Zadar : Croatia

Zadar : Croatia

Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West in Florida, applauded at every evening.

So said, Alfred Hitchcock, on a visit to the stunning Dalmatian coastal city of Zadar. And, if he said it, it must be true…

We are now very, very lucky that we can reach Zadar quite easily. Living in Istria, it’s a beautiful drive down the Adriatic Highway – or, the Jadranska Magistrala – the 650 km long road which runs just a few meters parallel to the Adriatic sea, Running from Rijeka on the Kvarner Gulf to Karasovići on the border with Montenegro, this road is one of Europe’s most unforgettable journeys. As it it weaves its way around deeply indented turquoise bays or skirting scree-covered mountains, there’s scarcely a single boring stretch along its length. Especially when you are driving alongside the northern islands of Krk, Rab and Pag, rising like sleeping elephants out of the sparkling sea. This summer, family flew into Zadar from the UK and so we took the opportunity to spend a couple of days here, to introduce them to one of our favourite Croatian cities.

The name Zadar, means gift of the sea, and located where it is, on a peninsula surrounded by the Adriatic, it’s name makes perfect sense. As well as being beautiful, it is ancient and full of history, as explained by Boutique Hostel Forum :

The heart of Zadar, a location where it all began, is a street known as Kalelarga (Široka ulica). The people of Zadar will tell you it’s older than the city itself. Even though Zadar was mentioned already in the 4th century B.C.E. as the settlement of the Liburnians, it was the Romans who started forming the city two thousand years ago on the peninsula with Kalelarga as one of the main streets. The city was built like a typical Roman city with all its amenities. As the Roman Empire started falling apart, so did Zadar deteriorate in particular during the Migration Period, with low point in the 5th and 6th century. From the 6th to 11th century Zadar was a part of the Byzantine Empire. It became the administrative centre of Dalmatia and Venice’s equal on the Adriatic sea. And Venice sure didn’t like that becoming one of the most fierce opponents of Zadar and trying to overpower it for centuries to come. In the 11th century Zadar formed part of the Croatian lands for the first time, with Croatians becoming the majority population. The period between the 11th and 14th century, when the first Croatian university was founded in Zadar, is considered Zadar’s Golden Age. Despite constant threats and occasional pillages, Zadar flourished in every aspect during that period.

The Venetians finally managed to get hold of Zadar in the 15th century and it remained under their rule until the end of the 18th century. Zadar’s economic role was diminished and the city had to face two additional threats: the plague and the Ottomans (Turks). After a brief French rule beginning of the 19th century, Zadar became a part of Austrian (-Hungarian) Monarchy turning into a splendid, vibrant Dalmatian city yet again. Another round of ups and downs was in store for Zadar in the 20th century, with Austrian-Hungarian, Italian, Yugoslav and finally Croatian rule superseding one another. Heavy bombardments during the WWII destroyed more than half of the historical centre. The second half of the 20th century saw tourism-related rise which was again interrupted by a series of attacks during the Croatian War of Independence.

The historical centre of Zadar is small. Concentrated on a tiny peninsula, it can be walked around in a couple of hours. Of course, proper exploration will take a whole lot longer because of the labyrinth of marbled streets, opening out onto squares and parks and the coastal esplanade (The Riva), which is currently being redeveloped in places (summer 2022), ensuring that wide pathways make walking and cycling a much more pleasurable experience. The centre is a traffic free zone, but there are large, and accessible outdoor car parks, around the city. We spent two days there recently, and car parking was easy and inexpensive. There’s much to recommend in and around Zadar, but highlights have to be The Sea Organ and the Salutation to the Sun, both designed by renowned Croatian architect, Nikola Basic.

Both a piece of art and an experimental musical instrument, The Sea Organ creates beautiful chimes, using only the rolling power of sea waves. The installation looks like a series of broad steps leading down into the sea, hiding clever engineering beneath their surface, producing ever changing syncopated sounds. Close by, The Salutation to the Sun represents the solar system, with the sun and the planets in their proportionate sizes, featuring a series of circles made from photovoltaic glass panels set into the pavement. The panels gather energy from the sun throughout the day, and come evening, lighting elements beneath the glass create a mesmerizing display that simulates the solar system. The solar energy collected by Sun Salutation also helps power the entire waterfront.

Photo credit : bestofcroatia.eu

Photo credit : bestofcroatia.eu

Zadar is a city of significant historical influences, including reminders of Venetian rule, but perhaps more obviously, Roman rule. From The Riva, you can walk a short distance and be in the centre of The Forum – no roping off, no entrance fee, no restrictions. Just ancient reminders of a past, right in front of your eyes. We’ve visited Rome and Naples and Athens and other historical sites, but there’s something that’s very special about this part of Zadar. Maybe because when we first visited, we didn’t really know anything about Croatia, lets alone its history, but now we live in the middle of it and it feels so real. Not just a holiday experience, any more…

Zadar is located on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, north of Split and Dubrovnik, making it accessible by road (if you are on a Croatian road trip) or by air, having its own international airport. As well as the historical sites and architectural structures, the city is full of fabulous restaurants, cool bars, boutique accommodation – and of course, the turquoise Adriatic which wraps itself around the peninsula. A much recommended Croatian destination.

