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Travel review: Sun, sea and shellfish on the shores of Zadar in Croatia
The Turks, Venetians and Austro-Hungarians have all had their say in shaping the beautiful city of Zadar. And with Croatia joining the EU in July, DAN KEEL recommends visiting now, before the masses descend.
SIR Alfred Hitchcock knew a thing or two about scene-setting, so when he described Zadar's sunset as "the world’s most beautiful" he was taken very seriously.
After a 45-minute afternoon bus journey from Zadar airport to Croatia’s fifth biggest city, you could do a lot worse than head straight to the town’s shore to see if you agree - I think you will.
It’s not just the drama of the golden glows gently settling behind some of Croatia’s 1,246 islands across the Adriatic sea which make this so stunning, but the fact the evening rays create a myriad of colours bouncing off the rock of Ujljan towards the Italian coast.
As if this wasn’t enough, the waves play you music thanks to a beautifully crafted staircase leading down to the water’s edge featuring chiselled hollows.
As the waves gently caress the pavement these hollows blow a soothing panpipe tone up through holes in the footpath.
However, if you are hungry after your two hour and 20 minute direct flight from London, you should visit one of the town’s luxury fish eateries before the sunny sensory spectacular begins.
Fosa Restaurant, buried neatly in the town’s natural harbour, offers seafood unrivalled in a town which prides itself on sea bream fillets, mussels and calamari.
Dalmation prosciutto comes highly recommended as a starter and as for dessert, any ice cream in the Dalmation region will send the tastebuds into ecstasy (businesses have taken a tip or two from their Italian neighbours).
Although beautifully peaceful now, Zadar has been invaded numerous times over the last 1,500 years starting with the Barbarians in the middle ages and ending with the Serbs in the 1990s - who never made it to the town centre.
But the bloodshed of the past has left behind a plethora of architecture and ruins attracting historians far and wide.
The 13th century cathedral of St Stosija is among the best Romanesque architecture in Croatia while locals are very keen to highlight the spectacular 9th century church of St Donat.
Once you have had your fill of sun, seafood and history - a trip to the Dalmatia's Paklenica National Park is a great way to spend a day.
Here a short walk at dawn or dusk reaps huge rewards for wildlife lovers. Eurasian brown bears, hoopoes and short-toed eagles make regular appearances in and around the 14km-long canyons.
But the main attraction for birdwatchers is the attractive and critically endangered rock partridge.
This park, a one-hour car or mini-bus journey from Zadar, even caught the eye of former Yugoslav President Josip Tito. The Marshal admired the area so much he built a labyrinth of emergency bunkers within the rock.
Visit www.croatia.hr for more information.
- Temperatures range from 20 degrees C to 26 degrees C during summer months (June to August) while temperatures drop to 13 degrees in spring and autumn and down to 7 in the winter.
- Hotel Pinija on the outskirts of Zadar offers great views of the Adriatic. Rooms cost from £60 per night based on two people sharing a standard double room with breakfast.
Facilities include an indoor and outdoor swimming pool as well as a gym and sauna.
- Ryanair flies to Zadar from London Stansted three times a week.
For more information, visit www.ryanair.com
Krka National Park
A mere hour’s drive from Zadar will also take you to the stunning Krka National Park.
The 109 sq km area of waterfalls, forest and stunning rivers makes this one of the biggest jewels in Croatia’s crown with some of the most diverse nature in the Balkan region.
An array of snakes and frogs can be found among the park's many mazes of streams, rivers and waterfalls while eagles sore overhead and wild cats prowl the hillsides.
In fact a carefully designed 8.5 hiking trail (three hours) allows visitors to witness the many different types of park habitat in one go. The path is peppered with educational boards detailing the rich fauna and flora as well as the park's history and culture.
But once you have had your fill of wildlife and waterfalls it’s definitely a good idea to relax on a boat ride to the treasured Visovac Monastery which sits on top of one of the park’s smallest islands.
Due to the Franciscan building’s exceptional value, pilgrims from all over the world make the voyage to the church and museum.
The excursion lasts two hours with 90 minutes on a small boat which cuts through the perfectly still water of the Krka river creating stunning mirror images of the surrounding hills.
Augustinian monks were the ones who established this small monastery in the 14th century which was dedicated to the Apostle Paul.
In 1445 the monastery was extended by the Franciscans who settled there having withdrawn from parts of Bosnia when the Turks had taken over.
A new monastery was built in the 18th century and the library now includes rare artefacts such as a sabre belonging to Vuk Mandušić, one of the best-loved heroes of Serbian epic poetry.
The church now features a small but moving tribute to the many churches and priests who were killed during the Yugoslavia War.
Guides will tell you how Serb soldiers used artillery gunfire from the surrounding hills to target the small church. The museum includes a long list of the deceased as well as some touching imagery from a period which staff on the small island still find very difficult to talk about.
KRKA NATIONAL PARK FACTFILE
- Entrance to the park costs £10.40 from June to September.
- Boat trips to Visovac Monastery cost £10.90.
- For more details and for full price lists, visit npkrka.hr
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