Time for a whizz back in time to 2013, when three friends and I jetted off to Croatia for a 21 day semi ‘Euro-trip’ thing… ish. Planning (one of my guilty pleasures) was done down to the second and we crammed our bags, and a gnome, in order to pursue some on-and-off the beaten track adventures. First stop, Zadar… or, wait… where? It’s a relatively little-known town half way down the Croation coast, and after hearing rumours of the overcrowded Dubrovnik tourism whirlpool which spilt over into Split, we steered clear and headed for somewhere more peaceful and hopefully just as beautiful.

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Esplanade at sunset

 

What to do

Oh wow this place is beautiful. Okay so scoot past the slightly run-down outskirts and hit the old town. This pokes out of the mainland and comprises an entire little peninsula of beautiful red rooves and cobbled streets. Around the perimeter is a wide esplanade perfect for walking, fishing and access to the all important jettys. Make sure you explore the streets with their beautiful Roman ruins and bell-tower, and walk along at sunset with the sounds of the unique and calming ‘sea organ‘ before a solar powered giant disc illuminates your feet!

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The church of St. Donatus

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Zadar from the bell-tower

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Solar light disc

The tourist info centre here is really helpful, and can be found on the corner of the main square. You can book boat tours from here, which is a must do. Zadar is situated a short boat trip from hundreds of beautiful islands in the Adriatic. The first tour visited the Kornati National Park with stunning limestone formations, an all inclusive lunch, swim and snorkel. The water clarity here easily rivals that of Thailand!

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Kornati NP boat trips

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Limestone cliffs

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Interesting limestone deposits

The second boat just dropped us off at the wonderful harbour town of Sali on Dugi Otok. Here there is an option to hire bikes, but we wandered for a few hours and found a wonderful spot for some swimming with a nice cold Karlovacko lager and some lunch. There’s probably plenty more to explore here but we jumped in the island’s only taxi and head back to the boat.

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Dugi Otok from the boat

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Saul enjoying a rest at Sali

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Little praying mantis caught my eye

From this wonderful little town, you can take a bus north to Paklenica NP, famous for excellent climbing routes, or south to Krka NP by Sibenik where a many tiered waterfall is situated. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time, as we intended to travel northeast to the ‘Top Ten B-List Europe’ regular: The Plitvice Lakes.

Food and Drink

On the first night we wandered around searching for a bite to eat, also unaware of what Croatian cuisine consisted of. After much deliberation, we realised it wasn’t that much different from Italian: Pizza, pasta and seafood came up a lot! We ended up going for a cheap place with a broad menu; the name ‘Fast Food Nana‘ left us skeptical but we were extremely pleased with the enormous portions and great taste! There are some vegetarian options around despite the heavy meat and seafood emphasis, check out Konoba for some vege friendly dishes. For drinks you can head down to one of the many small bars, if you’re daring maybe try out a shot of the local fiery Rakija.

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Rakija at the old town bar

Where to Stay

As usual we’re working on a tight budget here (~£800 for 21 days) so it was a matter of ‘sort by price’ when finding a room. Hostel Elena cropped up for Zadar, and turned out a good bet. Elena herself was very kind and offered some advice for things to do over the coming days. The room was comfortable and clean, and being in the old town is really a plus point – I’d advise that with any destination of this type. As with many Croatian seaside towns, finding rooms and a hostel is easy peasy and there’s generally space.

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The cute view from Hostel Elena

Travel

Getting around was, for the most part, a breeze. The tourist office has great information and you can simply ask for a bus to (pretty much) anywhere and get what you need without breaking the bank. The airport bus was a couple of euros, and remember to get off at the second ‘Zadar’ bus stop – we ended up having a bit of a stroll through the grotty outskirts to get to the old town. Oh, and you can’t drive through the old town, there is parking just outside which costs a little, so that’s worth a bit of research if you’re planning on hiring a car.

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Comfy travel (during the boat tour) – expect less on a direct shuttle

As for boats, there’s only one jetty in the old town on the main esplanade, be there on time and don’t lose your tickets! Boats are normally €3-6 one way, again just check the timetable online or at the tourist info.

So that’s it from destination one in Croatia. I’d highly recommend Zadar for lack of party-goers, beautiful surrounding islands and very accessible central location with cheap flights. This is also where I met Jin; we joked about me coming to visit him in Taiwan and well… two years later I did! You never know what might happen so keep connections and make friends. Keep your eyes on those budget airlines, a 4 day trip here can be cheap, picturesque and adventurous!

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