After our cycle from Venice, we picked up a rental car and left Istria for a few days in Zadar. We considered flying or taking a bus the 400 km, but both would have been an all day affair with connections and schedules. We estimated about a five hour drive to take the scenic coastal route from Porec which seemed like the best way to travel. Cars are relatively cheap (only $10-20 more than two bus tickets). Croatia has a lot of good roads and many new highways. We found the driving very straight forward and just as easy as driving in other European countries.
We did run into a bit of road construction. It seems that hotel and road projects are everywhere in Croatia – or at least in some of the areas where we visited. We were rerouted and detoured a few times on our ride which added a bit of time to the commute.
Croatia is mountainous along this part of the coast. On the old roads, there was a lot of up and down and around. On the new highway, there were a bunch of tunnels – some as long as 5-6 km. Scenery was incredibly varied ranging from Montana-like plains to beach and fishing towns to some cool moonscapes.
Speed limits on the highways are high as are the tolls. Cruising at 150km/hr is the norm, but one has to watch out for the Mercedes and Beemers that rocket past at 200+ km/hr. For the most part, we did not run into too many other cars for most of the time on the highways.
We decided not to stop in Rovinj because we were not sure how long the trip was going to take with all the detours and we had a scheduled meeting with our landlord for the week-end. This may have been a bad decision given the comments and recommendations we consistently have received about the town but it gives us a good excuse to come back to this country.
Arriving in Zadar was pretty straight forward. 10 kms out, it is quiet and relatively underpopulated and you do not run into too much traffic making the transition into the city. We were staying in old town which does not allow cars for the most part but just outside the walls, there is plenty of parking (a local gave us a good tip to skip the pay parking and just park on the strips along the water where the ferries park).
Zadar’s old town is a nice spot with a 2km circumference (great for running laps), water on three sides and an old stone wall around two sides. It is about a 10 min walk from top to bottom and is littered with shops and restaurants. It attracts a lot of visitors but is not as busy as Split or Dubrovnik. And surprisingly, despite the tourist spots, one can find super markets, laundry services, seamstresses and small but useful gear and clothing shops. We found everything we needed for a few repairs and some modest resupplying for our kayaking trip.
Zadar is well known for its sea organ, quite an interesting public sculpture that plays music with air pushed through pipes by the wind and sea. Very fun.
Not surprisingly, seafood is the main fare here and quite good. Grilled squid is everywhere and worth ordering. It is not quite as influenced by Italy as Istria but you are never too far from pasta, pizza, and gelato.
People are super friendly and laid back – it must be hard not to with their views and beaches (we also visited at the beginning of tourist season not the end). Hotels are non-existent in old town and limited in many areas of Croatia. There are a handful of hostels but most travelers stay in apartments that can be found on Airbnb or Booking.com. We found a local family managing a handful of studio and 1-bedroom apartments were great. The exterior was classic eastern bloc apartment structure from the 70’s and 80’s but inside was modern Scandinavian design and Ivan, the manager, could not be more helpful. If you need a place to stay in Zadar, definitely check out Luka Residence Apartments.
We are writing this post from Split which is much larger and packed with tourists. While it has its own distinct charm and sights – especially its outlying islands, we are so glad we got a chance to spent a few days with the good people of Zadar.