When most people (from the United States at least) think of a relaxing beach vacation, their minds immediately jump to Mexico, Florida, or Hawaii. That was always the case for me. However, after spending two days on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, I was fascinated by the combination of history and beautiful beaches that made for a unique, relaxing weekend getaway.
Our Croatian adventures began in Zadar- ironically because the destination was one of the airports that budget airline Ryanair flies to. Still, our attempts to find affordable trips were rewarded, because Zadar was a quiet town with tons to offer. The town mirrors a smaller version of Florence, with its winding streets dotted with gelato shops and boutiques selling handmade souvenirs. I was actually surprised to learn that much of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast was under Roman and Venetian influence throughout history, which explained the abundance of pizza and pasta options at restaurants. We spent the morning exploring each of the little streets and boutiques until we truly thought we knew city’s layout by heart. Around lunchtime, we sought refuge from the rain at 4 Kantuna, a trendy eatery serving classic Mediterranean and Italian cuisines. We ordered one pizza and one seafood dish- monkfish medallions on a bed of creamy truffle pasta. Both were divine, and despite the large portions, we had no problem downing one of the most delicious meals we’d ever had.
After lunch, we explored some of the beautifully ruined monuments Zadar had to offer. The Church of St. Donatus was completely different from many of the other ornate churches we had seen throughout the semester- it was completely made of stone and not decorated the slightest bit. In my opinion, its authenticity made it all the more memorable. Right next door was the Zadar Bell Tower, which offers a 360 view of the city from atop. The spectacular sight of miniature burnt orange roofs, pristine white ships docked at the port, and sweeping mountains in the background was well worth the cramped staircases we climbed to get to the top. We also strolled through the Roman Forum, an area with different stone sculptures and remnants as well as the Zadar Cathedral.
As the day winded down, we headed to one of Zadar’s most prominent attractions- the Sea Organ. The Sea Organ is a unique musical instrument that plays music through sea waves and tubes located beneath a large marble platform. It is known to be a fantastic viewing point for the sunset, so we joined the masses of tourists that anxiously anticipated cotton candy skies around 6:30 pm. While we had high hopes, we had no idea- and I mean NO IDEA- what was in store. The sunset began as one normally does, but then progressed into a majestic demonstration of constantly changing colors reflecting onto the water. Looking away would have been a complete injustice; we sat in the light rain admiring the beauty unfolding in front of our eyes. As the sun completely disappeared for the day, we went back to our Airbnb, forever cherishing what we had just seen.
Our second day in Croatia began with every child’s dream- cake for breakfast. The assorted cakes, tarts, and cheesecakes that lined every café in Zadar had tempted us the entire day before, and we finally gave in to our craving at the most odd of timings. Still, we had no regrets as we boarded our bus to Split, stomachs full with hazelnut cheesecake and an apple crostada.
Split was completely different from Zadar, in my opinion. While Zadar had a more Florence-esque feel- historic, cultural, and quaint- Split felt a lot more like Cinque Terre. Crowded beaches, buzzing tourists, and towering palm trees made for a beach town that was the perfect getaway. Old Split is actually built around Diocletian’s Palace, named after Roman emperor Diocletian, and the entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on its own. Like the previous day, we spent a good amount of time wandering in and out of the crevices within Diocletian’s Palace and frequented the many boutiques and a gelateria (how could we resist!?). Around 2pm, we decided to take advantage of the shining sun and kick off our shoes at Bacvice beach. The clear blue water was filled with locals and tourists alike, all enjoying the pleasant Mediterranean October weather that you can’t find in Prague or New York City. After an hour of relaxation, we picked back up on our sightseeing and visited the Cathedral of St. Domnius, a small yet grand church located in the heart of Diocletian’s Palace. Right across the square was the vestibule of Diocletian’s Palace, which had an interesting history and intricate carved ceilings.
Before the sunset, we strolled down Riva Promenade watching boats venture in and out of the harbor and exploring tiny market stalls selling olive oils or local pastries. While the sunset was not as spectacular as the one we witnessed in Zadar, we still enjoyed the peaceful gradient that illuminated the sky as the night approached.
Our last real meal in Croatia called for something special, so we went to Zinfandel, a classy food and wine bar, to sample some more Croatian cuisine. Food in Croatia has probably been my favorite in all the countries I’ve visited so far- it combines Italian pastas and pizzas with fresh Mediterranean seafood, and I don’t know what could possibly be better! We ordered a homemade spaghetti with truffle and sundried tomatoes as well as a spinach ravioli with fresh shrimp- once again, we didn’t struggle to finish our meals and savored each flavorful bite (to be fair, the portion sizes were much more reasonable this time!).
Our two short days in Croatia came to an end much quicker than expected; you can definitely spend a much longer time in this fascinating country island-hopping along the Dalmatian Coast or traveling up north to Zagreb, the capital. Still, we made the most of our little trip and left content, yet eager to return again someday.