I’ve a very long bucket list of places I want to see before I depart for the hereafter. High up on that list was the Croatian city of Zadar for no other reason than to hear the famous sea organ.
I had thought it a natural phenomenon and was a tad disappointed to hear it was what’s called an architectural sound art object. The sea waves push the water over tubes set in an expanse of marble steps. The more wind, the more waves, the more sound. It is haunting.
We spent time there each evening at the Caffe Bar Brazil sipping our Caipirinhas. Brazil’s national cocktail, for some reason, is very popular in this part of the world. And it wasn’t because we were in a Brazilian bar either; it had pride of place on the menu at both beach cocktail bars we visited – but more on those later. It’s my summer drink of choice. I’m now on the lookout for a bottle of cachaça.
Himself has a fondness for being in the middle of things so we stayed in the old town within walking distance of everything. The Silver and Gold Luxury Rooms are perfectly situated and very helpful. The lovely Ivan even rang his mam for me to check on mass times.
Zadar is a mix of Roman and Venetian ruins. The city walls still house a number of Venetian gates and the old town itself is perched on a peninsula. Everything is old. Artwork from the eighth century in the Benedictine convent, a ninth-century pre-Romanesque church, and a twelfth-century cathedral are just some of the landmarks. Normally, in July, the place would be heaving but one of the flip sides of COVID is the scarcity of tourists. It was lovely to be able to walk around in comfort.
The Cathedral of St Anastasia is on my list of places to go back to. We nipped in at the start of mass having done our duty at the Franciscan monastery, so we didn’t get to see much. I want to see the mosaic floor and the medieval frescoes.
The Monastery of St Francis of Assisi is special. It was here, in the sacristy, in 1358, that King Louis I of Hungary signed the Treaty of Zadar with the Venetian Republic where the Venetians relinquished their Dalmatian holdings. I was particularly intrigued by the statue on the altar of who I assume is St Francis in a pueblo farmer style hat. Most unusual. Another one worth a revisit – next time to take the self-guided tour.
St Mary’s Church, part of the Benedictine Convent dating back to 1066, also made the come-back list. It was founded Čika, a Croatian noblewoman, after her husband died. She’s more famous for Čika’s book of hours, the oldest personal prayerbook in Europe. If you find a copy in your local charity shop, snag it for me.
Himself had been salivating at the thought of decent seafood during the 9 hours it took to get there. When all goes well, it should take about 4.5 hours but we left on the first Saturday in July along with half of Hungary. Watching the numberplates as we drove down the motorway I spotted cars from Bosnia and Hercegovina, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovenija, Switzerland, and Ukraine, all on a mass exodus to the coast. A note has duly been made NEVER to attempt to cross the border on a summer weekend even at 5.30 in the morning.
I was obsessing a little, too, but I’m easier to please as when I’m near fish, all I really want is calamari. I wasn’t disappointed. We had two nights, two dinners. Both were excellent. Bruschetta had been recommended for its black ink risotto but we hadn’t made a reservation for the Saturday night. Restaurant Orgulje across the road had room for us. The waiters were from Belgrade. One was on furlough from an airline, another was at university. The chat added hugely to the food and the view. I’m a massive Serbia fan and was in my element.
The next night at Bruschetta, having made the reservation when we were turned away the night before, the lovely Josip kept us entertained, telling us how much he missed the Irish entourage and the craic they brought with them. If you’re Irish and go to Zadar, make a reservation and tell him we sent you 🙂 Definitely have the black ink risotto.
The old town lights up beautifully. at night. Alfred Hitchcock apparently raved about the Zadar sunset.
“Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West in Florida, applauded at every evening.” May 1964
Both nights we had cloud so I can’t comment either way. In my heart of hearts though, I doubt they’d outdo the sunsets in La Boca, Cuba. That said, I didn’t see so I guess I’ll have to go back.
We didn’t see much by way of nightlife because we weren’t looking for it but I’m sure it’s hopping. The market seems to go on into the wee hours and the Mediterranean custom of whole families walking the promenade till late in the evening is alive and well.
The solar-powered dancefloor down by the sea organ is a big attraction. Il Saluto al Sole. Greeting the Sun. During the day, the sun heats the panels and at night the solar-powered musical light show has young and old bopping along.
Both the dancefloor and the sea organ are the creations of local architect Nikola Bašić. I’d imagine he’d be an interesting chap to have to dinner.
We’d stopped on the way down, taking the first exit after getting a glimpse of the sea. Pješčana Rovanjska is a local beach, tucked in at the bottom of a steep hill. We perched within feet of the water and enjoyed our first caipirinha from Beach Bar Malaga. I can’t begin to describe how lovely it is to be in clean, clear, cool water. There’s something so restorative about being by the sea.
The next day, after mass and a walk around the old town, we headed to Queen’s Beach at Nin, having heard from the lovely Ivan about the mud and me being reminded of my Dead Sea experience. But there was a charge to get in before we ever saw the water and she had no change and I got a schtuk on. Mr Unflappable worked his magic with Google maps and took us to another local beach, this time the Plaža Žukve in Vrsi with the equally fabulous Woodstock Beach Bar. Again we set up inches from the water, indulged in the cocktails and contemplated a life by the ocean.
The drive down the A1 is quite something, not as much for the scenery as for the tunnels. The longest one we drove through was the Mala Kapela tunnel (not the one in the photo) at 5.821 km (3.61 miles). The A1 that goes from the capital Zagreb down to Split is itself 476.3 km (296.0 mi) long and has 376 bridges, viaducts, and tunnels. Completed in 2014, it’s some feat of engineering, if you’re into that sort of thing. I hadn’t thought I was but those tunnels are mind-blowing.
Will we be back? Definitely. Perhaps offseason though – maybe May or September next year. I’d like to catch one of the many festivals, explore more beaches, maybe hit an island or two, and have more Caipirinhas and maybe even bring the right change and get me some mud at Nin.
Don’t expect it to be cheap though – the toll booths take a hunk of change and parking racks up in high summer.