Zadar – the North Dalmatian Pearl

Zadar – the North Dalmatian Pearl
By Ekaterina Larsson

Croatia has been on my list of places to visit for ages. I have been to Dubrovnik a long time ago and vowed that I would give Croatia some proper two weeks to explore. Since Croatia was one of the few countries which let Swedish people in without a quarantine of 14 days this summer, I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to travel there with my family. The question was where exactly in Croatia we should go. Even in times of COVID19 or may be especially in these time, I did not want to go to super touristic places. Croatia, like many other European summer holiday destinations, experienced a drop of 70% in holiday makers this summer. I decided on Zadar and booked Lufthansa tickets to fly there. Why exactly Zadar? Because of Martina. I met Martina a few times in Stockholm in 2015 and she told me about Zadar. She moved back home, started working for a travel agency and kept posting lovely pictures of sailing and sunsets on her Facebook page. What is not to love?

I booked a family hotel with a swimming pool in Borik for a few nights, a room in Kolovare beach close to the old town for a few nights, and then an apartment for a week on the island of Ugljan in the Zadar archipelago.

Borik area of Zadar

The host family in Borik were very hospitable and greeted us with homemade sweets. I tried speaking my version of Croatian with them, which worked, insisted on watching Croatian TV, and even discussed life in Croatia with our driver from the airport, Filip. Upon arrival my daughter’s priority was to jump into the pool, mine – to walk around. She won of course. So my walk was postponed till the next morning. I walked along the sea all the way to Borik Marina, had a coffee at cafe/ bar Forty,  managed to rent an electric bike and wheezed off to the Old Town.

 

Photo: inyourpocket.com

Old Town Zadar

I found the old town fascinating! Zadar has been Illyrian, Roman, Venetian, Austrian, Yugoslavian, you name it! It has the typical charm of most old towns along the Adriatic coast – the Catholic churches, bell towers on small squares, wells on larger squares, tiny cobbled streets, souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. All that within the old city walls. Outside of these walls you have the sea, or boardwalks along the sea as the old town is a sort of an island or a peninsula connected with two bridges. The two bridges are one new and one old – the old one with the Land Gate with the winged lion of San Marco and Fosa marina.

Photo: Traveling King

 

Photo: Adventure Driven Vacations

Photo: Ekaterina Larsson

I experienced the old town a few times – in the heat in the middle of the day, in a storm and rain, when I walked into a bar to hide and have Karlovačko beer, talked to the bartender Monika about feminism and the strong power of the Catholic Church in Croatia, which really surprised me. I climbed up the bell tower one evening and saw the city from above, walked by the sea at sunset with Gin Tonic in my hand, heard the Organ of the Sea and danced on the Sun Greeting solar panels.

 

Photo: Ekaterina Larsson

At another visit to the Old Town I went inside a beer garden and had different kinds of Croatian beer. Even hunted down some craft Croatian beer. My husband insisted on wearing his mask in the crowded tiny streets. I listened to some live music, saw the students sit in circles in front of the University building with drinks in their hands. Managed to hug the sculpture of the guy staring at a giant sea shell in his hands – Špiro Brusina, who was an expert in natural sciences and founder of ornithology in Croatia. He was also a zoologist, explorer, cultural and public official. What secrets does that shell contain?

 

Photo: Ekaterina Larsson

Kolovare beach

I kind of liked the relaxed beach attitude of Croatians – most beaches are pebbles or cement, with only 3-4 umbrellas or no umbrellas on it at all so the locals would just put their little mattresses and towels anywhere and go for a swim. I was a bit annoyed in the beginning as I am used to the lovely sandy beaches of Greece and Thailand with sun beds and umbrellas. But the transparent pristine water and the snorkeling opportunities grew on me. I confess also that I did deliberately seek out that tiny strip of sand or a sandy beach whenever possible.

 

Photo: booking.com

Kolovare beach is closest to the old town, we found a nice restaurant close by as well where I had squid with French fries and beer for little money.  Another beach bar was also close by – where my daughter was happy to dig into a huge melba – ice cream with plenty of fruit in it! And my daughter tortured me to go with her on a bouncy castle with bouncy obstacles in the water! Phew, that was tough!

Sailing in the Zadar archipelago

I really wanted to go sailing but not on a boat full of 70 tourists, which I dislike in general but even more so in times of COVID19! You get tourist agencies going on about the Cornati islands and how they will take you there. They will not. You are not allowed to go on the Cornati islands. Fullstop.

So I asked Martina about advice and she put us in touch with an agency that takes max 7 people on board. Perfect! This is how we ended up one sunny day on a sailing boat with captain Daniel, and two German couples. I started chatting with the captain and we bonded with David and Vanessa over beer (and they were a German couple on their honeymoon, cool!).  We glided past the old town with the white bell tower, past the island of Pasman and the Cornati islands. My daughter even got to steer the boat for about an hour so she was a very happy 8 year old!

