Our train from Ljubljana would take us to the Croatian port city of Rijeka, which is near the border, almost directly south of Ljubljana. Even though the tracks follow a curve to stay on level ground, the distance from Ljubljana to this part of the Adriatic coast is almost the same as the distance to Slovenia’s tiny coastline, south of Trieste. Going there instead wouldn’t have taken us longer, but after spending a day or so on the coast, we planned to move on to Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park, and that was much easier to do from within Croatia: otherwise, we’d need to go back to Ljubljana and start from scratch.

Map of Istria and northeastern Croatia
To make the geography a little clearer, click the map icon at the right. The map will open in a separate window, in case you want to keep it open simultaneously with this one. (Although the railway isn’t on this map, it does show a highway that follows pretty much the same route, south through Logatec, Postojna, Pivka, and Ilirska Bistrica on the way to Rijeka.)

Rijeka is located on the Kvarner Gulf, a part of the northern Adriatic partially sheltered by Istria, the arrowhead-shaped peninsula south of Trieste, and also by the large islands of Krk and Cres (the latter pronounced ‘tsress,’ not ‘kress’). Click here for some interesting geographic and historical information about this area.

It wasn’t in our plans to stay in Rijeka, which both our guidebooks described as a city characterized by socialist-era apartment blocks and rusting, inactive shipyards, good mostly as a place to change trains, boats, or buses. Like many travelers to the formerly Yugoslavian seacoast, we wanted to visit one of the peaceful, beautiful coastal towns that send guidebook writers into rhapsodies. Our time and transportation limits put most of these out of reach to the south; others, though technically within range, required long bus rides to get to and from (for example Rovinj, on the outer coast of Istria, and Piran, just north of the border — Slovenia’s only entry in this category.)

Shore promenade at Lovran
But in planning the trip we learned of a string of small towns and villages along the extreme northeastern shore of Istria that had once (from the mid-1800s to World War I) enjoyed a career as the Riviera of the Dual Monarchy. Because they cling to the coast, backed by a high mountain ridge called Učka, these towns are sheltered from the Bora, a fierce northern wind that sometimes afflicts this part of the coast. The “Kvarner Riviera” was only a few miles west of Rijeka, and — important to us if not to long-gone Austro-Hungarian millionaires — served by the local bus line.

The largest town on this Riviera is Opatija, which (the guidebooks told us) boasts pricey but impressive B&Bs in lovely villas erected a century and more ago by the beau monde of Vienna and Budapest, pricey but excellent seafood restaurants, and palatial but stodgy hotels built by the Austrians of yore — but run by the Croatians of today as if the 1970s had never ended. (The main road through all these towns, in fact, is still named after Marshal Tito, though the reason it hasn’t been changed is more likely Croatian pride in a prominent native son than Croatian inertia or nostalgia for the golden days of Communism.)

Lovran Old Town
Not far past Opatija is the smaller, quieter town of Lovran (“LOHV-rahn”], which has some smallish hotels and a couple of reasonably priced and well regarded restaurants. Like many towns in Istria (most but not all of them on the coast) it was established centuries ago by Italians, who named it Laurana because of the laurel groves there. In addition to its seaside 19th-century villas, Lovran has an Old Town full of small, centuries-old houses built in typical Mediterranean style. There’s also a seven-mile-long promenade that runs along the waterfront from Lovran back to Opatija and a bit beyond.

Lovran sounded to us like a good place to spend a couple of nights and the day in between, so — hoping to enjoy in this way at least a sample of the Adriatic seaside — we made it our destination on this leg of the trip. We decided not to get off the train at Opatija-Matulji, the station just before Rijeka. As its name suggests, this station is closer to where we were going, but we’d read that bus service from there is less frequent than from Rijeka. We also wanted to buy advance bus tickets for the next leg of our journey, to the Plitvice Lakes, and Rijeka has a big bus station where we knew we’d be able to do this. So we opted to go all the way to the end of the line.