Restoran No 4, Šibenik

Restoran No 4, Šibenik

Šibenik is an absolutely delightful city, on the dalmatian coast of Croatia. We’re up in northern Istria, so it is quite far away from us – just over 400kms – but as the drive is largely along the E65, the Adriatic Highway, it’s a pleasure to do. The road literally hugs the sea, for miles and miles and miles and sweeps around the most dramatic bays, with plunging cliffs and turquoise waters. Think the Amalfi Coast, without the tourist buses and log-jams. For a lot of the way, it was just us and the views. The islands of Krk, Rab and Pag also run parallel to the road. With all of the towns on the western sides of these islands, the landscape of each, facing the E65, is almost lunar-like. The islands look like sleeping elephants rising out of The Adriatic – just stunning.

And so to Šibenik, more of which in a separate blog, as the city itself, and the boutique hotel we found, are deserving of their own write-up. This blog is all about an amazing restaurant we found, deep in the heart of the old city – Restoran No 4. It doesn’t appear to have a website and its Insta account hasn’t been used on a regular basis. Unsurprising, as the waiter told us that they don’t really advertise themselves, as they don’t really need to. It’s situated off one of the many higgeldy-piggedly white marble paved streets up in the old town. A carved wooden sign, stating “Restoran No 4 Fish & Steak” points up a narrow alleyway, with the menu underneath. We were sold on the menu immediately, for me especially the white fish fillet dish with leeks, courgettes and carrots, and decided that we’d book an outdoor table for the evening.

The little alleyway was set up for evening dinners – a row of tables for two, with candles in wallholders already in evidence. A result even before we sat down. What we didn’t notice however, was the internal courtyard beyond, where we were lucky enough to secure a table. When we arrived for our 8pm table, the restaurant was full – although tables still placed apart to adhere to Covid regulations – so we were delighted to have a reservation in this courtyard.

I say courtyard, but in reality this space would have been a communal area, for the people who lived in apartments up and around the square, and businesses who operated from it. On one side, an artist lived and had his studio here, right up until he died. It hasn’t been taken over and so has a feeling of faded grandeur and elegance. The old bakery, long since closed, is still in evidence, with the faded ghost sign above the door. On one side of the square, sits a beautiful church, the ancient facade being a backdrop to the restaurant. To the side of the church, an ancient Venetian style stone staircase leads up to an apartment. And, unlike the other buildings, these apartments are still lived in, evidenced by people coming and going, between the tables, returning home or leaving for an evening out. Amazing.

So, the food. Wow. For a really moderately priced restaurant – given its setting and location – the food was outstanding. So good in fact, we decided to eat there again, the following evening. A very unusual thing for us to do. Not realising quite how filling the portions were, we opted for a mixed platter starter on the first visit – Dalmatian proscuitto and cheese, with walnuts, peppers, chilli jam and whipped cheese. And the most delicious sourdough bread. Mains were the fish that I spotted earlier on the menu in the afternoon – a fillet of the most succulent Dorado fish, baked in paper with leeks, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, olives and white wine, and a chicken breast, filled with cheese and olives, wrapped in proscuitto and served with polenta slabs and pesto. Although these would have been sufficient, with hindsight, we just could not resist the roasted potatoes with rosemary and bacon pieces. Potatoes will never be the same again, thanks to Restoran No 4…

On night two, I opted for the chicken dish and the other choice was Linguine with Tuna. and, those potatoes…

There were only three desserts on the menu – Panna Cotta, Almond Cake and Cheesecake – and on both nights, we were determined to at least share one, having seen all three being delivered to various diners. However, we were so satiated on both nights, that we’ll need to revisit, and maybe leave sufficient room for said desserts. We were also introduced to a new Dalmatian white wine – Debit. Although nowadays considered to be an indigenous white variety from the region of North Dalmatia, it is actually thiught that it originated in Italy, in the vicinity of Bari. In Croatia, it is mostly grown in Dalmatia, where it is one of the predominant white grape varieties, and is considered a perfect accompaniment for white fish and chicken dishes. Another spot on recommendation from our waiter…

This is not a sponsored post and we were not paid, in any way, to write about and recommend Restoran No 4, and we paid in full, both nights, for our food and drink. We just thought that the restaurant was pretty amazing, and if anyone is thinking of visiting Šibenik, you won’t go far wrong if you dine here.