Squeezed between the Istrian peninsula to the north and Dalmatia to the south, the Kvarner Gulf brings together many of the Croatian coast’s most enticing features: grizzled coastal hills and mountains, an archipelago of ochre-grey islands and fishing villages with narrow alleys and gardens groaning under the weight of subtropical plants. The Kvarner island of Rab boasts sandy beaches of almost Caribbean proportions, and the range of rocky and pebbly coves on offer elsewhere will have Adriatic-beach enthusiasts scouring their brains in search of superlatives.
Croatia’s largest port and centre of the Kvarner’s transport network, Rijeka is a prosperous and cultured city brimming with hedonistic energy and a busy gateway to the islands that crowd the gulf to the south. Of these, Krk is the most accessible, connected to the mainland by a road bridge just half an hour’s drive from Rijeka; the islands farther out – Lošinj, Rab and Cres – are only accessible by ferry and have a correspondingly rural, laid-back feel. Each has its fair share of historic towns, along with some gorgeous coves and beaches – especially the sandy ones at Baška on Krk and Lopar on Rab. Although lush and green on their western flanks, islands like Rab and Pag are hauntingly bare when seen from the mainland, the result of deforestation during the Venetian period, when local timber was used to feed the shipyards of Venice; the fierce northeasterly wind known as the bura has prevented anything from growing there again.
Back on the mainland, the Habsburg-era villas of Opatija and Lovran preserve an evocative flavour of the belle époque. The southern part of the Kvarner coastline is dominated by the stark and majestic Velebit mountains, a huge chain that comprises both the Northern Velebit and Paklenica national parks at opposite ends of the range.Read More
Food and drink in the Kvarner Gulf
Food and drink in the Kvarner Gulf
Seafood in the Kvarner is as good as anywhere in Croatia, although the Gulf is famous above all for its scampi, which thrive in this part of the Adriatic due to the sea’s uniquely sandy bottom. Kvarner scampi can be prepared in a number of ways although the classic recipe is škampi na buzaru, served in a garlic and wine sauce. The scampi are invariably served whole and unpeeled – you are supposed to prize them open with your fingers and suck out the white flesh.
Prime among the island-based specialities is Pag cheese, a hard and piquant affair that is best eaten as a nibble-and-savour starter. A regional staple found on the island of Krk and on the nearby mainland too is šurlice, long, thin tubes of pasta dough, traditionally eaten sa gulašom (with goulash) or sa žgvacetom (with lamb stew). Visitors to Rab should not leave without sampling rabska torta, the marzipan-filled pastry sold in local patisseries, while most famous of the region’s wines is Vrbnička Žlahtina, an excellent white from Vrbnik on Krk’s east coast.
Some of Croatia’s best restaurants are in the Rijeka–Volosko–Opatija strip, with establishments like Bevanda (Opatija), Plavi Podrum and Le Mandrać (both Volosko) frequently topping local culinary surveys.
One of the Kvarner Gulf’s most famous natural phenomena is the bura. A cold, dry northeasterly, it blows across the central European plain and gets bottled up behind the Adriatic mountains, escaping through the passes at places like Senj, where it is claimed to be at its worst. It’s said that you can tell the bura is coming when a streak of white cloud forms atop the Velebit. At its strongest, it can overturn cars and capsize boats. When it’s blowing, ferry crossings between the mainland and the islands are often suspended, and the road bridge to Krk as well as the road to Starigrad-Paklenica will either be off limits to high-sided vehicles, or closed altogether.