The small church of St. Jacob in the center of Opatija is considered as the historical origin of Opatija or Abbazia (Abbazia = abbey). Fleeing Benedictines built a monastery here around 1420. Not a spectacular place - until the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy explore the Adriatic coast and Abbazia. Between 1867 and 1918 Abbazia was surprised by an unprecedented boom in construction and tourism.
The Villa Angiolina is considered the cradle of all tourist activities. In 1844 the merchant Iginio Scarpa from Rijeka (Fiume) acquired this and the peninsula around it. He created an unparalleled park with exotic plants, transformed the simple house into a magnificent villa which he named after his deceased wife Angiolina and where he received many guests. Tourism was born.
In 1873 the Austrian Southern Railway company from Vienna opened the branch line from Pivka to Rijeka via nearby Matulji and thus opened the path for the development of tourism in Abbazia/Opatija and neighbouring Lovran. In 1882, the railway company purchased the Villa Angiolina, where it accommodated the crown prince couple Rudolf and Stéphanie. At the time, Friedrich Julius Schüler (1832–1894), the Managing Director of the Southern Railways, started the construction of the Hotel Quarnero (Hotel Kvarner) and the Hotel Kronprinzessin Stephanie (today Hotel Imperial), and also was responsible for the unique lungomare and the parks (the Company engaged Carl Schubert, director of the Viennese Emperial-Royal Society for the construction of parks). Abbazia was soon a popular destination for the European crème de la crème.
The most famous doctors of the Monarchy came to Abbazia and sanatoriums, walkways, and baths were built. Opatija, along with Nice, Cannes, Biarritz, became one of the most important European nursing spas in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Kings, emperors, writers, philosophers, poets, and musicians- they all have visited Opatija/Abbazia multiple times! Let us mention the emperor Franz Joseph I, Emperor Wilhelm II, Queen Elizabeth of Romania, known as a poet who published her poetry under the pseudonym Carmen Sylva, then Elisabeth „Sisi“, writers of A. P. Chekhov and James Joyce, dancer Isadora Duncan, composers like Gustav Mahler or Giacomo Puccini.
The First World War brought the end of Austria-Hungary Monarchy. The Opatija Riviera went to Italy in 1918 and to Yugoslavia after 1945. Numerous buildings and parks from the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy have saved their charm to the present.
Today Opatija continues the long tradition as a popular therapy and wellness address like in the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy: with the favored location between Central Europe and the Mediterranean with the mild climate all around the year, the beautiful natural landscape, the splendid architectural witnesses of former times – a year-round tourism destination for healthy holidays.