As the twin-engine Beechcraft approached the Croatian island of Lošinj, my husband was wildly shooting photos out of 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 Lošinj is aptly called the Island of Vitality. One of more than 1,100 islands on the stunning Croatian Coast, Lošinj boasts close to 2,600 hours of sunshine a year, with just-right summers, averaging 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and easy winters, with temperatures 45 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, it’s this 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 Lošinj a natural health resort.
Soon afterward, Lošinj became the first tourist island in the aptly named Austrian Riviera. Popular with the imperial family (Empress Sisi and Emperor Franz Joseph 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, communism and more wars—and so it fell off the world stage.
Fast-forward to July 2014—to the 120 million Euro rebirth of Lošinj and the grand reopening 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 Čikat 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 155 miles of walking trails—and most of all, the sea before me—were a welcome surprise to a weary traveler.
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 said 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 I 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 Bissé, 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 & 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 say 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 liqueurs 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 off all the indulgence, there are two seawater pools, one on the inside, one outside, fitness facilities, and of course, the beach is directly outside, nicely outfitted with parasols and lounge chairs. And then there’s the spa! Designed by Mojca Gradišek, 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 colors, and the armchairs ideal for a day of downtime. The intimate spa library is a special spot where 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 area 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 Čikat Bay. The beauty and wellness section of the spa has its own entrance and is smartly done. The all-white, modern space is designed for face and body treatments, and here you’ll find some of the latest cosmetic innovations from some of the best skincare laboratories—Cellcosmet, Diego della Palma, Natura Bissé and Thalion. I loved the main area with its long white table with seating on both sides so estheticians and spa guests could try products and converse. Of course, there’s a professional team of estheticians, doctors, therapist and kinesiologists on hand to help you get the most out of your stay. Special spa programs are tailored to weight loss, 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 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 literature, “successfully combines quantum medicine, color 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 I felt like I had only been lying atop it for 10 minutes. Time flew, and it seemed to both refresh and relax me.
This spa will put this already regal property on the map with spa aficionados. I have a feeling even Empress Sisi would have approved.
For more information about adding the Bellevue Hotel to your next Ker & Downey itinerary, contact your Travel Professional or visit us online at www.kerdowney.com. To read the current issue of QUEST magazine online, click here, and be sure to stay up to date on all of QUEST’s online content by following the QUEST Facebook page.