From paradise islands to jaw-dropping mountains: Four ways to have the ultimate Mediterranean experience in Croatia’s sun-drenched Zadar County
Ad Feature by the Zadar Region of Croatia
With the sea breeze in the air, the sun beaming overhead and glorious scenery all around, Mediterranean Europe has a unique charm – after one visit there’s a good chance you’ll fall under its spell.
For the best qualities of the Mediterranean packed into one place, turn your attention to Croatia’s Zadar County.
Lapped by turquoise waters in the heart of the Adriatic, the region offers golden beaches, secluded islands and dramatic mountains in abundance. But it’s not just a beautiful setting – it’s also teeming with history and culture, with picturesque cities and towns informed by Liburnians, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Croatian kings over the centuries.
Whether you’re seeking an adventure-filled holiday, a tranquil beach break or a one-of-a-kind family getaway, you’ll discover an authentic Mediterranean experience at every turn. Here’s how to make the most of your time in this idyllic region…
Relax into island living
For all the best qualities of the Mediterranean packed into one place, look no further than Croatia’s Zadar County. Above is Veli Rat lighthouse on the dreamy isle of Dugi Otok (Credit: ©Boris Kačan)
Croatia is famously the land of 1,000 islands, with the isles of the Zadar Archipelago among some of its most spellbinding.
Charter a sailboat and hop between 300 islands – as the majority are uninhabited, you might have a cove all to yourself as you drop anchor and go for a swim.
From Zadar city, it’s just a quick ferry ride to the isle of Ugljan, a fertile expanse lined with olive groves. Rest awhile in the quaint fishing village of Kali and explore the secret bays along the coast.
It’s linked to the scenic island of Pasman by a bridge – make your way across and rent a bike, peddling past little churches, long sandy beaches and inviting beach bars.
Rest awhile in the quaint fishing village of Kali on a trip to the pretty isle of Ugljan
More picture-perfect beaches await on the isle of Dugi Otok. Escape to Sakarun Beach; with its expanse of white sand and shallow waters, it’s fondly known as the Caribbean of the Adriatic.
Next, go scuba diving off the coast, discovering rusted shipwrecks and a bounty of colourful marine life below the water’s surface.
One side of Dugi Otok is lined by towering white cliffs, and its surface is carpeted by the verdant Telašćica National Park. From the clifftops, you might spot dolphins cutting through the surf below. Stroll along a medicinal plants trail or stop by the salt lake Mir, a brilliant blue beauty spot.
Just outside the park lies the Strašna Peć Cave, a yawning grotto that’s steeped in myth and legend.
The nearby isle of Sestrica Vela is crowned by the 19th-century Tajer Lighthouse – wander around it with your camera at the ready. Or switch off completely as you connect with nature on car-free islands like Silba, Olib and Vrgada.
Escape to Sakarun Beach – with its expanse of white sand and shallow waters, it’s fondly known as the Caribbean of the Adriatic
Up the tempo of your trip and try out an adventure tour of the archipelago. Stand up paddle board along pristine stretches of coast, or kayak through secluded coves and mysterious sea caves.
Lace up your running shoes and tackle the islands’ hiking trails, wending your way along coastal paths and through peaceful fishing villages reminiscent of the Mediterranean of bygone days.
To try several sports at once, opt for an ultra-active multi-sport trip that takes you from Molat Island to beautiful isles like Ist and Zverinac.
Or simply throw your towel down on the sand, flip open a good book, and devote hours to relaxation under the sun.
Cosmopolitan cool by the coast
To visit Zadar is to plant yourself in a piece of living history. Set on a peninsula that juts into the Adriatic Sea, this sun-kissed city is sprinkled with extraordinary Roman ruins and grand medieval-era churches.
Travel back in time as you wander through the city’s ancient Roman Forum and nearby St Donatus’ Church, a unique circular edifice that dates back to the Byzantine era.
Admire the UNESCO-listed city walls, built by the Venetians in the 16th century. For magical views over the old town’s terracotta rooftops or climb up the bell tower that crowns the 12th-century St Anastasia’s Cathedral.
Zadar, set on a peninsula that juts into the Adriatic Sea, is sprinkled with extraordinary Roman ruins and grand medieval-era churches
Thread through the stalls of the Zadar market, plucking up fresh cooking ingredients – everything from plump oranges to local salt – as you go.
Next, ramble through the sun-warmed squares strewn across the city, stopping for coffees or a glass of ‘sljivovica’ plum brandy.
See the city through the eyes of a local on a walking tour, padding along Zadar’s marble streets and taking in lesser-known sights like the grand stone Sphinx in the park of Villa Attilia.
