23 July, 2018
An ode to hedonism on Brijuni
World-class, elite and elegant residence, nestled in a world of serenity and silence, right by the sea
Numbers 44°54’60.0”N and 13°45’60.0”E might seem like a complex mathematical problem to most people. However, these are the GPS coordinates of the Brijuni Islands. Fourteen emerald jewels scattered in the sapphire sea. The two largest islands are Veliki Brijun and Mali Brijun. The smaller are Sveti Marko, Gaz, Okrugljak, Šupin, Šupinić, Galija, Grunj, Vanga, Madona, Vrsar, Kozada and Sveti Jerolim. As one of the eight national parks of Croatia, it is a remarkable combination of natural values and cultural heritage. A mild climate, favourable geographic conditions, deep inland retreats and well-protected high altitudes, have ensured the continuity of human activity on the island from prehistoric times to the modern day. On a relatively small island, with a surface of only seven square kilometres, there are some 100 archaeological locations and culturally historical sites that include the very first Neolithic settlement filled with dugouts in the bay of Soline, to the creation of a world-famous summer resort and spa at the beginning of the last century and the presidential residence visited by presidents of one third of all countries in the world during its 25 years (1954 – 1979).
The Brijuni Islands are also known as the Paradise Islands. According to one legend, the Creator wanted to shape a piece of the Earth based on the image of Paradise. Thus Istria was created, akin to a garden overgrown with beautiful trees and spacious meadows, bathed by the blue sea, simply inviting people to live a happy life there. However, the jealous devil had destroyed His work by cutting a hole in a bag in which an angel used to collect the remains of unused stones. As a result, thousands of rocks were spilled around the Istrian land, the land of contrast, both gentle and ferocious at the same time, fertile and barren, sunny and cloudy. The forlorn angels gathered the pieces of Paradise remaining among the scattered rocks and protected them with the waves of the sea. That is how the Brijuni Islands were born. This concise story of the island, which carefully preserves the traces of five millennia of human activity, makes the legend about its origin a sense of reality and upon our arrival to the island, a unique harmony of flora, fauna and heritage lays in front of us. This is truly a fraction of the Primeval Paradise, an extraordinary blend of turquoise-blue sea and evergreen islands who’s coves and hills are lined with lively, white, Istrian stone. During the Neolithic period, the inhabitants of Brijuni were warriors and fishermen and weapons and tools were made of stone. Their settlement was located in the bay of Javorika. In the Bronze Age, in order to defend themselves against the enemy, settlements were built on hills and then enclosed by stone walls. That type of settlement is called ‘gradina’.
Since the late Bronze Age, a tribe that Istria is named after lived here – the Histri. They were pirates who often attacked Roman ships. After many conflicts, the Romans conquered them in 177 BC in battle at Nesactium. In Roman times, numerous villas were built on Brijuni, where olive oil was produced and people existed in harmony. The name of the island in that period was Insulae Pullariae. In the 6th century the islands were ruled by the Byzantine Empire, followed by the Franks, the Republic of Venice and Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The island’s tourist era began in 1893 when Austrian industrialist Paul Kupelwieser bought Brijuni for 70,000 gold forints. Unfortunately, at that time the islands were neglected and there was an outbreak of malaria. Paul Kupelwieser thought it was extremely important to rid the island of its malaria problem. When he read in the papers that a renowned German bacteriologist, Dr Robert Koch, planned to study malaria in Italy, he wrote him a letter with his observations about the disease. Koch soon sent his associates there. Furthermore, he visited the island personally on two occasions in 1900. In 1901 he visited the island and discovered that the cause of malaria was anopheles, a mosquito with colourful wings. Kupelwieser erected a monument in one of the quarries in 1908 to honour him. After that, the transformation of the Brijuni Islands began, transforming them into a beautiful summer and health resort visited by many celebrities. Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was here, painter Gustav Klimt, composer Richard Strauss, writers George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Mann to name a few. But the island experienced a real boom in the 50s, when Tito built a reservation for associates and international jet-setters on the island.
Statistics say that Josip Broz played host to 90 presidents from 60 countries on the Brijuni Islands. In addition to signing the Declaration of Brioni with Nasser and Nehru, he hosted De Gaulle, Brandt, Brezhnev, Churchill, Khrushchev, Sadat, Saddam Hussein, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and many others. In an era without social networks, Brijuni’s popularity grew thanks to its famous celebrity visitors. In 1970, Sophia Loren and her husband Carlo Ponti visited the island for a couple of days and a year later, Richard Burton and Liz Taylor visited as well. More recently, the island was visited by Angelina Jolie, Naomi Campbell, Placido Domingo… Experiencing Brijuni means taking a step through history, getting to know various cultures and civilisations that have left their trace, enriching the islands with enchanting mystery. Sunsets over Kastrum, a bicycle ride through the gentle wilderness, playing golf on the shoreline in the shade of centuries-old pines, meadows full of deer at dusk cannot be fully captured in words. Discovering the hidden and treasured beauty day by day allows you to increasingly appreciate the irresistible attraction that makes you want to return to the charm of Brijuni again and again. Not to forget the legendary 57-year-old cockatoo, Koki. He is a local celebrity who has taken photos with many island visitors, including Princess Caroline of Monaco and John Malkovich. The hotels and villas nestle in a world of serenity and silence, right by the sea and complete the magical experience that the Brijuni Islands offer. That’s why this is an ideal place for both a relaxing vacation and nurturing creativity. Your travel should be done in style. Driving a 1953 Cadillac Eldorado. The only detail missing will be Sophia Loren.
Photos by JU NP Brijuni /www.np-brijuni.hr, Marko Vrdoljak, Ivo Pervan & Boris Kača