 

Photo: Ekaterina Larsson

We finally reached the island of Dugi Otok where we got off at its southern end to visit the salty lake Mir in Telašćica National Park. It was cool to float there, just like in the Dead Sea, and the mud there is believed to have healing properties. We also went up to see the huge white cliffs, also known as Stene of Dugi Otok. The highest peak is 160 meters so we were standing on top of the cliffs. Stunning view from above! For lunch we ate the best hamburgers with cebapcici meat and Croatian beer. All that accompanied by Narodno music – the kind of pop folk music you will hear everywhere on the Balkans. I even danced a little on my chair – why not? We really enjoyed this sailing trip and it was one of our highlights in Croatia.

Photo: Luxury Croatia

KRKA national park, Skradin and Sibenik

Another highlight of our trip was KRKA National Park. We rented a car to drive there, drove to the town of Skradin and got on a boat on the river KRKA with lots of other tourists to take us to the national park and the waterfalls. At first I was appalled at the amount of the people jumping into the waterfalls. I decided that we should cross the bridge and enter on the other side of the waterfalls – a more difficult entrance but less crowded there. I went in first and swam all the way to the cascades. You are not allowed to go all the way under the cascades but what a magnificent sight! After the whole family had their swim we decided to go to the restaurant in the woods for lunch. Tasty meat and French fries but bees as well, which sent my daughter reeling around like crazy.  I debated whether we should explore the  rest of the national park and decided against it as we had the car only for one day (terribly expensive to rent!).

 

Photo: Gray Line Tours

So we took the boat back, checked out the yachts moored at the marina and explored the old cobbled streets of the town with passages and vaults and Venetian style houses from 18th and 19th century. I discovered a lovely walled garden with a wine cellar so parked the family and ordered a glass of white wine. The garden had a wooden table, a sofa swing with white tule and fringes fluttering in the breeze, a little fountain, climbing roses and some gentle music. I was in heaven! Two young Serbians were then replaced by a young French couple who decided to do same as us – sip some wine in the cool garden to escape the hot afternoon.

 

Photo: Ekateriina Larsson

Skradin is a quite picturesque 6000-years-old town situated at the point where the KRKA river flows into the Adriatic sea. The town was the capital of Croatia and Bosnia in the 13th century. Apparently the food to try there is eel from Prukljansko lake, which gives it a special flavor since it is tripartite – at the bottom the sea water, brackish water in the middle and rive water on the top.  Plus the Skradin risotto cooked for 9 hours. Next time then!

 

Photo: Raftrek Adventure Travel

Our next stop was Sibenik – a medieval town famous from the film series Game of Thrones. We explored the somewhat empty old town, climbed up to the fortress and the monastery, checked out some shops (most of them were closed) and finally settled for some mussels in white wine sauce at a sea restaurant at sunset. Life seemed profoundly beautiful!

Photo: Planet Ware

Photo: Croatia tourism

Restaurants in Zadar

I was knocking myself out with seafood in Zadar – octopus, calamari, shrimps, all kinds of fish. You have a very wide pick of restaurants in Zadar – from small unpretentious places, to pizzerias and beer gardens in the old town, to more upscale fine dining places. We tried all kinds of restaurants. I ate the best scampi in Restaurant Niko for example – they were melting in your mouth! However, besides that dish,  I did not care much about the restaurant – the heavy furniture interior reminded me of old communist era restaurants which during those days catered to the tastes of the communist party officials to then start catering to the tastes of mafia guys and nouveau rich shady businessmen/ politicians. In spite of being situated so close to the sea, the restaurant offered a terrace with a view over the parking lot. A big minus on that one!

 

Photo: Restaurant Niko

The most amazing experience was Fosa restaurant – the best fish restaurant in town in my opinion! The restaurant is a house embedded in an 16th Century old town wall with an arch, going out to a big terrace on the sea. It sits nestled in the Fosa marina and I requested a table nestled in the corner with a view over the sea, the fishing boats and the gate of the lion of San Marco. The waiters were wearing lovely uniforms, white gloves and masks. I ordered a few dishes – shrimp carpaccio with oysters, small bites of octopus and swordfish, and tuna steak. All that with a spritz aperol on the side – my favorite drink this summer! We did try a local white wine as well – Grasevina Kopjar, which was quite good. The King and the Queen of Sweden came here incognito in 2006 and enjoyed the same food and the same amazing sunset. Or so I would like to think at least!

 

 

Photo: Restaurant Fosa

Lungo mare is another lovely restaurant – a house in a garden on the sea in the quartier Duke Trpimir, with a beautiful sunset view over the sea from the terrace! I loved talking to the waiter, showed them how to make Spritz aperol with cava instead of prosecco and the food was delicious! I ordered seafood spaghetti and octopus.

Photo: Klikcup.com

 

The Sphinx of Zadar

I loved discovering this sphinx in front of a villa built by the Zadar nobleman Giovanni Smirich! Giovanni’s wife really wanted to go to Egypt and see the Sphinx and the pyramids. But she fell very ill and could not travel so Giovanni let a sculpture artist make a replica and put it in the garden in 1918, following the death of his wife Attilija. Such a lovely love story!

Photo: Culture Trip

Needless to say, I will go back to Zadar one day! Even just for a long weekend – to relax, swim, eat good food and go sailing again! If you enjoy our articles and travel tips, make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram, as well as share the articles with your friends.

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