Lošinj, Croatia’s Island of Wellness and Vitality
Designed with the luxury client in mind, Olive Tree Escape’s second annual FAM trip to Croatia took place from April 18th to April 28th, and the 10-day itinerary had lots of delightful surprises in store. The best being a flight in a private plane from Lošinj island to Zadar on the mainland. The aerial view of the Croatian coastline, where clusters of tiny, uninhabited islands bob in the Adriatic Sea, is simply breathtaking!
Private plane ride aside, our FAM trippers might have been a little reluctant to leave the island paradise of Lošinj which combines off-the-radar exclusiveness with 5-star luxury accommodations, seductive spa treatments using some of the 200 medicinal plants that grow wild here, gourmet food and wine, and more than 150 miles of walking trails and cycling paths to work off any overindulgence at the table.
Bottlenose dolphins frolic in the turquoise waters that surround the island where scuba diving is a popular sport; in fact, a Belgian tourist diving near Lošinj in 1996 accidentally discovered a life size, ancient Greek statue of an athlete that is so spectacular, it is housed in its very own museum. Plus the island’s two postcard-perfect Venetian fishing villages, Veli Lošinj and Mali Lošinj, look like an earlier version of Portofino on the Italian Riviera, before so many glitzy mega-yachts swooped in to crowd the harbor.
So where can you find this blissful Shangri-La? The long, skinny island is located in the central northern Adriatic at the mouth of the gulf of Kvarner, making it nearer to Venice (219 miles away) than to Dubrovnik (almost 400 miles away). Lošinj is closer to Vienna, too, and by the end of the 19th century it had become the preferred climatic health resort of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz-Josef I. Members of his imperial court and the bourgeoisie were quick to follow, building vacation villas in the fragrant pine forest overlooking Čikat Bay—this is when Lošinj gained fame as the ‘island of wellness and vitality,’ a label it still proudly flaunts today.
Starfish-shaped Čikat Bay is the island’s most beautiful natural feature and it makes a splendid setting for the Boutique Hotel Alhambra, member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, where our FAM trip participants stayed in 5-star style. Fifty-one classically chic rooms and suites are spread between the Art Nouveau Villa Augusta (built 1908), the Spanish-style Villa Alhambra (built 1912) and a modern annex that was added in 2015 to connect the two historic villas. Protected from the winds by Aleppo pines, agave and palm trees, the hotel is sandwiched between Čikat Forest Park and the transparent sea that laps only a few hundred yards from its front door.
It’s a little early in the season to enjoy all the facilities of the resort’s private beach, but a dip in the indoor saltwater pool or maybe a deep-tissue massage at the spa could be fit in before the first evening’s welcome dinner at the Restaurant Alfred Keller. The restaurant is named for the Viennese architect who designed the Villa Alhambra more than a century ago, and their refined cuisine is based on local ingredients—spring lamb and excellent olive oil from the neighboring island of Cres, Kvarner scampi, Adriatic fish—while the wine list is one of the best in Croatia.
Great food whets the appetite for great art, and one of the greatest archeological treasures ever recovered from the bottom of the sea is a 2,200-year-old Greek statue displayed at the Kvarner Palace on the waterfront in Mali Lošinj. A wealthy sea captain once lived here, but the palace’s interior was completely gutted and replaced by a brilliantly designed, interactive museum to showcase the Apoxyomenos. The life size statue depicts a young athlete scraping off the oil, dust and sweat from his body after a match (apoxyómenos = “the one who scrapes off”). Cast in bronze, out of the eight antique Apoxyomenos statues found so far, it is the best preserved.
The Cres-Lošinj archipelago was much used for nautical transit during antiquity and the discovery of a damaged iron anchor—but no shipwreck—suggests the Apoxyomenos may have been thrown overboard during a storm. Raised from the seabed in 1999, the bronze statue’s painstaking restoration and preservation lasted until 2006, when it was presented to the public for the first time at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb. The statue was then exhibited in Florence, London, Paris and Los Angeles while the Kvarner Palace was being reconstructed as its permanent home.
I was fortunate enough to see the Apoxyomenos when it came to Florence, an experience I won’t soon forget. The ancient Greek athlete more than upheld comparison with Michelangelo’s Renaissance David in the Galleria dell’Accademia, just a few blocks away. Both statues celebrate the beauty of the nude human body, but the almost meditative state of the young athlete as he gazes down at the (now missing) scraper he holds in his right hand, creates a contemplative and sublime feeling in the viewer. And the story of the Apoxyomenos—its history, artistic value and discovery—is fascinating; almost like a detective story (a hungry little mouse even has a part to play!).
The four-story Apoxyomenos Museum in Mali Lošinj is arranged as a series of spaces that, taken together, represent a sort of narrative which both provides information and leads visitors on an amazing sensory journey, from the deep blue entrance to the pure white chamber where the statue is on display. There is nothing to distract from the statue—no selfies or flashing iPhones—because once inside the room, picture taking is not allowed. Of course nothing beats actually being there, like our FAM trippers were on April 21st, but an architectural design website has posted a room-by-room sequence of photos that vividly conveys the experience of visiting this remarkable new museum.