Opatija – Croatia
The COVID-19 pandemic kept the entire world on tenterhooks for several months already. News regarding increasing, falling and, again, increasing numbers of infected as well as new Corona-Hotspots completely took one’s desire to travel away. After our last trip at the beginning of the year to Thailand (click here for the article), we definitely lost hope to be able to enjoy another carefree vacation that year.
By coincidence and spontaneous action, the possibility to go on a journey to Croatia with friends popped up. Two things were important to us regarding this journey: First, we wanted to be able to take our own cars. And second we wanted to rent a vacation home to have it all to ourselves. We achieved to meet both requirements. So, the seven of us loaded up the cars and went on this 1000 km drive through Austria and Slovenia to the north of Croatia. To be more specific: to Opatija. A beautiful coastal town on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.
The Journey is the Reward (Part 1)
Our little roadtrip to Istria, Croatia, started in Germany. Early in the morning (or better ,in the middle of the night) we hit the road to avoid heavy traffic as best as we could. The drive was an important part of the journey in orderto leave work and the daily stress behind.
Usually, crossing borders in Europe is no problem at all. However, it was a great challenge during COVID-19 times. Crossing the German-Austrian border went still very smooth. The Austrian-Slovenian border, however, was our first challenge.
It was only after a few kilometers when we had entered Austria that we heard several radio reports on heavy traffic jams on the border-crossing points. People without Austrian or Slovenian citizenship basically only have three options to cross from Austria to Slovenia. The Karawankentunnel, the Loibltunnel or the Spielfeld (Autobahn). Since the traffic jam on the Karawankentunnel had already grown up to five hours waiting period in front of the tunnel due to processing traffic in blocks. We decided to take the Loiblpass (Loibltunnel). For this decision we accepted the longer and more challenging route that saved us many hours of waiting with masses of people.
These hours of waiting we had to go through when passing from Slovenia to Croatia. It took us 3 hours to overcome the 6 kilometers to cross the border. Certainly, this was, by now, owed to the time of day. It was already afternoon on this Saturday in August when we reached the border. After we finally made it into Croatia, we only had to drive another 20 kilometers until we reached our destination. Early in the evening we reached the villa of Maja and Mislav – the Casa Maja Opatija.
Home sweet (temporary) home
Our new temporary home made us feel very welcome. Communication prior to our arrival went just as smooth as the handing over of keys and the check out. This house fulfilled 100% of our expectations. There are three bedrooms with on-suite bathrooms, a guest bath room and a comfortable living and dining area with everything you need. The house was modern, clean and perfectly located on the hill-side. From the house to the center of Opatija it is a 30-minute downhill walk. And there are multiple grocery stores in the area that you reach by car within a few minutes.
The most important part for us was the yard area with the private pool and grilling area, where we spent most of our time. A pool offered a nice refreshment and was big enough in size for water-volleyball, three against three. The grilling area was also highly frequented and we could eat outside on the patio or use the patio to cool down in the shade a little bit. It seemed like the great weather was included in the price and we thankfully enjoyed the sun.
We can highly recommend this accommodation. We were a group of three couples and one child, and this house can definitely fit six adults and one child (under about 7 years of age). Just one thing to keep in mind, the third bedroom is not as comfortable as the other two.
Those of you who look for an alternative, you might want to look into the Apartment Oli. An authentic and picturesque apartment, that was lovingly renovated. For further information check this out: www.puz-opatija.com.
Welcome to Croatia – Welcome to Istria – Welcome to Opatija
We spent our days on the pool and in the yard of our villa in Pobri. The weather was awesome and the days just kept passing by way too fast. Nevertheless, we wanted to see more of Croatia. So we started with the exploration of our little town Opatija. An acknowledged health and spa town with the glory of the past days.
A walk along the coastal promenade Lungomare (also called Franz-Joseph-Promenade) starting in the east at the Črnikovica Beach in Volosko to the Slatina Beach in the west should be on your list. This 3-kilometer-long section (of a total of 12 km) offers great views on the Kvarner-Bay and the town itself. Magnificent mansions and noble hotels are located along the promenade. On top of that, there are places to hop into the ocean or chill in the sun around every corner.
On your walk you will pass further sights, like Villa Angiolina, a statue of the author Miroslav Krleža or the towns’ landmark, the The Maiden with the Seagull (Djevojka s galebom). There are also multiple parks and cafés that look incredibly inviting to just go in and unwind. One is the café Milenij Hotels that also offers a nice view on the Maiden with the Seagull and the hustle and bustle on the promenade.
From a culinary perspective you should be prepared for hearty cuisine. One evening we enjoyed local food at the restaurant Oštarija Osojnak, which was not far from our accommodation and has a very nice inner courtyard. Another night we had dinner at the restaurant Vongola. Which is located on the shoreline and coastal promenade. Make sure you get some seafood there, it’s delicious.
What would a vacation be without a daytrip by car and some excursions to discover the country?! Basically, we had a vacation-inception by going on a daytrip during our vacation. Our destination Pula was about 100 km from Opatija and is strongly influenced by Roman times. A coastal town in the south of the Istrian peninsula.
