The name sounded like another planet; either that or one of George R. R. Martin’s elaborately constructed fantasy cities. But it felt very real as I walked along the seaside promenade listening to the strange sounds of the Sea Organ and watching families play in the waves. Zadar may be an actual city, but it has a certain aura of fantasy that made my brief stay there one of the highlights of my trip to Croatia.
I was in Croatia with Croatian Tourism as a first time visitor to showcase some of the highlights of the country and to demonstrate how to spend the perfect vacation in this remarkable nation. For many of us the name Croatia still conjures up memories of the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s, and while the memory of that horrible and bloody war are very fresh in the minds of Croatians, the country has come into its own as it learns the ups and downs of democracy
If any city enjoys this freedom of expression, it’s Zadar. Perched on the sunny Adriatic Sea separating Croatia from Italy, Zadar has always had a tradition of welcoming foreigners and puts those skills to good use today.
The Old Town is the main draw for visitors and it’s absolutely crucial to find a hotel located in this central core for the best Zadar experience possible. There are many things to see and do in Zadar, but one of my favorite activities is to just enjoy the city. I love European café culture; siting outside, enjoying some prosciutto and wine and just watching the world go by. That is what Zadar excels in; not a site but a feeling; a feeling of instant belonging, relaxation and contentment. Yes, contentment is the best term to describe my short time in the seaside town. I felt an instant connection and tried to absorb as much of the city as I could.
This isn’t an abstract concept either. I had the great luck of meeting some locals and spent the afternoon with them, in a sidewalk café with some meat and wine discussing everything from Croatia to current American politics. It was a great evening of laughs and conversation, of getting to know each other and of course learning more about each other’s cultures. This is one of the true great joys of travel and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to experience this sharing of ideas in Zadar.
It wasn’t just the congenial attitude I found in Zadar that appealed to me so greatly, the city’s raw, natural beauty made my heart skip a beat. If you’ve read the Game of Thrones series, then the city of Qarth should ring a bell. Zadar is what I imagine it to look like from sun drenched red tile roofs to the clean, well-planned streets and alleys. Zadar is a former Roman town and the main streets in town follow the original roads, ensuring completely straight and thought out city roads – at least in the Old Town. This fantasy of living in a novel was fully realized when I climbed to the top of the bell tower for sunset and could see the entire city in one fell swoop. Buildings ranging centuries in age sit next to each other and while the city walls may be mostly gone, the homes and buildings clearly follow this formerly important structure. I could see the watchman looking toward the see waiting for the next ship from the Doge of Venice. I could imagine the conquering armies who tried to take the city and I could fully understand why Alfred Hitchcock called the sunset over the warm waters the best in the world.
I’ll write about the details of how to experience Zadar as a tourist, but before I did that I just had to share what it’s like to experience the city on a more personal level. I wrote this post not just to share my love of this city, but to expunge from my brain the emotions that have been swelling ever since I first entered the city gates. It’s a cathartic exercise for sure, but one that hopefully will help transfer this raw love of a new city to you all; at least until you decide to experience it for yourself.