Croatia: Indulging Your Senses

Written by  Denise Mattia

EUROPE COVER

Few destinations have breezes as fragrant or seas as clear as the islands and coastline of Croatia. Speed boats and a ferry from Venice access Losinj, an island 25 miles off the northern Adriatic coast of Croatia. The island can also be reached by flying from Zagreb to Pula in Istria, ferrying to Krk and the island of Cres and driving to the main town of Mali Losinj. Plans are underway to lengthen the runway to accommodate larger planes. Adventures Croatia (www.adventurescroatia.com) customizes travel itineraries to fit the interests, budget and style of your clients traveling in Croatia.
I was among eight passengers aboard a private King Air plane, which flew from Marco Polo International Airport in Venice to Losinj, an enchanting, health promoting island.


Because of the dry climate, quality and abundance of flora and marine life, Losinj has long been known for healing respiratory and skin disorders. Physicians and dermatologists developed a variety of beauty and relaxation regimens, which included herbs and oils and exercise programs, such as walking, running and biking on the bayside path surrounding the island and swimming in Cikat Bay or in hotels’ saltwater pools. Visitors follow these regimens and programs today, and medical supervision is available on the island for those who wish it.


I stayed at the five-star Bellevue Hotel, Trip Advisor Travelers’ Choice Award winner in two categories, and winner of the Spafinder Wellness Travel Award. The recently renovated resort boasts 185 rooms and 21 suites (the 1,200 square-foot executive suite has a Jacuzzi and views of the sea). Guests enjoy swimming in the outdoor Olympic-size or infinity pools or walking a few yards to swim or sunbathe in Cikat Bay.


A refreshing dip in the bay and the infinity pool prepared me for a program at the hotel’s Spa zone. A deep penetrating massage and natural, top-quality Eximia and Elemis collagen cosmetics combined with traditional herbal and marine remedies provided me with a long-lasting body and facial experience.


I took time out from my relaxing schedule to tour a few of the top Losinj Hotels and Villas. The beautifully-appointed, 51-room boutique Hotel Alhambra is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the world. The elegant Villa Augusta, formerly a guest house in the early 20th century, boasts six suites replete with living rooms overlooking Cikat Bay, while Villa Hortensia, with ten palatial ensuite bedrooms, was once a popular resort for Austrian nobility. Lastly, I visited the 393-room Wellness Hotel Aurora. The Aura Botanic Spa and Wellness center is on two floors of the hotel and features cold-pressed, unrefined herbal oils, including apricot and olive pits, and algae to repair and nourish the skin. The raw materials are supplied by island producers, and therapists create customized formulations for guests. Even the nail lacquer is 100% vegan.


Dinner at the Bellevue’s Pin & Oil features fresh sheep’s cheese, roasted lamb, Istrian beef, fresh fish and shellfish from the Adriatic and homemade pasta. Herbs, spices and vegetables come from the hotel’s grounds. Veli Zal Restaurant is a walk along the path that surrounds the Bay. Dishes such as fresh Carpaccio of sea bass, mussels, squid, and risotto with chicken top the menu. TRS (the Grape Vine) serves a rich, delicious lamb soup with carrots and vegetables. Here, visitors wax poetic over the breaded and roasted lamb rib with potatoes and onion. For dessert walnuts are folded into a palacinca, over which local honey is drizzled. (www.losinj-hotels.com)

Sail and Explore
The hotel concierge arranged a beautiful day sailing trip to Ilovik island aboard the yacht Jadranka, where we stopped at the charming restaurant Dalmatinka. Platters of homemade bread, olive oil, baby shrimp and baked sea bass with potatoes and vegetables were served. Fruit platters complemented glasses of heady orahovac (walnut), medica (honey) and kruskovac (pear) liqueurs. Their origins span centuries of Roman integration in cuisine, art, architecture and engineering as well. To control ships arriving to the mainland, the Romans divided Losinj from Cres and connected it with a bridge at Osor, a town with an exceptional collection of ancient architecture and contemporary art. The first early Christian basilica and the 15th century bell tower are in the town square. During the summer professionals are invited to perform in the church. I was fortunate to attend an Osor Musical evening dedicated to its founder and artistic director Daniel Marusic. (www.visitlosinj.hr.)
Among the innumerable ruins from the Greek, Roman and Byzantium periods on Losinj, the Museum of Apoxyomenos is a recent construction. The 2,000-year-old bronze statue of the Greek athlete bearing the museum’s name was found submerged underwater in 1998, brought to the surface and restored in 1999. Created by Lysippos of Sicyon, a court sculptor for Alexander the Great, the work shows a stylistic innovation - the intimate moment of an athlete as he scrapes the dust and perspiration from his skin - that left a lasting influence on almost all Hellenistic sculpture. Apoxyomenos is one of the best preserved statues of its time.


