The wonder of Central Europe and the Mediterranean

Within Croatia, a culturally and naturally very diverse country, one of the most diverse parts is the Kvarner region, which is part of the Primorje - Gorski Kotar County. This region covers the coastal area of the Kvarner Bay along with numerous islands and most of the small historic province of the mountainous Gorski Kotar. It is right here that the warm Mediterranean area, with stone houses and a rich medieval and Renaissance heritage, passes into the cooler central European areas with powerful fortresses, castles and Baroque churches Unlike Istria and Dalmatia, which were under foreign rule for a significant part of History, the area of Kvarner was under Croatian rulers from the early Middle Ages. Therefore, this part of Croatia highlights a number of autochthonous monuments of the Croatian culture.

The noble family Frankopan had a special role in this; their castles and fortresses are still preserved and stand over the Kvarner Bay. A rich heritage written in Glagolitic script also testifies to this. This is the unique Croatian script which the Croats used from the 9th to the 19th century. The additional advantage of Kvarner is a strong tradition of carnivals, and the carnival in Rijeka is one of the largest in the world. Within the region of Kvarner there are more diverse smaller areas - the Primorje and Kvarner Riviera on the Istrian peninsula in the coastal region, the Cres-Lošinj archipelago, the islands of Krk and Rab, and Gorski Kotar in the mountainous hinterland.

The Kvarner Riviera and the Cres-Lošinj group of islands culturally and historically belong to Istria, while Rab Island once belonged to Dalmatia, and the Island of Krk was once tied to Istria as well as Dalmatia. Today all of these areas are connected to Rijeka, the major metropolitan centre.The Kvarner Riviera is the cradle of Croatian tourism.

At the centre of the Riviera is OPATIJA, one of the first bathing resorts in central Europe and once the main seaside resort for the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Many believe that the "official" beginning of Croatian tourism was in 1844, when near the old abbey (hence the name of the town) a villa called "Angiolina'' was built and it was the first building designed to host the wealthiest of tourists. Almost all the old hotels in Opatija have the same function today, and the vistas of Opatija, drowned in the green hills of Učka, are the most popular tourist vistas of the Kvarner Bay. Among these hotels, a special place is held by the hotel "Kvarner" in the centre of Opatija, which due to its internal and external luxury, has kept the spirit of ancient times, and is a favourite venue for important events and performances. Other old hotels in Opatija such as the "Palace", "Zagreb", ''Opatija'' and many others aren’t any less luxurious. Due to the very pleasant and healthy climate, Opatija has the role of climate health spa, which was the reason these first hotels were built. Current health tourism facilities include the famous “Thalassotherapy”. Opatija has a number of casinos, fancy restaurants and coffee bars, and there is a well known 10 km long coastal promenade (Lungomare), by which the picturesque old town of Lovran can be reached.

Lovran and the surrounding small towns, such as Medveje and Ike, boast a large number of luxurious villas, often in attractive places.The Opatija Riviera is marked by the lush imagination of old builders, whether in the shapes of whole buildings, and balconies or house fronts. This came to the fore in the making and design of decorations for hotels and villas and the gorgeous interiors with valuable paintings and sculptures.The unique historical importance of Kvarner as an area at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and Central Europe, can be seen in the cultural heritage of RIJEKA, the main Croatian port and most important city throughout western Croatian. Due to its extremely strategic position, it was ruled over by various rulers of ancient times, like the Venetians, the Habsburgs, the French, Hungarians and Italians and between the two wars, it was even divided between Italy and the former Yugoslavia. The most monumental buildings in Rijeka are tied to the second half of the 19th century, when it became the main port of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. A big port with administration buildings, the Modello Palace and the governor's palace, as magnificent on the outside as it is on the inside were built in that time. There are also many churches, including the Capuchin Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, which captures our attention with its appearance.

The beauty of Rijeka is found in many details, such as on the facades of public buildings and in the interiors, like in the Croatian National Theatre Ivan pl. Zajc Rijeka is now best known for its carnival, one of the five largest in the world, emphasised by the unique combination of ancient Slavic traditions and the urban carnival similar to the one in nearby Venice. It involves a large number of the population of Rijeka and the Kvarner Bay and the carnival parade is known to gather more than 100 000 participants and guests. The best known participants of the carnival are the Halubjanski bell ringers from the nearby hinterland, which invoke the old pagan customs, and the Morčići, named after the Moorish servants in the Venetian court. Morčići in the form of earrings and other jewelry are a sort of trademark and a favourite souvenir of the city of Rijeka.
In Rijeka, there are many monuments from earlier periods, among which is the patron church of Rijeka, the church of St.Vid from the 17th century in the city centre,with its characteristic oval shape. The rich heritage of Rijeka is preserved in its museums, including the most important museum of the city of Rijeka, the Maritime and History Museum, located in the Governor's Palace, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Rijeka's oldest monuments are not related to the centre of the town, but to its outskirts, in Trsat, on the hill east of the city centre. There lies the Trsat fort, whose beginnings date back to pre-Roman times.