The way to Pula was characterized by construction sites and toll roads. It took us about 1.5 hours to get to Pula and the first goal was to park the car as close to the center as possible. And for free if possible. Finding parking in the center was no problem. Taking into consideration the manageable size of the city. However, the Free Parking at Nazorovaulica 4-12 was unfortunately not possible because we were not the only ones with this idea. We drove on to the next parking area Parking Marsovo polje. With some patience and small change, we were able to park the car there. As an alternative we recommend the parking area at Castropola ulica 19. Its location is strategically convenient as it is right between the Castle of Pula and the shopping street.
The first thing we wanted to see was Pula’s Amphitheater, which is the towns’ most important monument. With its former capacity of seating approximately 20.000 people it was the sixth biggest roman amphitheater. The biggest one was in Rome by the way, which could seat about 50.000 spectators. In the 1st century AD, gladiator fights attracted thousands of people. Nowadays the famous Pula Film Festival as well as concerts and cultural events take place in the arena.
Obviously, it offers a great spot for curious tourists, who can and should enter the arena for about 10,- €. Surely, you can take awesome pictures from the outside (the best one is taken from the north), but spending the money on the entrance is definitely worth it. Only from the inside you can really fathom the atmosphere and dimensions of the amphitheater.
Afterwards, we strolled through the authentic streets and alley ways of Pula towards the Triumphal Arch of the Sergi – the Golden Gate. This triumphal arch from early roman times is not only a great photo spot but also the entrance gate to the shopping street Ulica Sergijevaca, which is located right beyond. Multiple small boutique stores, restaurants and cafés are located along this street. For the standard tourist with a loose wallet it is pure joy to spend time here. We got rid of some money too by purchasing one or the other bottle of olive oil.
If you keep following this street you will eventually step on the main square, the Forum. Next to the city hall and the tourist information, you will find the Temple of Augustus. This temple does not just make the hearts of all Instagrammers out there jump. It is also a highlight for historically interested visitors. This well-preserved temple is Croatia’s oldest building.
The final sight for our visit in Pula was the Castle of Pula. For an entrance fee of 20 Kuna (not even 3 Euro) visitors can explore the castle and also enjoy a nice view over town, the harbor and also the Amphitheater. This short and entertaining visit was the perfect final to our daytrip to Pula.
However, it was not supposed to be the final of the day though. We drove further south and reached the nature reserve Kap Kamenjak. When entering in a car you have to pass a gate in the small vacation-town Prementura and pay 80 Kuna per car (approx. 11 €) for a dayticket to the nature reserve. Opening hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.. Until 10 p.m. everyone has to leave the reserve. Once we entered, we drove over a pretty adventurous road to the Safari Bar, at the southern tip of the reserve. On the way to the bar there are numerous possibilities to stop at a bay and enjoy the warm Mediterranean Sea.
We decided to leave physical activity and Istrian nature in the dust behind us and headed straight for the playground for adults (and kids). A recommendation of a colleague made us aware of this spot and it sure was an adventure. It makes you feel like you are in the movie The Beach by Danny Boyle from the year 2000. In the middle of bushes, numerous of half-naked people from various nations sit around like a hippie community and enjoy the fading-away of the day.
And so did we.We had dinner in this magnificent place on the Adriatic Sea above the Beach Mala Kolumbarica. Before heading back home to Opatija, we went down to the ocean and held our feet into the refreshing water. On our way back to car, some of us climbed up to a wobbling viewpoint-tower “at your own risk”. Others found out that not every smartphone is waterproof.
The Journey isthe Reward (Part 2)
Apropos “headed for home”. On the eighth day we really had to head back home and this great time in Croatia ended way too fast. Since we had less traffic on the way home we decided to do some sightseeing on the way.
Our first stop was in the recreational and touristarea in Bled, Slovenia. Here, we drove up to Blejski Grad. Parking was 3€ for 2 hours (and you need at least two hours) and entrance to the castle was 13 €. Just the view from the castle on Lake Bled and the pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary is priceless and justifies the entrance fee. A picturesque view and an almost fairytale-like atmosphere surround this castle. If you have a few hours you can also take a short hike up to the viewpoints Ojstrica or Mala Osojnica from where you can take incredible pictures as well.
The second sightseeing stop was in Salzburg, Austria. Not far from the highway is the Hangar 7 by Red Bull. You can look at special airplanes and Formula 1 cars. As well as a small art gallery. The entrance is free by the way. There are some restaurants as well, so you don’t starve. One thing is for sure, we have never had such a comfortable and luxurious toilet stop on any trip before.
We did not spend our time at the house all lazy on the pool. Also we took some time to educate ourselves and broaden our Gin-horizon. We used our time at the pool to test the following gin and tonic water brands as well as their combinations:
– Hoos Gin
– Roku Gin
Our favorite was the combination of Siegfried Rheinland Dry Gin with Schweppes Indian Tonic Water. Maybe this was due to the fact that this was our first Gin Tonic on our vacation. However, this mixture convinced us. Those of you who like it a little more „Gin-y” should choose Monkey 47 or Hendricks Gin. In our opinion, you better avoid Hoos Gin if you prefer a good and classic Gin Tonic. Cheers!