As the twin-engine Beechcraft approached the Croatian island of Losinj, my husband was wildly shooting photos out the window. And for good reason-what lay beneath us was breathtaking. Here was the sparkling Adriatic Sea in all her glory, dotted with numerous small, forested islands that glimmered like natural gems. The striking, sunny combination of sea and greenery and sky made me forget all about my jetlag, and I felt energized.
That feeling, as I was soon to discover, was not unusual. For the island of Losinj is aptly called the Island of Vitality. One of more than 1,100 islands of the stunning Croatian Coast, Losinj boats close to 2,600 hours of sunshine a year, with just-right summers, averaging 75 degree Fahrenheit, and easy winters, with temperatures 45 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, it’s the ideal climate that landed the 20-mile-long island firmly on the health resort map. Back in 1892, because of this curative climate, the Austro-Hungarian government declared Losinj a natural health resort.
Soon afterwards, Losinj became the first tourist island in the aptly names Austrian Riviera. Popular with the imperial family (Empress Sisi and Emperor Franz Jospeh were among the imperial visitors and Archduke Franz Ferdinand suffering from tuberculosis, stayed for six weeks and recovered), it quickly became renowned for its healing powers and natural beauty. Tourism peaked around 1913, and then the island was beset by wars-and so it fell off the world stage.
Fast-forward to July 2014-to the 20 million Euro rebirth of Losinj and the grand opening of the Bellevue Hotel, the reason for my long journey. The one and only five-star hotel on the island, the new Bellevue is sleek and airy, loaded with natural light and textures-wood, stone and more.
It’s a complete revision of its former self, an iconic 1960s hotel. It has the best spot in Cikat Bay, secluded and nestled in a forest park of ancient Aleppo pines- literally steps away from the sea. The purity of the place is what surprised me most upon arrival. It’s as if Bellevue was an elegant modern spaceship that had landed in a natural paradise. The light, the gentle-scented air, the towering pines, the 1,200 indigenous herbs (230 of them are medicinal), the 133 miles of walking trails- and most of all, the sea before me- were a welcome surprise to a weary traveller.
Water, in all its power, purity and vitality, play an important role here, and kudos must be given to Andrija Rusan, the award winning Croatian architect who led the more than $21 million project. He succeeded in creating a stunning four-story contemporary property that blends the best of old world and new. This is immediately evident when you enter the hotel to a breathtaking view of the glorious blue sea. Rusan has that in envisioning the hotel, he wanted to create an “elegant. Airy and spacious hotel, a little town in an idyllic environment…a rich environment with different spaces just like in a city…” and he has most certainly succeeded.
Of the 185 rooms and 21 suites, we stayed in one of the spacious seaside Executive Suites. Much of our time was spent on the terrace with its quiet stainless-steel hot tub, welcoming sun deck and ample seating area. I felt as if it were perched atop a luxurious bird’s nest, looking out over the Aleppo pines to the sea. Nature was smiling upon us, and it felt as if the hotel and the environment were in perfect harmony. A few special room notes: There is a pillow menu to choose from: antibacterial, buckwheat or feathers, and I appreciated the elegant marble bathrooms with heated floors and amenity line from Natura Bisse, a luxury skincare line from Spain.
While there is much to do on the island, it was hard for us to pull ourselves away from the hotel. The restaurants are fabulous, including; Pin and Oli, an a la carte spot; Bava, the hotel restaurant; Alto Rosso, the lounge bar; and a spa bar. The food was a wonderful surprise. As a pescatarian, I felt as if I had died and gone to seafood heaven. Fresh succulent seafood (octopus lovers, rejoice!) included amazing shrimp from the Kvarner Bay (some says it’s the best in the world). Crabs, mussels and whitefish, not to mention amazing local olive oils, homemade jams from the island-grown citrus, honey liquors and some surprisingly excellent wines and bubbly. Nice note: All herbs used in the cuisine- basil, mint, rosemary, sage and more- are grown in a garden located on top of the restaurant. Fruits and vegetables are sourced from organic local suppliers.
To work of the indulgence, there are two seawater pools, one on the inside, one outside, fitness facilities, and of course, the beach directly outside, nicely outfitted with parasols and lounge chairs. And then there’s the spa! Designed by Mojca Gradisek, renowned spa expert and former professional skier, its heart is the relaxation zone-magically lit through translucent onyx walls, this is an elegantly sexy space. Here you’ll find a vitality pool, dry and steam saunas, Turkish bath with a hammam table and state-of-the-art experience showers. I loved the separate relaxation spaces, with their comfortable waterbeds that were lit with primary colours, and the armchairs ideal for a day of downtime. The intimate spa library is a special spot when one may lounge in front of the fireplace, enjoy a drink (cocktail or mocktail) and chill out in style.
