Travel review: Zadar, Croatia

Tracing its origin to its 4th century BC founding as a settlement of an Illyrian tribe, Zadar’s history is a narrative of cultures meeting and merging. The result today is a fine mix of food, culture and architecture for visitors to discover.

As a port on the Adriatic Sea, Zadar has been a prime location for both trade and invasion. For over five hundred years the Romans ruled and shaped the streets and buildings; leaving what is now a crisscross of smooth marble passageways and a large collection of buildings and ruins to be explored.

The Romans would not be the last to show interest in what is now Croatia’s 5th largest city. Many others have since hoped to dominate or destroy this city and in doing so have, ironically added yet more shades to the already rich and colourful tapestry that is Zadar’s history. Yet since the conclusion of the Croatian War of Independence in 1995, there has been a peace that only a peninsula can boast. The clean, even streets create a relaxing atmosphere, perfect for those in need of a calming holiday. While the ingenious grid layout means there is always a flow of light and air at every turn.

While Zadar’s geographical position has been for so many years a vulnerability, it may now be seen as a strength. Its cuisine is a perfect balance of influences from Eastern Europe and Italy, meaning most menus will contain a mix of pasta dishes and hearty stews. Throw into the mix the fact that this is a coastal city and diners will quickly become aware of the array of seafood options; including tuna steak, salmon pâté and a local favourite, octopus salad. The local cheese from the island of Pag is unique both in its taste and the story of how it comes to be, while local meats and produce offer the same fresh, earthy tastes. This is all thanks to the climate; created by a strong, unique wind (‘Bora’) from the north.

The many restaurants and ice cream stalls (‘gelataria’) are tucked between impressive pieces of architecture. With examples including the solid and rotund Church of Donatus and the several Romanesque churches; there is much to take in. The best way to experience this setting is a walking tour. With prices in the region of 100 Kuna (£12), it is a fantastic way to explore and learn about the hidden tales this beautiful city conceals.

For those who prefer a more modern take on design; the marble steps of the coast contain the Sea Organ a musical instrument which plays music by way of sea waves compressing and forcing air through a system of pipes and tubes. Walk a little further along the coast and you will encounter the Monument to the Sun a 22 metre installation of three hundred multi-layered, glass plates with light elements that produce a show at night. This blend of light and sound is a perfect example of what visitors will experience throughout their time in Zadar; with the additional reminder of the beauty of nature from the nearby mountains and far-stretching archipelago that runs alongside Zadar’s coast.

This city may have been attacked from all sides over the years. Yet what has been forged as a result, is a perfect distillation of many cultures and experiences, making Zadar an exciting and interesting place to visit today. In the 1300’s Zadar was the venue for a treaty between Venice, to the West and Hungary, to the East. How fitting it is that both these cultures (any many more) are still detectable within the fibre of the city and its culture.

While summer will always be peak season for certain destinations, Zadar is as beautiful in Autumn and Spring – still offering a warm climate and a variety of trips and excursions for tourists .With very reasonable priced flights from major airports, this jewel of the Adriatic is a well-recommended destination for your next city break.