The central cultural point of Trsat is the church of St. Mary which, along with Marija Bistrica, is the biggest proccession centre of Croatia. The beginnings of this shrine and the church are linked to the 13th century, while the church in its present form in the Baroque style was built in the 17th century by the Frankopans.The Frankopan heritage is still visible in the vicinity of Rijeka. The castle in Crikvenica has been preserved to this day, and serves in part as a hotel. Also well preserved is the Frankopan fortress in Kraljevica. Relatively well preserved are the tower Tureta in Bribir, the Drivenik Fort on the foundations of an Antique fort in the hinterland of Crikvenica, and the fortress Grobnik, built 13 centuries ago. In the vicinity of Rijeka there are other fortresses, which are often associated with towns on the mountain peaks, similar to those in Istria. After all, Brseč, Kastav, Veprinac and Mošćenice are historicaly parts of Istria, although they are quite close to Rijeka. Many other coastal towns in this area are distinctively picturesque, especially the town of Bakar in the inlet, known for its long maritime tradition.

The naturally picturesque Gorski Kotar is not particularly rich in historical and cultural monuments because until the construction of the first modern roads, three hundred years ago, this area was covered by uninhabited forests. However, even here we can find Frankopan forts, beautiful castles and churches, while most other parts emphasise the picturesque traditional architecture. Villages are mostly located along the roads, either on the mountain high ground, as Crni Lug at the front of the National Park Paklenica, or on the plains in inland areas, as the extremely elongated Ravna Gora. Among the castles stand out the Zrinski castle from the 17th century and a romantic castle in Stara Sušica close to Ravna Gora from the late 19th century, wile among religious monuments is the Orthodox monastery in Gomirje, from the 17th century. Let's go now to the sea again, this time to the island part of the Kvarner Bay, which offers plenty of gems to enthusiasts of cultural heritage. The most valuable monuments are in the island's main historic towns, such as Krk, Cres and Rab, but not only in them. On the islands of CRES and LOŠINJ, the historical town of Osor, situated at the point where the
two islands merge, is richest in cultural and historical monuments. Up until the 15th century, it was the capital of both islands and the seat of the diocese, which we can witness in the almost completely preserved medieval core.

Other villages, such as Nerezine on Lošin, and more villages on the small islands belonging to the Cres-Lošinj group of islands are also very picturesque. There are no cars on those islands and life there resembles life in the ancient times. The island of Susak is known for unique folk
costumes and an interesting cemetery while the village Unije on the island of Unije distinguishes itself with its old houses, and the nearly deserted island Vele Srakane is isolated in the middle of the sea. The complete feeling of isolation can be experienced in the isolated lighthouses around Lošinj, such as the Galijola, which is now used for the accommodation of tourists, fans of socalled Robinson tourism.

The most important town in Lošinj is Mali Lošinj, which is the largest urban town on all the Adriatic islands. It received a significant role in the 19th century, when it outgrew the neighbouring Veli Lošinj. In recent times, Mali Lošinj has become famous for the ancient statue of Apoksiomen from the 4th century BC, which was found in 1996 in nearby waters, and for which a special exhibition place has been arranged in the Kvarner palace. Valuable exhibits can be found in other exhibition areas of Mali Lošinj, such as in a private collection of the Piperatas, while in the picturesque Veli Lošinj the church of St. Antun Pustinjak is of cultural and historical significance with the famous painting of the Renaissance Venetian painter Bartolomeo Vivarini. Unlike the small and densely populated Lošinj, the largest Croatian islands of Krk and Cres are very sparsely inhabited. Most of the population live in the only urban settlement, Cres, which has become more developed since the 15th century, when it became the capital of the island.

Among its monuments, of special importance is the church of St Marija Snježna from the 15th century, which is emphasised by an interesting portal, nice interior and valuable works of art, and from the same period, the Franciscan monastery.Many small villages on the island of Cres are, because of their picturesque location on the mountain peaks high above sea level, and preserved architecture, protected as particularly
valuable rural units. There is Predošćica and Orlec, known for beautiful folk costumes, Beli, known as the griffon vulture protection eco-centre and probably the most attractive is Lubenice, located on a gorge above gentle sandy bays, with matchless views towards the open sea.
On the island of KRK there are also equally interesting large villages, like the old town of Krk with its preserved town centre, and also smaller ones, like the picturesque Vrbnik above the sea, as told by an old folk song. In Krk Town, the episcopal centre has a cathedral, whose beginnings
date back to the 6th century, and which features a rich sacral collection. Near the town of Krk stands the Franciscan monastery Košljun, on a small island with a nice church and a museum with a collection of valuable works of art and archives with many old manuscripts.

The famous Baška tablet was also found on the island of Krk, and is considered the most important monument of Croatian diplomatic history, written in the Glagolitic script at the end of the 11th century. It was found in Jurandvor in Baška in the South of the island, known for its beautiful beaches and preserved folk heritage. In Jurandvor is the copy, while the original Baška tablet, because of its exceptional value and sensitivity, is kept as a separate exhibit in the atrium of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb.

The island of RAB, in the extreme South of the Kvarner Bay, is widely known for the preserved historic centre of the town of Rab, in which the four towers of its churches - three Romanesque towers from the 12th century and a Baroque one from the 17th century, are a favourite motif
for many paintings. Like Krk, Rab was a diocesan centre and its medieval cathedral has an interior decorated with paintings and other valuable works of art. Rab had a particular role at the time the state of San Marino was being established on the neighbouring Apennines. According to legend, San Marino was founded in the 4th century by a stone mason from the island of Rab, called Marin, after who the state was named.

Source: Croatian National Tourist Board