Travel back in time as you wander through what remains of Zadar’s ancient Roman Forum
Marvel over St Donatus’ Church, a unique circular edifice that dates back to the Byzantine era
Though it’s an historic jewel, the city is also bursting with contemporary flair – don’t miss the two extraordinary open-air art installations by the local architect Nikola Basic by the seafront.
The first, the Sea Organ, is a series of stone steps with inbuilt pipes that release a melody when the sea air travels through them. Take a seat and be lulled by this hypnotic tune.
The second is the Greeting to the Sun installation, a multicoloured glass circle that plays out a mesmerising solar-powered light show each evening. Stay for the sunset and you won’t be disappointed.
With the stars overhead, pull up a seat in one of the city’s many harbour-front eateries or fine-dining restaurants, chatting into the night over fresh seafood, stews and the finest local wine.
Explore the hinterland of Zadar County and you’ll find you’ve strayed off the beaten path to a wonderfully unfamiliar Mediterranean landscape.
Travel through Ravni Kotari all the way to the coast, traversing a land rich in leafy vineyards, charming local restaurants and characterful guesthouses.
Love history? Explore the ruins of the ancient settlement of Asseria, first occupied by the ancient Liburnians in 6 BC, or check into the historic Hotel Maskovica Han, an Ottoman-style heritage retreat that dates back to the 1600s.
Take in the hinterland of Zadar County as you travel from Ravni Kotari (above) to the coast
Marvel over the echoing Cerovac Caves – the country’s largest cave system, it was once home to a population of cave bears. A must-visit is the Una River Spring, a karst spring that’s an unreal shade of blue.
Check the calendar – if it’s the tenth day of the month, make sure to stop by the Benkovac Fair in the welcoming town of Benkovac. You can shop for everything from Croatian antiques to syrupy honey and brandies.
Go horse riding through this peaceful region or explore the hinterland on a wine-themed cycling tour. Wine has been cultivated here for the past 3,000 years – en route, stop to sample award-winning red wines paired with Dalmatian stews and rich olive oil.
Sample melt-in-the-mouth meats and stews in traditional Croatian restaurants (Credit: ©Maja Danica Pečanić, Source Croatian National Tourist Bord)
Go on a gastro-tour and sample the prized cheeses produced on the island of Pag
For more delicacies, embark on a gastro-tour of the island of Pag, sampling the prized cheeses produced on its shores.
The island itself is another wonder to behold, formed by crater-like rocks reminiscent of the surface of the moon. Learn about the UNESCO-preserved tradition of lace making on the island, kept alive by talented local women.
Wherever you go, make sure to embrace the culture of ‘fjaka’ – it’s the art of relishing downtime and a relaxed state of mind.
Locals have mastered it in Zadar County – follow their lead.
Escape to the wilderness
One of the defining features of Zadar County is the immense peaks of the Velebit mountain range, the largest in Croatia. Plan your holiday around this rugged wilderness and you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping views, fresh air and splendid seclusion in nature.
Adventurers will revel in the UNESCO-listed Paklenica National Park with its shadowy gorges, canopy of beech forest and two famous canyons, Velika and Mala Paklenica.
There are over 200km worth of hiking trails for every level, whether you crave a high-altitude challenge or a more leisurely ramble with a guided tour.
Arrive in Zadar County and you’ll be immediately struck by the immense peaks of the Velebit mountain range, the largest in Croatia (Credit: ©Ivan Čorić)
Take in the landscape in the light of the dawn on a group sunrise hike. Look up – you might spot falcons or eagles soaring overhead as you move.
If you’re an experienced rock climber, roll up your sleeves and tackle the nearly 600 routes that ascend the park’s limestone cliffs.
For a magnificent panorama of the Zadar archipelago – and a real challenge – trek to the top of Vaganski Vrh, Velebit Mountain’s highest peak at 1,757m above sea level.
Take to the trails of the Velebit Nature Park by bicycle, darting past karst formations and sprawling sea views as you peddle.
To best capture these breathtaking landscapes on camera, hop into the passenger seat of a four-by-four for a photo safari, snapping pictures as you drive.
Try everything from kite-surfing to kayaking in the turquoise waters of Zadar County (Credit: ©Malik Adventures)
Next, take to the emerald waters of the Zrmanja River by kayak or canoe, gliding through the lofty walls of the Zrmanja canyon. At certain points, you can cool down with a swim in these refreshing waters.
Go birdwatching in the Vrana Lakes Nature Park – the best time to spot feathered creatures is if you visit around dusk or dawn. While you’re there, grab an oar and go kayaking on Vrana Lake, the largest natural lake in the country.
The coast is also a haven for adventure. Go kitesurfing past the historic town of Nin in the Nin Riviera, or escape to the romantic pebble beaches and chocolate box villages of the Paklenica Riviera, finding solace in the shadow of the mountains.
Whatever you do, it’s sure to be a holiday to remember.
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