Croatia: Zadar

Getting there

For us, the journey to Zadar held as much interest and enjoyment as the city itself. The drive from Rabac on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia to Zadar was beautiful and varied. We started out in valley farmland, drove through a 5km tunnel and incredible highway infrastructure to and around the city of Rijeka (taking the faster, less scenic-but-still-interesting route–we had done the slower, scenic route on the way in), and then drove the coastal route E65 from just south of Rijeka all the way to Zadar. It’s a longer route by almost an hour, but oh, so worth it.

As we left Rijeka and looked west to the islands off the coast, we were surprised at how arid and barren they seemed. We had seen the islands on the map, but had only imagined what they looked like, and this was not it.



Further along the highway, and for most of the rest of the way, the coast was rugged with amazing rock outcroppings and inlets. The road often cut across an inlet on a rock-pile supported roadway.

20180114_104429 Sometimes we could see a boat or two in the bay way below us, and other times there was a hamlet–abandoned and rundown, relatively modern, or a combination of the two–built into the cliffs between the sea and the road so we were looking down onto the rooftops as we zipped by.


There were so many places we would love to have stopped to take photographs, and so few places along the highway where it was safe to pull over (at least near where we wanted to be).

As we drove along on this mostly sunny, windy day, we were also surprised at so many rock walls zig-zagging over the slopes above us. Every so often we would see that the mountainside appeared terraced with rock walls at each level. Since we could see no evidence of housing or farming or other agriculture in the area, we could not figure out why the walls were there or when they might have been built. An article in the Croatia Times solved the mystery for us.

Along the route, there are many little restaurants and bars but (if you read the previous Croatia posts, you’ll know where this is going), all were locked up tight. We managed to find a gas station with a smoky coffee bar attached. I held my breath and made a quick dash in to use the facilities. We would have enjoyed a coffee, but definitely not there!


We arrived at our AirBnB in the late afternoon. Our little apartment is in a purpose-built duplex cottage on the host’s property, a 20-minute walk from the town center. Though we could have easily walked into town, this was Sunday with free parking and we would be heading back in the dark. It turned out to be a good decision because it was much colder than I realized and I was freezing!

The old town and town center for Zadar are one in the same. We parked and found a grocery store, but it, too, was closed. So we walked back over the pedestrian bridge (closer to the AirBnB we had just left) to another Konzum store to pick up a few breakfast items, and returned to town to drop the bag off in our car before continuing our late afternoon’s exploration.


For dinner, we took the recommendation of our host and went to Proto. As the only folks seated in the (thankfully non-smoking) canopy section, we had a private fireplace rolled up to our table, and as much service as we could hope for. The specialties were interesting, homemade, and frequently represented Croatian traditional cuisine or featured local products. Our meals were both delicious.


We had expected to have only a half day more to walk around Zadar but, thanks to an American holiday, I did not have to work. As it turned out, we really only needed half a day. Zadar is compact, and little was open even though business was being conducted on this weekday. We just enjoyed a relaxed day wandering the streets, running across historic elements, and appreciating them for what we read on the signs or saw ourselves.

Except in one case. While checking out a plaza filled with corroded anchors and an ancient gate, an 81-year-old gentleman hollered down to Ken and began providing him with all sorts of history–about the anchors, the building he was in, and Zadar in general. He loved having the chance to speak English and share his experiences, and we both enjoyed listening to his stories. He explained that much of the old town was bombed during WWII, destroying many of the buildings. His building still shows signs of shrapnel damage.


Ken receiving a history lesson from a second-story window




As we explored and read a bit more, we found that the destruction caused by the WWII bombing was so immense, it opened up some opportunities for archeological excavation, providing the city with many artifacts from ancient times.


With Ken and I both taking pictures on this walk, we came up with two different perspectives in Five Wells Square, named for 5 ancient wells in a row.


Zadar’s town center is at one end of a piece of land that is surrounded on 3 sides by water, making it feel like you are on a small island. Along the far side of the town is a lovely sea-wall walk and at one end of that are two interesting installations.


One is a musical instrument, a sea organ that plays constantly as waves flow into tubes beneath the surface. Opened in 2005, with white marble steps added later, it creates a peaceful, meditative musical public space.


The second installation, Monument to the Sun, is a circle of solar panels that return the sun’s daytime energy by way of a night-time light show. This one was less impressive to me, but perhaps because I hadn’t done my homework to understand the complexities of this piece.



We have paid some tolls while driving in Croatia. For this trip, we paid two: 30 ku (about $6 CAD) for the tunnel just before Rijeka (only the tunnel), and 5 ku (about ~$1 CAD) for the highway from the east-west leg of the highway before Zadar.


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