The Kvarner Gulf, which stretches from the Opatija Riviera and the Istrian coast down to Pag Island, covers a surface area of about 3,300 square kilometers. The main islands are Krk, Cres, Losinj and Rab. The climate is generally pleasant, with warm summers and mild winters. The annual average temperature is 14C.
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The Kvarner Gulf is protected by the mountain ranges of the Ucka and Velebit, which ensure enjoyably cool summer nights. The mistral wind brings a refreshing breeze in summer, but winter temperatures can drop quickly when the bora sweeps down from the hills. The bora brings cool air in summer, too, while the sirocco brings rain. The climate and its own special geographic disposition – the nearby Dinaric coastal mountains with their ski slopes on one side and the Adriatic on the other side – sometimes makes it possible between Christmas and Easter to actually ski in the mountains and swim in the sea on the same day.
The vegetation around the bay is abundant and green. In the undisturbed karst landscape, laurels, palms and agave grow; many gardens grow exotic orange and lemon trees.
Despite lush springtime vegetation, there is a lack of fertile land for vegetables and moist meadows for cattle. The karstic terrain does not leave much room for profitable agriculture, either on the islands or on the mainland. But the Kvarner Gulf is rich in various species of fish, and the cuisine of the area specializes in seafood.
The name Kvarner, Quarnero in Italian, probably comes from the Latin Mare Quaternatium, meaning “sea of four parts.” The Romans are thought to have been referring to the geographical position of the offshore islands: Krk, Rab and Pag run parallel to the Croatian coastline, while Cres and Losinj shield the bay from the open sea.
The large number of sheltered bays actually made sea trade a risky enterprise in earlier days. In the Middle Ages, “Christian” seafaring meant that anybody could venture out and seize anybody else’s vessel. Even the coastal settlements were not immune from piracy. It seemed that people were equal not only in the face of God, but also in the face of pirates. The Austrians made Kvarner an important strategic center during their attempts to expand their empire. The only fleet the Habsburgs ever had cruised about in these waters; and this, too, is where the great imperial dreams of the Habsburgs sank.
Today, the islands, with the picturesque background of the Velebit Massif, are a paradise for sail and motor boats but not pirates – and the only places where you might be relieved of your wealth are at the richly-stocked buffets of the hotels and restaurants.