Until the 1840s Opatija was a minuscule fishing village with 35 houses and a church, but the arrival of wealthy Iginio Scarpa from Rijeka turned things around. He built Villa Angiolina (named after his wife) and surrounded it with exotic subtropical plants. The villa hosted European aristocrats aplenty (including the Austrian queen Maria Anna, wife of emperor Ferdinand I) and Opatija’s classy reputation was sealed.

Opatija’s development was also assisted by the completion of a direct rail link to Vienna, which opened in 1873. Construction of Opatija’s first hotel, the Quarnero (today the Hotel Kvarner), began and wealthy visitors arrived en masse. It seemed that everyone who was anyone was compelled to visit Opatija, including kings from Romania and Sweden, Russian tsars and celebrities of the day.

Today Opatija remains a refined (some would say conservative) resort that's very popular with German and Austrian senior citizens.