Travelling for a medical procedure or for appropriate health care is often thought of as a recent phenomenon. The truth, however, is that people have been travelling long distances to improve their health for thousands of years.
Archaeological evidence from the third millennium B.C. suggests that people travelled for healing purposes in the Middle East region. A few thousand years later the spas and cult centres were established all around the Mediterranean. Later, in 16th and 17th centuries European spa towns became prime destinations for the upper classes looking to soothe their health problems and ailments. Some of the attractive health resorts in the old days were situated at the north-east side of the Adriatic, today known as Istria and Kvarner regions in Croatia.
Leafing through the book about the early days of health tourism in those areas I found a record from well-known Prussian-born Viennese surgeon, Theodor Billroth (1829-1894), a founding father of modern abdominal surgery (and an amateur musician, also a close friend of Johannes Brahms). Doctor Billroth, who had spent some time in Opatija, today still the “queen of Croatian tourism”, wrote then the following words: “I have been in Opatija for a few days, surrounded by laurel. I think it is wonderful here. Whenever I go out from Vienna, I search for peace, clear air and solitude…Whatever the doctors may think about the winter health resorts in the European south, it is without a question an indescribable pleasure to be able to get out from the house in the winter and to walk for hours under the sun. The sea glistens surrounded by mountains that open into a huge embrace towards the south. I get amused at the sight of the diversity of the bays and rocks, the beauty of hills and the scenery. From the valleys the lights from towns, villages, villas and churches twinkle. The laurel trees of rather strong scent are characteristic for Opatija…The paths around the town are flat or gently climb, which is important and valuable for quiet reflection during walks.”
In the second half of the last century this health resort developed into the rehabilitation hospital Thalassotherapia, specialising in alleviating and curing cardiac diseases as well as in rheumatology. Co-operation was established with the World Health Organisation, with several national health organisations and, in Europe especially, with Swedish health institutions. A very successful co-operation with several organisations and with city of Stockholm had been going on until the Homeland war (in 1991). Around 10.000 Swedish patients were cured in the Opatija Thalassotherapia which witnessed the high quality and the successes of the health care. Even now, many international patients come to visit the therapeutic opportunities in these regions.
With today’s unquestionable and continuing development of successful health care programs, we have reason to believe that the story of peaceful walks in the laurel scent will continue for many years to come.