The spa is divided into four sections the pool area, the aforementioned relaxation zone, a face and body treatment are and a fitness area. The spa is actually named La Vie en Rose, inspired by the beautiful pink hues of wild cyclamen and bougainvillea flowers that bloom each spring in Cikat Bay. The beauty and wellness section of the spa has its own entrance and is smartly done. The all-white, modern space is some of the latest cosmetic innovations from some of the best skincare laboraties- Cellcosmet, Diego della Palma, Natura Bisse and Thalion. I loved the main area with its long white table with seating on both sides so estheticians and spa guests could try out products and converse. Of course, there’s a professional team of estheticians, doctors, therapist and kinesiologist on hand to help you get the most of your stay. Special spa programs are tailored to weightloss, detoxification and rejuvenation. For those staying a week or longer. I would recommend the Luxury Spa Escape, a seven-day program including three spa facials, a mineral sea scrub, a de-stress massage, two aroma rituals, two thermal mud wraps, a hot stone massage, an energy balancing ritual, a classic manicure and pedicure and seven personal training sessions.
Of a special note is the Diamond System, a sophisticated piece of equipment from Italy (there are only six in production and Bellevue has one of those) that according to its lit erature, “successfully combines quantum medicine, colour therapy and sound frequency to solve psychosomatic issues and improve your overall quality of living.” I experienced it for 30 minutes before my spa treatment, and felt like I had only been lying atop it for 10 minutes. Time flew, and it seemed toboth refresh and relax me.
This spa will put this already regal property on the map with spa aficinados. I have a feeling even Empress Sisi would have approved.
TOP 10 THINGS TO SEE & DO ON THE ISLAND OF LOSINJ
- Set Sail on one of Jadranka’s yachts and explore one or more of the many surrounding islands, including Ilovic, home to the casual delicious Restaurant Dalmatinka with its seaside terrace, Swim in one of the many secluded coves along the way. If you’re lucky, you’ll see dolphins. Jadranks-yachting.com
- Smell the herbs, at The Garden of Fine Scents, a beautiful and well-tended garden boasting more than 250 native plants, plus 100 exotic species. Stop in at the little gift shop for a unique selection of aromatherapy, salts and more.
- Watch the Sunset, from the Laterna Grill, one of the best spots on the island. A perfectly magical spot overlooking the Adriatic Sea, it’s a short drive from the Bellevue. Enjoy this casual seaside grill’s fresh, inspirational Croatian cuisine.
- Take a Walk, along the coastal path surrounding Cikat Bay and breathe in the fresh sea air. This is a peaceful stroll past rocky beaches, bathing areas and Hadsburg holiday villas. Bonus: Surfboards and snorkel gear for rent at many of the shacks along the way.
- Be a Tourist, and make sure to spend some time in Mali Losinj. Dating back to 1398, this beautiful and historic seaside town was at one time the biggest and most developed merchant marine in the Adriatic Sea.
- Eat on the Beach, at the hip Borik Mediterranean Bar. Choose from a mouthwatering meni featuring fresh seafood, local meat and more. End your meal with a glass of honey liqueur, a Croatian speciality.
- Go Shopping, at the Bellevue Hotel boutique. You’ll find Croatia’s leading fashion designers here, including unique jewellery by Nenad Sovilj and hand-painted t-shirts, dresses and more from renowned Croatian designer, Ivana Omazic, former creative director of Celine.
- Dine at the Villa Diana, a historic villas overlooking Cikat Bay, a three-minute walk from the Bellevue. Make sure to be seated outside and try one of the many island specialities.
- Go to Church, specifically St. Antun Opat Pustinjak, located on Veli Losinj, a small idyllic village 5 kilometres from Mali Losinj. The Baroque beauty was built in 1774, in place of a smaller church built in the 15th It’s home to a surprisingly rich collection of Italian masters.
- Raise your glass, and try one of Croatia’s amazingly fine wines. We sampled a variety of malvazija, the signature white wine of Istria, from the Coronica, Vina Laguna and Kozlovic vineyards. There’s just as much to appreciate for lovers of bubbly and red wine, as well.