We arrived to Zadar on a busy summer day. The city was at its peak of tourist season, with amazing weather and everyone buzzing around. If you have never visited Zadar before, here are few reasons that make this town special: Firstly, Zadar is located on the central Adriatic coast and it is perfectly positioned to explore any side of the Dalmatia region. It’s slightly less familiar than Split and Dubrovnik, but this year it was voted European best destination. Luckily, its tiny airport can fit all those charter flights pouring in daily between May and October.
Secondly, it is a really unique historical place. When one walks the street of the old town, you can really feel the history. Every corner of this place could tell a story. The city has been established back in the 4th century BC and later on became a Roman colony. That’s why its layout resembles so much to the other Roman cities. Zadar was so precious that over the centuries everyone wanted to own it. The most intriguing occasion was when the Crusaders conquered Zadar in 1202 as a way to repay the Republic of Venice for their services. After changing hands numerous times and so many historical turmoils, this ideally located town became a part of independent Croatia in 1991.
Thirdly, Zadar has an unusual geographic feature where its city centre lies on a small peninsula. Most of this peninsula is surrounded by medieval city walls. Only western side is open to the sea and overlooks the islands of Ugljan and Pašman. For the best views, climb the church bell tower of 9th century St Donatus chatedral and you can see the islands, city’s layout and the mountain.
And last, but not least, it is my home town. Actually, I was born in Zadar hospital, but grew up in two villages each ten minutes away from the city. I attended high school here so I actually spent most of my time in the city’s old centre. When people ask me where I’m from, I proud to mention such a beautiful place.
As I mentioned, it gets busy in Zadar. The first day we arrived, we were exhausted from the trip and overwhelmed by the amount of people around so we decided to explore the town on our last day. In the meantime, we attended a gorgeous wedding and spend another day sailing with friends towards Kornati National park. Kornati is an archipelago of 89 islands, reefs and islets with pristine unspoiled water and some of the best restaurants in the country. When someone asks me what’s the best thing to do in Croatia, I always say – get on a boat and explore the islands. We have over a thousand of them. You can’t get a better experience of Croatia than that.
Our boat ride went as far as island Žut, right before the National Park. We spent the day swimming and treated ourselves to an excellent, yet very slow, lunch at restaurant Fešta ( only accessible by boat ). The food was by far the best we had during the whole stay in Croatia. Pricey, but worth it for the location and quality. We got back to Zadar marina just in time for the sunset. Alfred Hitchcock even remarked in 1964: ‘’Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, in Florida, applauded at every evening’’. After our prolonged summer trip, Thane and I made a list of best sunsets but can not agree on the order: Zadar, Cape Town and Oia, Santorini.
Every evening, people gather at Zadar promenade, called riva in Croatian, to admire the game of the sun and the sea. Later on, everyone walks to the north part of the promenade to watch the lights on the Monument to the Sun ( Pozdrav Suncu ) and to listen to the Sea Organ ( Morske orgulje ). The projects were created by an architect Nikola Bašić, with an aim to revive that part of the riva. Sea Organ is a special music instrument created by the waves passing through tubes underneath its steps. Monument to the Sun represents a solar system on a miniature scale in proportion to the planets. The Sun produces a light show every night, via solar energy collected throughout the day. We didn’t get a chance to enjoy the Sun because the night we came to see it, there was a special welcoming of Gold Olympic medalists ( my friends from high school, Šime Fantela and Igor Marenić ) straight back from Rio. The city organised a spectacular welcoming at the best location in town.
On our last day in Zadar, we got up at 7 in the morning to see the city in peace and take beautiful photos.We walked the whole length of the city centre without seeing a soul. Starting at Foša bay and entering the city via monumental Land Gate, we crossed Narodni square, walked down main city street Kalelarga all the way to the other side. Then we passed the romanic church of St Anastasia and took a shortcut to the promenade. We sat by the famous Sea Organ and that morning the sound was absolutely perfect. Later on, we walked over the old Roman Forum, admired the church of St Donatus from outside and took pictures without anyone disturbing our view. Something that rarely happens when you travel as a tourist. We walked through small narrow streets on our way back, through the area known as Varoš. It’s the most vibrant part of the old town, filled with bars and restaurants and busy all day long. Even in winter time, this area keeps the good atmosphere.
As our time in Zadar was coming to an end, we were quite disappointed we couldn’t spend more time in the area. But it’s good to save some things for later. Thane admitted Zadar was his favourite of all the places we visited this summer so we have to come back next year!
Zadar: 75 062 people (2012)
Best time to visit: May to October