Window on Northern Croatia

Zany Zadar meets Croatia's Riviera

You have to respect Croatia. Torn by conflict, it proudly acknowledges the past and now, with a rewritten future, offers so much to visitors.

Come to Croatia and why not try some dancing on sunset clouds? Every evening in Zadar, locals and tourists ecstatically farewell the sun - and take a selfie or two, of course, as well!

Nearby is another attraction, filling the air all day with weird whale-like music. Read on to find out what that is, and which other wonders of Zadar are on the travel menu.

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Old meets new

Like many long-established cities, Zadar's new city has been built close enough to be accessible by the Gradski (or City) Bridge, while not infringing on the historic sites of the Old City

This fellow may look unwelcoming...but his position in the grounds of the Forum, the most ancient part of the Old City, shows that he was once a Roman of some importance.

Next door, the 12th-century Saint Anastasia's Cathedral and Belltower, on the site of an earlier 4th to 5th-century building, is the largest church in Dalmatia. Saint Anastasia is said to be the patron saint of harassed women, widows and weavers, and if you have headaches or chest pains she might be able to help with those too.

The clean lines of the cathedral's interior and three aisles, add an air of restraint and simplicity.

More than likely the lace-making industry in the Balkan countries probably began as delicate works of art to add beauty to cathedral furnishings. Now, of course, they are more popular as souvenirs for tourists. Pop-up stands like this one, turn up almost anywhere there are tourists.

Nearby, the lacy theme continues with a brass grille protecting this ancient fresco of Mary.

Containing a collection of icons dating from the 16th-18th centuries, St Elias's Orthodox Church is close to the Forum

Death and life mingle amongst the ancient gravestones of the Forum, commissioned the third century AD by Roman Emperor Augustus. 

Barrel-shaped St Donatus's Church dates from the 9th century to reflect Byzantine architecture, and is named for its founder, Bishop Donat.

The 56-metre belltower was begun as an addition to the cathedral in the 15th century and finished in the late 19th century. 

(Picture: ©Gordon Hammond - Sally doesn't like climbing stairs!)

For those fit enough, the spiral stairs inside the tower lead to a vast panoramic view of Zadar.

If the many ancient windows in the churches in this city have impressed you, this museum, as the name suggests, has plenty of ancient glass on display, as well as glass-blowing exhibitions and - of course - a gift shop.

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WATCH THIS VIDEO to feel part of the action

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Our 'home' in Zadar

Sometimes a recommendation is all you need to make a decision about where to stay in a new city.

We had heard so much about this place that we just had to experience it as well. The old town of Zadar is car-free and so we left our rental car outside the wall and walked in a few hundred metres to this address. Yes, it was on the third floor, so more exercise...

...but when we arrived, we were blown away by it. The unit was tastefully decorated and had everything we needed for our short stay.

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Zany Zadar

How often have you seen a necktie featuring proudly in a country's hall of fame? Cravats were originally a neckband that originated from a style worn by members of the 17th century military unit known as the Croats. 

While this may look like a normal, well-used notice board - probably needing a tidy-up, too - look closely. Those black-bordered notices concern recent local deaths. In many towns you will see people pausing at noticeboards such as this, catching up on local news.

AND, finally, here we have the Sea Organ, the brainchild of architect, Nikola Basic. The music is made by seawater pressing on bellows and pushing up the sound through 35 pipes to these outlet holes. It is eerily beautiful and attracts many people who simply come to sit here, mesmerised by the sea's 'music'.

Adjoining the Sea Organ is another of Basic's innovative creations. The Greeting to the Sun (also called the Monument to the Sun) is popular with everyone. 

The tricks continue in the shops. Why are these tennis balls displayed alongside lollypops? That's because the 'balls' are bubblegum! What a great and unusual souvenir of zany Zadar.

Close to the Museum of Ancient Glass is this museum that is sure to exercise your eyes.

The Museum of Illusions offers hours of fun for all ages. Watch this video to see more....

And, just in case you thought that all this trickery and weirdness is confined to museums - here is the fine we received for parking legally but not paying the fee. It happened because there was nowhere to pay it, and no person to issue a waiver - and, it seems, everyone does it.
 
Rather than pay a person to take your parking money, the 'fine' is exactly that of a day's fee and you go to a bank and pay it there. Maybe not so silly after all!

Would you like to know more of Zadar's secrets? Check out this app....

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Eat like a local

Zadar's Old City has many small squares and a web of laneways. 

With a Mediterranean climate, there is a wealth of fruits and vegetables, olive oil and nuts. Here on display in a shop is just a few local specialties. In addition to dried figs and cherry jam, you can see many fruits are turned into liquors. 

No trouble remembering the name of this cafe - and what a clever idea!

The currency of Croatia is the Kuna (kn) so our two croissants and coffees cost around AUD$10.50.

Our trip was in late-May so all the wonderful summer produce was available in the fruit markets, this one near the steps up to the bridge across to the new city. 

Our favourite place and, conveniently at the end of our street. Judging by reports online, Proto Food&More has become a hit with many others too.

We visited when this place was beginning and knew it would be a winner.

My choice was Egg'n'Plate: three cheeses, an egg, prosciutto, pancetta, and the blackest bread I have ever seen. Great presentation, and, even better, the freshest produce.

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All good things come to an end so, finally - and way too soon - it was time to say goodbye to both the sun and Zadar.

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North to Nin

Leaving Zadar behind, we headed for the hills and open countryside.

A couple of kilometres from Zadar, there was a surprise for us. Overlooking a field of barley, in Prahulje, and built on top of a prehistoric tomb...

...we find the smallest cathedral in the world, the 12th-century Church of St Nicholas.

Read more...

Twenty minutes' drive north of Zadar, the small town of Nin is known for its salt flats which have been used for at least 1500 years, since Roman times.

