By Gretchen Kelly
Remember the TV series Fantasy Island which touted the unforgettable saying, “The plane! The plane!”? Every week visitors were transported to a beautiful island and left looking fabulous, rested and ready for the real world. That was more than thirty years ago. Today, if you wanted to look for an island just like that in the real world, you would find it in Croatia (known to a new generation of media watchers as “King’s Landing” from Game of Thrones).
Once part of the Austrian Empire, the island of Lošinj (a short private plane hop from Zagreb or Venice) became famous as the private island retreat for Emperor Franz Josef and his young mistress. Here they were quartered in the gorgeous, art nouveau-inspired villas for the mild winter climate and the island’s natural aromatherapy. The fresh air with a hint of the isle’s pines and herbs like rosemary, and immortelle (a small plant so powerfully healing and restorative that the French face crème business imports it by the truckload).
The minute you arrive and take a deep breath, you’ll feel what the Austrian glitterati of the day felt. Your lungs expand, your body relaxes, the senses open and take in the healing, aromatic salt-tinged, pine-laden air. The unique microclimate and mix of rare plants and flowers here have been medically known to expand lung capacity (a boon in the days of The Austrian Empire’s coal-choked cities).
It’s the reason Lošinj developed a reputation as a place of retreat and healing for the wealthy Austrians and Italians who knew the secrets of its restorative powers and built beautiful hotels and villas along its turquoise watered beaches. Lošinj is divided into two parts: Mali Lošinj near Čikat Bay is the larger of the two; Veli Lošinj, the smaller, is to the south of the island.
The island’s commercial hotel industry is managed by one company, the Jadranka Group, which own and operate a boutique selection of properties from four to five stars. Guests can also stay in private homes (where you’ll find those elusive celebs and their entourage), but the island’s Hotel Bellevue and Hotel Alhambra by Čikat Bay are the places where the holistic hedonism happens.
SITTING ON THE BAY
The Bellevue, right on the bay, is a white marble and stone shrine to the idea the French call, “bien dans son peau” or feeling alive and fantastic in your own skin. Built to look from the water, like an elegant ocean liner, when you are inside the Bellevue’s high white stone lobby with its Italian marble floors and pillars, you feel a bit like you’re in an ancient Greek temple to the goddess of feeling good.
The Bellevue is home to its own pier and swimming area along with two salt-water pools: one indoor and one out. It also has a world-class spa and spa zone where you can curl up in a warm healing chaise made of stone or relax on a water bed after one of the spa’s signature massages with some of the island’s herbal healing oils. There’s also the bracing bay itself for a dive into the water so pure and crystalline you can see your feet (and a few spiny sea urchins) below. Float out a bit, and you can watch the Bellevue’s invariably well-heeled and Armani-clad clientele dining on fresh Scorpionfish and other local catches on the wide terrace.
For a more private and slightly higher-end experience along with Italianate interiors and Ferragamo amenities, the Hotel Alhambra next door is the place to ensconce yourself and never want to leave. The building is of the Wiener Werkstatt/Gustav Klimt era, with beautiful brass and wood everywhere and an art nouveau take on the Moorish style.
MUCH TO DO
Although you wouldn’t be faulted for never wanting to leave the cocoon-like pleasures of the Bellevue or the Alhambra, the island has plenty of cultural and scenic treasure to lure you from your seaside cave of delights. Roman and Medieval ruins (along with a lovely and very retro Archaeology Museum) in the town of Osor are a great field day out into the island’s multi-layered history of Venetian/Austrian/Roman ancestry. Note: if you see Venetian lions with their tails up, the structure was built during a time when the locals were feeling friendly. Tails down, not so much.
There’s also the fascinating Museum of Apoxyomenos where you can see the bronze statue of a Greek athlete found in the waters off the island by a visiting diver. The image of a young man in the prime of his physical peak, in near perfect condition, is a powerful branding message of the island itself: the joy of physical wellness, the beauty of a body well-tended. Around the island, you can also find local olive oil makers and places to buy the precious oil of the immortelle flower—the roadside herb that renders a substance said to keep skin looking glowing and young, and that gives the body as a whole a sense of vitality and energy. The smell is of amber, a bit like cognac mixed with honey.
In the end, your senses will keep the memories of those tastes, that bracing saltwater on your skin, the mild, warming the sun on your face and the scent of pine resin, wild rosemary, and sage, for years to come.
You can get to the island via direct flights to Venice, Italy or Zagreb, Croatia and then a short 30-minute transfer to a private flight on King Airways which offers passengers stunning views of the Adriatic Sea and its islands below. Ferry service from mainland Croatia is also available.
Gretchen Kelly writes on travel and hotels for The New York Post, TravelwithVal.com, Frommers.com, and many other websites and publications. She has appeared on FOX5’s Good Day New York, BBC Worldwide News and Bloomberg News. She’s been to over 80 countries.