Pine trees appear like dark brush strokes against a mauve sky, framing Losinj off the northern Adriatic coast of Croatia. Visitors, mostly Europeans, come to this enchanting, herb-enriched island to experience the health and beauty benefits for which it is famous.
I flew from New York to Venice, where I embarked King Air to Mali Losinj. From there I was transported to the opposite side of the island to the newly renovated five-star Bellevue Hotel, situated a few feet from the calm, clear blue water of Cikat Bay.
According to brochures, the island has a 120-year-old reputation for healing respiratory and skin disorders. Researchers found that the subtropical, warm, humid air combined with aromatic herbs was responsible for the health and wellbeing of visitors. Sanitariums and hospitals were built and included a variety of relaxation and beauty regimens – treatments with herbs, algae (there are 70 types of them) and oils – and exercise programs, such as walking, running and biking on the seaside path surrounding the island. Recommended as well was swimming in saltwater pools located in some hotels and/or swimming in the Sea, where it was thought the air’s herbal mist mingled with the Sea’s saline content and improved health. The programs and therapies continue to today, with medical supervision available for those who wish it.
An indoor heated pool in the glassed-enclosed Spa Clinic at the Bellevue Hotel allows visitors to enjoy the warmth of seawater during the cooler months, while the bracing 79˚ water temperature in the outdoor Olympic-size and infinity pools refreshes swimmers throughout the spring and summer months.
The Bellevue’s Spa Clinic offers myriad health and beauty treatments from which to select. Comfortable chairs are available in the relaxing room, where guests can read or enjoy a refreshing drink. The one-day and multi-day programs have been designed in collaboration with physicians, nutritionists, kinesiologists and therapists who combine their knowledge of modern medicine with traditional remedies. Facials and body treatments at the Spa Clinic use natural, top-quality formula, which provide guests with luxurious, long-lasting experiences.
Guests can enjoy the sauna or steam rooms and a Turkish bath with a Hammam table, a soothing bathing ritual that includes deep cleansing and exfoliation. The Diamond Treatment includes a 30-minute rest on a water table surrounded with colored lights and music, followed by a 30-minute health consultation and massage.
Irena, my spa specialist, began with a consultation: questions about digestion, sleeping habits, skin and sun damage, health and medications. Based on my answers we chose an anti-age and pro-collagen quartz lift. I added an Endolift to the menu as well.
I was shown to a room, given a plush robe, asked to remove my clothes and then escorted to the treatment room.
The facials started with an unexpected welcome touch: washing and massaging my feet. It set the stage for a relaxing, almost mesmerizing 105 minutes of bliss.
My face was cleansed with a balm of starflower, elderberry, rose and mimosa oils and then ex-foliated. After each procedure Irena used a pro collagen marine anti-age toner. From décolletage to temple, Irena plumped up my skin with Endolift. The vacuum suction-and-release mechanism massages deep tissue, tones and improves facial circulation. The machine can be used on all body parts as well. The temperature-controlled radiofrequency activates the natural process of cells, causing wobble to disappear.
The anti-wrinkle mask, a collagen cream mixed with a cocktail of rose, mimosa, seaweeds and Padina pavonica (peacocks tail), an alga found in the Mediterranean, was then applied to my face and neck to improve skin firmness. Padina pavonica serum was applied to the eye area. While waiting for the cream to set, Irena massaged my hands and feet.
Minutes later, Irena removed the mask and used the pro intense eye and lip contour cream to target and plump up the skin around my eyes and mouth. A toner completed the treatment.
Before I was to experience another facial at the Laurus Slow Spa, a small group of us took a day sailing trip to Kriviza aboard the Jadrinka, a lovely yacht, which our captain, Robert Malnar of Sailing Excursions built by hand from salvage. The weather was ideal for an excursion, a steady breeze filled the sails and a couple hours later the Jadrinka slid gracefully into a protected cove, where we swam.
Restaurants in Losinj feature a variety of local cheese, fresh vegetables and herbs, fish and lamb. The Palatschinke (a form of crepe) is filled with fruit and drizzled with honey or emilia (a sticky brown liqueur made from unripe green walnuts). Beef comes from the neighboring island of Istria. At the Restaurant Dalmatinks at Ilovic Bay, the platters were served en familia: baskets of homemade bread with superb olive oil, smoked sardines, baby shrimp and tuna for the antipasti. A whole baked sea bass with potatoes, onion, zucchini and tomatoes followed. The local wine was dry and crisp. Dessert included fruit plates and several glasses of brandy flavored with various herbs.
Sated, we boarded the Jadrinka and set sail for Cikat Bay, passing the green, gently rolling hills of Losinj, while shafts of light from the sun approaching the horizon pierced through billowy clouds. Reaching shore, I was invited to attend an outdoor concert the following evening in Nerzina by Robert and his sailing colleague Sano who played trumpet and drums respectively in a volunteer group band in the town square. During the evening’s concert, I couldn’t tell which was most enjoyable – the sounds of the band or the sights of visitors, locals and children having a grand time.
I visited the Laurus SlowSpa in the Hotel Aurora the following day and learned that the products are made from locally grown medicinal plants and herbs and only used at the commencement of treatments. Even the nail lacquer is vegan.
The most popular treatments at the SlowSpa are the Losinj Signature Massage, a whole body and facial massage with cold pressed herbs and essential oils, the Green Clay Back Massage, which focuses on tight shoulders, and the Massage Family Time, a two-person whole body massage. I chose the Everlasting Anti Age Treatment.
My treatment specialist, Matea, began with a cup of herbal tea and questions regarding my health and skin. Once comfortable in the treatment room, Matea lightly sprayed me with water scented with lavender and rosemary and massaged and stretched my head. The upward movements were calming and relaxed my shoulders. She then cleaned my skin with avocado oil and rose water, advising me that avocado oil is high in vitamins and is used to “feed” the skin.
Exfoliation is performed with apricot seeds in a base of oil or gel and is excellent for sensitive skin, however, Matea eliminated the procedure because I’d had a facial two days before, telling me that once a month is sufficient. A white mask of clay and lavender, everlasting and myrtle oils were applied to my face and neck. Warm, lavender water cotton puffs were placed over my eyes. While the mask set, Matea massaged my hands and feet.
The mask was removed with lavender water, followed by a light lavender water mist and a face massage with essential oils of tea tree and everlasting. Also known as immortelle, everlasting nourishes the skin and reduces inflammation, a major contributor to the aging process. The 60-minute facial ended with a head, arm, hand and décolletage massage. Shower and robes are available for those staying at the spa. I found my taxi waiting to return me to the Bellevue Hotel still well lubricated.
In 2017 the airport in Losinj will be enlarged to accommodate the American market arriving from Venice, Zagreb or Dubrovnik. Currently it’s possible to reach the island via a water taxi or private plane from Venice or a hydroplane from Split and Pula. The improved transportation will rescue Losinj from its remoteness, making it more accessible to people like me who need to rejuvenate the psyche.