Even though it is one of the best tourist destinations in Croatia, the Croatian town of Opatija in Istria is also known as the cradle of Croatia's tourism.
Opatija is recognized around the world as ''the lady of Mediterranean'' or ''the Croatian Monte Carlo'' mainly thanks to its turbulent, but exceptional and wonderful history that can be noticed and felt at every corner. The small Istrian town is considered the cradle of tourism in Croatia because it is the home of the first tourist accommodation facility in Croatia.
The story began more than 150 years ago in 1844 when Ignacio Scarpa, a merchant from the nearby city of Rijeka decided to look for a place where he could escape for a while and take a break from his daily duties. He found the perfect place 14 kilometres away from Rijeka in a quiet grove of laurel near the church of Saint Jacob in Opatija, where he later built a villa and named it after his late wife Angiolina.
Nowadays, the villa Angiolina is the Croatian Museum of Tourism which was opened for public in 2007, whilst the concept of the museum represents the history of tourism in Croatia and the way it affects the Croatian society.
Particularity of the climate in the Opatija region was soon recognized in terms of health issues. Therefore, in 1889 Opatija became a climate sanatorium, which stood side by side with popular European spa towns such as Karlovy Vari, Cannes and Nice.
The most famous doctors in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy of that time were working in Opatija; consequently, new sanatoria were built, many beaches were made and beautiful urban parks were designed. The beauty of the town was also recognized by many kings and emperors, but also by famous writers, philosophers, poets and musicians from the late 19th and early 20th century.
In that time Opatija was a ''must see and be seen'' destination thus many rich and famous regularly visited the small Adriatic town and spent wonderful time there. Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia Franz Joseph I, Queen Elizabeth of Romania, Empress Sissi, Chekhov, James Joyce, Isadora Duncan, Giacomo Puccini are just some of the names who wanted to be seen in Opatija.
In addition, the Grand Hotel Kvarner in Opatija is officially the oldest Croatian hotel in the Adriatic and the former destination of European kings and emperors of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. It is interesting to note that some of the scenes for ‘’Diana’’, the movie about one of the most famous princesses in the world, was filmed in this hotel several years ago.