By Max Hartshorne
Croatia is a sailor’s paradise, with more than 1000 islands of various sizes and shapes off its jagged coastline. Flying over the sparkling Adriatic Sea in April, I wasn’t sure which of the many small islands below would be our landing spot.
Seeing the canals of Venice beneath us at the lower altitude of the King Air six-passenger plane gave a quick but memorable glimpse at this beautiful city, and now it was time for the 35-minute hop to Losinj. Where?
“Down there,” the pilot pointed, “that’s our landing strip.”
Welcome to Losinj!
The week that followed was a seafood-fueled exploration of an island and its environs that included touring an herbal extract farm, sailing on one of the company’s yachts, and biking around the perimeter of Losinj more than a few times.
How could I resist such a glorious bike path? This one is paved, edged by the waters of Cikat Bay, and around every turn another brought an amazing seaside view.
A highlight of our visit was the unveiling of the Apoxyomenos statue, created in 200 BC, rescued from the Adriatic Sea restored in now exhibited in a newly built museum in downtown Mali Losinj.
It’s a proud legacy for the island and sure to draw many tourists as the islands ramp up their expansion in the years ahead.
Healthy Hotels and Spas
Losinj has long been known as wellness destination, from the scent of the pine forests to the pristine waters that surround it. We toured the Vitality Hotel Punta which like other hotels here doubles as a medical center for people with breathing problems.
Not only does Losinj cater to the five-star crowd at the Hotel Bellevue where we stayed for the week, but at several other wellness hotels guests/patients can meet with pulmonary experts and map out a treatment regimen as they enjoy the ocean views.
Tourist throngs in Summer
While most Americans might not have yet heard of Losinj, more than 250,000 European overnight guests descend on the island every August. Located just south of the Istrian peninsula, Losinj got famous during the Hapsburg Empire when royalty called it their own playground.
Though inhabited during Roman times, it is still a rustic and small place lacking a lot of development.
The partners of the Losinj Hotels empire plan a major push to modernize and build up the tourist attractions, and the new museum was a great way to start.
The Losinj airport runway that’s now a rustic airstrip is set to be renovated, big enough to accommodate small jets. And a new golf course and a new marina will add more shine to the island’s tourist appeal.
The Men Behind It
The men behind all the development own six hotels here as well as many local grocery stores, restaurants, radio stations and yacht charters.
We met them when they surprised us at dinner one evening, asking us not to share their photos but filling us in about how they got here and paid for it all.
“It’s emotion,” he admitted. “I’ve been coming here to my grandparent’s house for sixty years.” He loves Losinj and vacations here, and is pouring money into new hotels and the infrastructure.
The Island of Cres
A visit to Losinj includes many inspiring day trips, and on our first full day on the island, we took a road trip north to the smaller island of Cres, reachable by bridge from Losinj. We walked a 2500 year-old windswept village perched atop craggy mountains and everywhere you looked was the Adriatic, glittering in the warm sun.
Croatia is famous for its very fine olive oil, and we stopped at an herb distillery where the island’s lavender, basil and sage are turned into essential oils. We all couldn’t resist buying some olive oil to bring home. The prices here are much lower than in Europe, and no euros either.
At a roadside restaurant in Cres where the specialty was lamb, everything was rustic and excellent—roasted, stewed, baked, all redolent of the herbs that make up the lamb’s diet and all locally sourced.
Dining in this part of Croatia means seafood—and the freshness and excellence with which it is prepared was inspiring and delicious every where we went. No chef felt the need to over sauce and get too fancy, when you have access to the freshest fish, it doesn’t have to be complicated!
From a simple pasta with crab sauce at the Boutique Hotel Alhambra to the stagger
A staggering platter of fish, crustaceans and mollusks laid before us at Restaurant Bava, nearly every meal in Losinj was over the top delicious.
The Hotel Bellevue, the flagship hotel of the group, is a massive structure set at the head of Cikat Bay, with impressive marble stairways that sweep down to the water. It was completed in 2014 after more than 1000 workers built two additional floors bringing the total to 206 rooms and suites.
The offer a full spa regimen and many of us enjoyed treatments like pedicure and various varieties of massage in the quiet and relaxing spa area.
The 5-star hotel is surrounded by the bay and a century-old Aleppo pine forest. Located nearby is a camp ground right on the water with small trailers and some tent spaces. The bike path makes its way past the hotel, and the campsite and at sunset is one of the nicest rides I’ve ever enjoyed on a bike.