Set on a peninsula in the Eastern Adriatic, surrounded by stunning islands and beautiful national parks, the fascinating Croatian town of Zadar is home to ancient relics, museums, modern art installations and an evolving culinary scene. Here are five unmissable activities to enjoy while visiting this small but perfect city.
A city with 3,000 years of history – Zadar’s wonderful old town hosts Roman ruins, medieval churches and is surrounded by a magnificent set of city walls which have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walls have been restored to their former glory with convenient walkways that give fantastic views over the city and the water.
Inside the old town, seek out the “Pillar of shame” a towering column that struck fear into residents during the Middle Ages. Wrongdoers were chained to the pillar, then mocked, humiliated and whipped. And if you want to do a good deed, it is rumored that climbing a flight of stairs in the magnificent St Donat’s cathedral, can free a soul from purgatory. Make sure to visit Foša harbor – one of the most delightful corners of Zadar – next to the sixteenth-century ramparts. It is overlooked by the historic Land Gate, bearing the Venetian coat of arms.
Famous film director Alfred Hitchcock visited Zadar in 1964 and was so entranced by the magnificent sunsets that he pronounced them “the best in the world”. The clear water of the ocean acts as a shimmering mirror for the sun’s reflection.
Local architect Nikola Bašić has created an astonishing installation that comes alive at night. Named “The Greeting to the Sun”, it consists of a large circle made from multilayered glass plates and fitted with lighting elements set into the paved waterfront. The large glass circle represents the sun and a line of smaller circles represent the other planets in the solar system, their size and distance from the sun in perfect proportion. Every evening towards sunset, crowds gather on the waterfront at the tip of the peninsula. As night falls, the monument illuminates, providing a mesmerizing light show.
A glorious peninsula just a few kilometers from Zadar has become a new luxury sustainable dining destination. Chef Paul Ivić of TIAN VIENNA and TIAN Munich – two of just a handful of Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurants in the world – has brought his award-winning vegetarian and vegan cuisine to the Croatian coast. His newest venture “TIAN Bistro am Meer” can be found in Falkensteiner Resort, Punta Skala, a luxury property with a deep commitment to sustainability.
Ingredients are sourced from local, organic producers, then cooked “root to leaf” according to Ivić’s zero-waste approach. Innovative dishes like “TIAN Tartar”, a delicious umami concoction of beetroot and mushrooms, are served alongside sharing plates which change according to the best seasonal produce available. Dishes are paired with selected natural wines from Croatia and Austria and served on a shaded terrace overlooking beautiful gardens.
Climb aboard a traditional rowing boat near the city walls and participate in a tradition that has been in existence since the 14th century and passed down from father to son and generation to generation. Boatmen, known as Barkajoli, ferry passengers across the peninsula from morning until night.
Upon arrival at the city port, walk northwest for about ten minutes and discover the affluent Brodarica district, lined with elegant belle époque mansions overlooking a bay. One of these imposing houses, known as Villa Attilia, hosts a monument to true love – the Zadar Sphinx. This large, concrete effigy presides over some eccentric landscaped gardens. Artist, painter and art historian Giovanni Smirich commissioned the sphinx in memory of his wife Attilia after her death in 1918. Instead of animal paws, the sphinx has human fingers and there is a mysterious hieroglyph engraved on the statue. Legend has it that the sphinx can grant love wishes, so those in search of romance should pay the Zadar Sphinx a visit.
Spanning seventy meters of the Zadar waterfront is one of Zadar’s most famous and unusual monuments – the Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje in Croatian). Commissioned in 2005 by architect Nikola Bašić, the sea organ is an unusual combination of architecture and music.
The organ, made from thirty-five pipes of differing lengths and diameters, is concealed beneath the waterline. As waves ebb and flow, their energy produces a ghostly melody of beautiful notes. The haunting chords, somewhere between sighs and the sounds of a panpipe, play in time to the rhythm of the ocean. The sound catches on the breeze and drifts along the waterside creating a direct connection between land and sea.
Above the pipes are a series of low steps, where people gather to enjoy this extraordinary experience. It’s best to go early in the morning, when the town is at its quietest, to appreciate the sea’s song without distraction.
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