Little-known island of Losinj set to become the star attraction of the Adriatic (and could be their answer to Majorca)
- Hotel chain Jadranka investing the fortunes of several oligarchs in Croatia
- Have built and re-developed a number of hotels and luxury villas
- In the 19th century, aristocrats came to Losinj to heal respiratory problems
Something big is happening on the Croatian island of Losinj. A hotel group called Jadranka is spending several oligarchs' fortunes trying to turn the place into one of Europe's most exciting holidays spots.
They have built and re-developed a number of hotels and luxury villas, all to the highest possible spec, and have plans for an 18-hole golf course and even an international airport.
The locals (many of them Jadranka employees) seem excited. 'I tell my son this is a time of great opportunity,' says Nicolas, our guide. Indeed, Losinj could be the Adriatic's answer to Majorca.
A hotel group called Jadranka is spending several oligarchs' fortunes trying to turn Losinj into one of Europe's most exciting holidays spots
Not that tourism is new on the island. In the 19th century, European aristocrats came to Lotzing or Lussino (the name changed depending on who thought it theirs) to breathe in the clean sea air and heal their respiratory problems.
The wheezy old Habsburgs were regulars: Archduke Charles Stephen of Austria had a winter palace here.
The island has lots more to offer than good oxygen. The sea is turquoise and brilliant: Italians flock here, Nicolas tells us, because they are 'jealous of the water'.
The whole place feels quite Italian, having been a part of Italy in the inter-war period. The locals still say 'Ciao' to each other.
The harbour towns of Veli ('Big') Losinj and Mali ('Little') Losinj — with their marinas and pastelcoloured villas — are similar to San Remo or Portofino. And they are every bit as pretty.
Confusingly, Little Losinj is one of the largest island towns on the Adriatic, while Big Losinj is tiny, though it has the more interesting past.
They built expensive pinewood ships here for the Venetians and possibly the Ottomans, too. The town's church, St Anthony's, is a basilica, featuring several fine baroque altars and a Madonna by Bartolomeo Vivarini.
With my wife, two small boys and baby girl I stayed around the corner from Veli Losinj at Jadranka's Bellevue hotel in the handsome bay of Cikat.
I can't stand large hotels as a rule, but the 200-odd room Bellevue knocked our socks off.
It felt brand spanking new — the staff have just celebrated the first anniversary of a major refurbishment — and the atmosphere is grand luxe.
Our room had a glorious sea view and huge balcony with a hot tub — a little bit bling, perhaps, but our young children appreciated it without irony.
Ernie Els, the golfer, was staying at the Villa Hortensia next door. He's rumoured to be designing golf course.
The hotel had not one but three swimming pools plus its own private beach, as well as a gym and spa, complete with fish tanks.
Ironically, Little Losinj is one of the largest island towns on the Adriatic, while Big Losinj is tiny
Overcoming my abhorrence of thing associated with 'wellness', I tried a treatment called the Light Colour Movement system or LCM.
This, I was informed, is a revolutionary new device designed by a physicist to re-harmonise the body.
It involved lying on a hot water and having trippy colours and sounds zapped into my unharmonious flesh for half an hour.
The experience felt like being part of a modern art installation, yet I must say I found it uplifting. It took several glasses of Grasevina (Croatian white wine) to bring me back to earth.
If you don't want to slob about the hotel all day or drink in the seafronts, there's still plenty to do. You can take a plane ride over the archipelago or, as we did, a boat trip to the islands of Susak and Ilovik.
In the 19th century, European aristocrats came to Lotzing or Lussino (the name changed depending on who thought it theirs) to breathe in the clean sea air and heal their respiratory problems
Susak has a huge sandy beach and some lively bars — what the guidebook might call a 'party vibe'. Or if you prefer real wildlife, there's dolphin-spotting expeditions by speedboat from Veli Losinj.
At Bellevue, two cheerful girls called Tea and Helena took the boys off our hands whenever we tired of our parental duties — which is about the best thing any mother and father abroad can hope for. The food was delicious, and Croatian wine is not to be sniffed at.
For the British, Losinj is only a two-hour flight from London, plus ferry and taxi, or a mere car drive away for most Europeans.
At Bellevue, we met a satisfied Hungarian fellow guest, who told us: 'I come here now and maybe will come a few more years before ze Russians come.' He had a point. Losinj is going to be a big player in the world of travel.