The bus station in Cres is a short distance from its center. Daily ferries connect Cres to Krk, where planes access Pula in Istria. From there, cars and buses transport travelers to parts of the peninsula.
Rovinj on the northwest coast of Istria is situated on a pebble beach in a quiet cove. The Hotel Monte Mulini, one of the Leading Hotels of the World, is a 113-room, five-star classic property. Farther inland, the Hotel Lone, a member of Design Hotels, built by Croatian architects, is also a five-star property. Surrounded by the Punta Corrente Park Forest, the 12 suites and 236 rooms offer comfortable, contemporary accommodation in several room categories. (www.maistra.com) Both hotels are approximately ten- to 15-minutes from the Old Town, a favorite tourist destination from May to September.


Narrow cobbled streets lead to churches and monuments dating from the 10th to the 16th centuries. Two rows of walls with three gates defining the Old Town remain standing. Bronze sun worshippers walk through Balbi’s Arch, a 17th century monument built in honor of the mayor. Rich coloring and textures depict the influence of Italo-Byzantine art and architecture. The church of the martyred St. Euphemia (303 ACE) was reconstructed in the 18th century over the remains of the originally built 9th century church. The marble altar, stone statues of saints, ceiling and elaborate paintings adorn the church. Relics of the patron-saint of the town are kept in a sarcophagus behind the altar, and her statue is a weathervane on the tower.

Sampling More Food & wine
Istria is known for fertile farmlands, which produce outstanding vegetables, fruit, meats, and the sea, which produces a variety of fish. Seasonal products can be purchased at the open-air market. The local Eastern European cuisine is influenced by Mediterranean fare. Olive groves cling to hillsides, and its oil is a fundamental ingredient to the preparation of food. Often local pastas are mixed with shrimp, fresh fish or shellfish. Lamb is barbequed.
Before backtracking to Losinj, I made a detour to the center of Istria, to the town of Livade. What looks like a giant brain in the roundabout is a sculpture of a white truffle, erected to commemorate the largest fungus found to date (nearly three pounds). The precious truffle and its discoverer, John Carlo Zigante, are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. The menu in Restaurant Zagante is inspired by the delicate flavor of the black or white truffle, which is used in everything edible including ice cream. (www.zigantetartufi.com)


A car service brought me to the legendary metropolitan city of Pula, best known for the 1st-century Roman Arena amphitheatre, one of the most famous in the world, Hercules Gate, the Temple of Augustus and the richly decorated arrangement of the Corinthian style of the 1st century BCE Triumphal Arch. Today, cultural theatrical and musical performances are held at the square next to the Arch. The Archeological Museum of Pula houses artifacts dating to the Neolithic and Iron Ages, the Celt, Greek and Roman periods. The museum is located on the edge of a prehistoric settlement and Roman colony.


Street food and tavernas are favored by the locals. Pizzeria Tivoli and the Snack Bar Alighieri are ideal cafes to sit and relax with a light snack of prosciutto, cheese and wine or a creamy pastry and espresso. Gastionica Pizzeria Stari Ribar serves grilled fresh fish, seafood and salads. The fish house, Restoran Ankora serves heaping, delicious platters of shrimp, sea bass, squid and scallops.


Located about six miles from the city, the vineyard of the Trapan Winery is where oenologists and wine enthusiasts gather to taste excellent Rose, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and varietals such as Malvasia in a tasting room, which offers a maximum of 30 guests three types of extraordinary menus.
(www.trepan.hr)


It was difficult for me to leave the luxurious accommodations, delicious food and wine and exhilarating activities. Your clients will find Losinj, her neighboring islands and the coastline of Croatia warm, welcoming and thoroughly enjoyable. (www.Croatia.hr)

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