Opatija started as a tiny fishing village with a church. In the mid-19th century, the mild climate and spectacular seashore caught the fancy of Iginio Scarpa, a wealthy Italian businessman who built the lavish Villa Angiolina (named after his late wife), surrounded it with a jungle of exotic flora from around the world, and invited his aristocratic friends for a visit. Privileged Europeans were so taken with Villa Angiolina and Opatija that they erected villas of their own, each bigger and more ornate than the next, thus cementing Opatija’s reputation as a winter playground for the wealthy.
In 1873, the opening of the railway from Opatija to Ljubljana and beyond made the coast more accessible to Central Europeans. Opatija soon became known as a mild and clement health resort for Austrian snowbirds; its season ran from October to May. Regal hotels such as the Kvarner (Opatija’s first hotel), the Imperial (formerly Kronprinzessin Stephanie), and Palace-Bellevue were built to accommodate the fancy new tourists.
From the mid-1880s to the start of World War I, Opatija was the retreat of choice for such notables as Isadora Duncan, Anton Chekhov, and a horde of Hapsburg aristocrats. World War I put a crimp on European vacations, and Opatija was not immune to the downturn, but tourists never really abandoned it, either. After two subsequent wars, modern Opatija remains popular with European tourists, who flock to the resort all year long, most especially from mid-July to mid-August.