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Lucy Daltroff travels to Croatia’s Adriatic coast and discovers historic spa towns, thalassotherapy, mud treatments, thermal waters and Europe’s largest spa complex.  I had a feeling of excitement about visiting Opatija in Western Croatia for the first time; I knew it was going to be really special. Why else,...

Something Old . . . Something New

Lucy Daltroff travels to Croatia’s Adriatic coast and discovers historic spa towns, thalassotherapy, mud treatments, thermal waters and Europe’s largest spa complex. 

I had a feeling of excitement about visiting Opatija in Western Croatia for the first time; I knew it was going to be really special. Why else, would Emperor Franz Joseph in 1888 pronounce the town an official health resort of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy? 

I wasn’t disappointed. The seaside town is elegant and attractive, located some 500 km from Milan, Vienna and Munich. Back in the 19th century, Opatija’s healthy climate made it popular with visitors like Freud and Mahler and many of the hotels and buildings date from that time. Today its beauty and picturesque views of the Adriatic attract an equally discerning public. 

The comfortable Bristol Hotel is in the middle of the town. It has a small fitness facility with a whirlpool, sauna and steam room, space for relaxation and a range of facial and body treatments. On a bigger scale, just a little further up the road is the Thalassotherapia Opatija, a medicinal thalasso wellness centre that provides treatment programmes for painful backs, osteoporosis and slimming. A corridor links the spa to the hotel Villa Dubrava where many people stay when having a course of treatments. 

It was easy to relax in the seawater swimming pool and peruse the large menu of treatments available. This included a Wellness Bath for Two, comprising body relaxation, remodelling and firming, plus marine algae exfoliation with a phytocomplex bath, followed by a massage. Sounded good, but I was more tempted to go for a treatment that guaranteed 2-cm loss on my thighs, especially as, at a cost of just £35, it seemed a real bargain! 

I opted instead for supper at the romantic restaurant ‘Mali Raj’ situated in a cove in Icici, just outside Opatija. The restaurant name sounds Indian but translates as ‘Little Paradise.’ Fresh fish, simply cooked, cannot be bettered, especially as dining on the terrace, I saw the night fisherman throwing out their nets for the next catch!

Further down the coast is Novi Vinodolski and the Novi Spa – the biggest spa centre in Europe. Open for about a year, it is well designed, sophisticated – and enormous. 

Sipping a drink on the elegant terrace, I couldn’t help wondering how it was ever going to recover the money spent. Yet, there are plans to make it bigger still, with another even more luxurious hotel on the drawing board. The complex also has apartments, shops and a therapists’ training school as well as Children’s Town, a large area with swimming pools, playgrounds and a variety of animation programmes. Sensibly, no cars are allowed inside and electric buggies carry people around. The Spa Centre has a gigantic pool and many treatment rooms including the first hamam in Croatia. The array of spa treatments is mind-boggling. What don’t they do? I had a simple massage, which was professional and relaxing. 

Moments of Relaxation weekends are offered during the high season and cost €511 (£423) per person for three nights. The price includes half board hotel accommodation, welcome present, spa entrance and free use of the seawater pool, Finnish and Turkish saunas, whirlpools, relaxation and fitness areas. The package also includes a Relax full body massage followed by a revitalising fruit cocktail and a morning group meditation session on the beach or in the gym (depending on the weather). 

As I enjoyed the tasty and well-presented food in the Spa’s Sea Breeze restaurant, I spoke to Mr Andrija Hudoletnjak, the Sales Manager who has the task of promoting Croatia as a quality spa destination. He told me that at the moment, the full potential of this lovely place is not being realised. 

My next visit was to the Sveti Martin Spa & Golf Resort in northwest Croatia. Situated in the valley of the River Mura, the resort is not far from Zagreb and its ancient thermal waters make up for the lack of coastline. Accommodation consists of a hotel and apartments. 

The large pool complex covers an area of 4,000 sq metres and comprises three distinct areas – indoor/outdoor, recreational with water effects and the thermal spa. The spa menu offers more than 20 massage techniques alone and my one regret is that I didn’t have a chance to try the 90-minute Chocolate Dream! Some treatments are more medical, including non-surgical liposuction and radio frequency face lifting. This is a great place to come if your partner is a golfer, as there is an excellent course and the modern driving range is open 24/7. 

After all the pampering, it was a dramatic change to visit Krapina and the newly opened and exciting multimedia Museum of Evolution, dedicated to Neanderthal man. The museum is situated on the site where in 1899, a cave containing more than 800 fossil remains of 75 individual Neanderthals was discovered, along with tools and weapons, Even today, this is termed ‘the most spectacular Neanderthal find.’ Scientists concluded that these Neanderthals became extinct 30,000 years ago, in the face of evolutionary pressure from humans, after the species had survived for approximately 100,000 years! The museum has a film depicting their daily existence but for me the most spectacular exhibit was looking down the line of lifelike statues showing the different stages of the evolution of man. 

Not far from the museum and just 40 km from Zagreb, is Terme Tuheljm, which benefits from thermal waters and medicinal mud. 

The spa is part of a large site with heated corridors connecting all the facilities. The spa consists of a 138-room hotel, a number of catering establishments, a congress centre, a sports hall, a fitness studio and The Water Planet, the largest wellness and bathing facilities in Croatia. The ‘World of Saunas’ covers an area of 1000 sq metres and has three Finnish saunas, (bio-ionizing with crystals; extreme and marble sauna with chromotherapy); three steam saunas (salt, mud and dual effect steam), laconicum; whirlpool; cold-water pool, ice pit and a nudist terrace! 

I decided to try the medicinal mud so smeared my body and entered the dual effect, mixed steam sauna. There’s no room for modesty in this crowded and fun spa experience and it was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry! Lunch afterwards in the Mihanovic Castle Restaurant, part of the same site, was sophisticated and luxurious, with great views from the terrace and an extensive menu featuring local food. 

My final spa visit was to the Kapljica Spa at the Jezercica Hotel. The hotel brochure states ‘Our greatest treasure is the natural healing thermal water (38°C) which bubbles up at our complex, and is available on tap throughout the entire hotel.’ 

Located in peaceful surroundings near Medvednica Nature Park, the facilities include hydro massage areas, spa zone, whirlpool and a relaxation area where ayurvedic procedures and techniques are carried out. I noticed that the list of beauty treatments included one based on cranberry and wine. The signature offering is the Rassoul Sauna and Serail Bath Treatment, which begins with a luxurious coat of mineral-rich mud, followed by a whole-body oiling. The entire procedure takes place in the sauna for maximum relaxation. 

Feeling relaxed and pampered, it was good to spend the last day of the trip exploring the many attractions of Croatia’s largest city and capital, Zagreb…but that’s another story. 

Croatia Airlines has return flights from London Heathrow and Gatwick to Zagreb from £154.60 including taxes, Spa and hotel websites: Further information: Croatian National Tourist Office, 020 8563 7979
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