The road is flanked by these square pools of water stretching off into the distance. The salt from this water is believed to be especially healthy as it also contains minerals from the mud.

To process this much saline water, there has to be a salt works nearby and we track it down, also finding a salt museum where we buy a small bag of salt as a souvenir.

Long ago, all the laborious work was done by men, working in the blinding sunshine, apparently supervised by white egrets. It is worth spending time in the salt museum to understand this industry better. See a little of it on the video on this page.

The was not only about salt, though. In Nin, we paused at this ninth-century pre-Romanesque church - as little as the town's name - cleverly built to also act as a calendar and sundial.

We also meet an important character in this region. As his name suggests, Gregory of Nin, was born in the small town of Nin in the late ninth century.

He strongly opposed the Pope, and introduced the national language into religious services after the 926AD Great Assembly.

Here, too, just like it was in Split, the great man's toes have been rubbed to a golden sheen by devotees seeking a blessing.

Soon it was time to move on from the salt flats and head to our next stopover.

Which way should we go?

Zagreb, to the east, is the capital of Croatia, but we have decided to leave that for another trip and head instead to Rijeka and the scenic and popular Istria peninsula to the west.

To maximise our time we take the Motorway, paying 129kn for the luxury of a broad smooth road, and diving through seemingly endless tunnels - some several kilometres long; one that was disturbingly two-way! - as we burrowed under the Velebit mountains, Croatia's largest range.

In several places we saw warnings about wolves, bears, wild boar, and even - alarmingly - a sign at the entrance to one tunnel!

Read more about the tunnels...

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Lovran - a place to love

Our 'home' for the next few days is Villa Laurel which opened in 1909. The town's name of Lovran comes from the local word for 'laurel' tree, which appears on the town's coat-of-arms. This is an area of dowager-style wealth with older villas, and we felt like we had slipped back a century. In fact we liked it so much we reckoned the town should be spelt Love-ran.

The waterfront was an easy 800-metre walk from the hotel, through a park and then along a paved pathway...

.... to the busy marina. 

All the usual tourist dining attractions - such as coffee and ice cream - were on offer here...

...as well as several restaurants, which we ate at over the next few days. 

A meal, while seated outdoors overlooking Kvarna Bay, with Rijeka on the horizon 20 kilometres away, was sheer delight. Of course seafood, caught fresh overnight, also featured on many menus. 

Rijika, on the other side of the same bay, is the biggest city in the area and the place to visit if you want to travel to some of Croatia's many stunningly beautiful islands. Many of these beckon holidaymakers with their luxurious hotels and restaurants.

While the next town along the bay is considered a 'riviera', this area is still a temptingly quiet place to relax and enjoy the Mediterranean sunshine. Its seclusion actually wins points for it in my opinion.

Unwilling to simply lie back and sunbake, one afternoon we walked up the steep road into the Stari Grad (Old Town) of Lovran.

A relatively small town of around 4000 residents, it could be the template for so many other villages around Croatia.

Small restaurants and bars are in good supply, no doubt encouraged by tourist numbers... 

...and the Mediterranean climate is ideal for outdoor living and relaxing.

Many of the back streets and laneways are as narrow as when they were made, some of them hundreds of years ago. It is thought that Lovran was established by a Roman patrician and statesman to become his summer residence in the first century AD.

I wonder what secrets lie behind this heavy doorway?

Notice on the sign the mention of 'tartufi' (the Italian word for truffles) that are almost certainly gathered from local woods on the Istrian peninsula.

The town caters to all palates, with a leaning towards Italian fare as, after all, Trieste is only about 75 kilometres away to the north.

In many parts of Europe, superstitions are common, and even Lovran has its own legends. Despite their looks, these fellows are believed to be the helpful harbingers of spring.

The interior of this local church is simple and decorated with ancient paintings and handworked cloths.

Maybe some were made by this local lady who is selling her intricate wares on the waterside footpath.

Lovely Lovran. Perhaps this picture sums it up better than anything else. Here you have the waterfront for swimming and relaxing, walking paths for access, high-quality local crafts for sale, and on the top level, cabanas for hotel guests. 

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Croatia's Riviera

Seven kilometres east on the bay, towards Rijeka, we approach the Opatija Riviera.

This 40-kilometre stretch of waterfront bays, flanked by lawns and gardens and stately homes, and dating from the 19th century, has been drawing visitors for over a hundred years. Originally the playground for Europe's elite, now visitors from all around the world are drawn to this sparkling place.

If sunbathing and swimming is not enough, there is plenty more to do.

Here Rijeka, across the bay, is framed by the broad promenade.

Everything about Opatija spells relaxation.

Some of the older hotels still remain, like this, the Grand Hotel Palace, now the Hotel Bristol...

...and Hotel Opatija. What stories they could tell!

The most popular beach is Slatina, the largest, and ideal for families with small children.

Day's end and we relax at a restaurant overlooking the water.

As dusk falls, the riviera takes on the image of serenity after a busy day.

The magic continues for us as, without a word, the waiter at Vongola Restaurant guides us to this absolute waterfront position.

The restaurant specialises in seafood - what else? - and we are served delicate fresh sardines...

...and local calamari, as tender and delicious as it's possible. What better way to end a trip of discovery and delight, through a country that understands hospitality so well? 

We had been welcomed so warmly into Croatia, but now it was time to say farewell - fingers crossed behind our backs, that we would return. Someday soon.

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Want more? Read more about the first part of our journey in Southern Croatia...

 


Sally and Gordon Hammond travelled independently in Croatia. 

Photos and text: ©Sally Hammond

Video: ©Gordon Hammond

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) adviceNot all businesses are operating normally due to the current Coronavirus situation. Please check websites before travel or booking.

 
 

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