fresh, briny air – east to Volosko, a tiny fishing village with a huge gourmet secret, or west to Lovran, an elegant off-shoot of Opatija and host of annual asparagus, cherry and chestnut festivals. Health tourism in Opatija has itself become something of a fine art, with fabulous hotel spas and for the more active, the dazzling backdrop of Mount Ucka beckons.

Hire a car and explore fabulous views and the biggest diversity of flora and fauna in Croatia in and around Risnjak National Park where the Dinaric mountains meet the Alps north of Rijeka. Gorski Kotar (between Rijeka and Zagreb) and North Velebit National Park (where Kvarner meets north Dalmatia) are scenic, mountainous areas where with a little luck and patience, one of around 500 wild bears may make an appearance, spring being the best time to visit for sightings.

Head out from the Kvarner Riviera to explore the islands of Krk, Cres, Rab and Lošinj; each has a distinct appeal and island-hopping adventures are easy thanks to regular ferry connections from Rijeka and Opatija. Take a walk on the wild side and find yourself in the magical Tramuntana forest on the island of Cres – labyrinths, legends and magic caves a plenty – or harness your more practical side by getting involved in some pioneering conservation projects. The Eco Centar Caput Insulae Beli exists to protect the rare griffon vultures on Cres, and off the coast of Lošinj, the Blue World Institute researches and monitors the Adriatic bottlenose dolphin.  Job done, time to dine out on some of Europe’s best seafood and award winning wines such as Žlahtina from the island of Krk, perhaps stopping off at a family owned and run winery.

If it's history and culture you're after, Kvarner – mainland and islands – is steeped in the stuff.  Visit the region's oldest summer festival in Kastav, watch crossbow tournaments and knightly contests in Rab's spectacular medieval fair ('fiera') in July, follow the glagolitic trail on Krk where the oldest evidence of this script was found, and see the ancient bronze statue of Apoxyomenos (one of seven in the world) found in 1999 off the island of Lošinj, during 'Days of Apoxyomenos' 22-29 April.

Back to today, why not treat yourself to some indulgent pampering in Novi Vinodolski at Croatia's largest spa resort, Novi Spa, and party at the Terminal Club in Rijeka's all-new harbour complex, a new nightlife destination. Lounge bar by day, The Terminal books DJs, both Croatian and international, all weekend-long. Perhaps the last stop on your list of Kvarner cavorts...

For more information and bookings, visit:, and