The Life Aquatic on the Adriatic
Swimming in the lakes, waterfalls and warm Adriatic Sea around Zadar - Croatia's coolest city
Zadar is a magical base for a swim holiday and even its name sounds like something a local magician might declare at the climax to a conjuring trick – "Zadar!"
When you think of Croatia, the most famous place that springs to mind is the stunning city of Dubrovnik. But a couple of hundred miles up the Dalmatian Coast you will find the equally amazing city of Zadar, famed for its spectacular sunsets. Indeed, Alfred Hitchcock, who stayed in the city in 1964 said “The sunset of Zadar is the world’s most beautiful and incomparably better than in Key West, Florida.” I’ve been lucky enough to visit both places and personally think he could be right. The other amazing thing about Zadar is it a perfect place to base yourself for a truly memorable wild swimming holiday.
you’ll find sets of steps into the water everywhere, as well as swimming platforms in front of the pebbly shore
The old town of Zadar looks like an island, but is actually on a peninsula between two quays. It’s a really attractive town, with the terra-cotta roofs and distinctive bell tower looking out over the shimmering Adriatic Sea. You can either reach it by walking across City Bridge (Gradski Most) or take a ride with the Boatmen of Zadar, a family business who have been rowing people across for 800 years. On arrival you will discover a truly historic city, with Roman ruins and Venetian architecture aplenty. The old town is paved with gleaming white stone, with the straight Roman streets leading to cool squares, perfect for coffee or something a little stronger.
A series of 35 tubes of various lengths and heights create music that is powered by the wind and the sea
Walking around the outside of the peninsular is equally as fascinating. Croatia is famously lacking in beaches, but instead you’ll find sets of steps into the water everywhere, as well as swimming platforms in front of the pebbly shores. While there aren’t many cities you can swim from, Zadar has a something rather unexpected for the wild swimmer. A large set of white steps lead into the water, which conceal the city’s most famous tourist attraction, the Zadar Sea Organ. Designed by architect Nikola Bašić and finished in 2005 as part of repair work following the Croatian War, the steps extend for 70 metres. A series of 35 tubes of various lengths and heights create music that is powered by the wind and the sea. There are seven chords and 5 tones, depending on the tides and were designed to evoke the close harmonies of Dalmatian klapa music.
It’s a stunning spot for a swim, although take the time to float and relax to the hypnotic music, which sounds a bit like the melancholy call of a whale. The same architect created a second piece of civic art, which celebrates Zadar’s remarkable sunsets. The Sun Salutation features glass panels that capture sunlight during the day to power their own light show in the evening. Apparently it’s a tribute to the solar system, but just makes a focal point for people to gather each evening to watch the sun set on another chilled day in this cool city.
The mud from the lake bed is also supposed to be great for your skin, unless someone was winding us up
Geographically Zadar is located directly across the Adriatic from Rimini in Italy, while ferries take passengers to the many nearby islands. One that we checked out and highly recommend is Dugi Otok, which translates as long island. It's 45 km long and boasts vineyards, orchards and a wonderfully secluded beach called Saharun to the north. However the real highlight is Telascica Nature Park, which covers most of the south of the island. As well as the beautiful Telascica Bay with its charming bays and islands, a visit to Lake Mir is a must. This is a saltwater lake connected to the sea by underground channels and is warmer than the sea in the summer and colder in the winter. Fortunately we were there in the summer. The mud from the lake bed is also supposed to be great for your skin, unless someone was winding us up.
it’s one of the most photogenic places I have ever had the pleasure to visit.
Another must-see swim spot is Krka National Park and the spectacular waterfalls, which is about an hour’s drive from Zadar. From Skradin, a picturesque boat (included in your entrance ticket) takes about 25 minutes to reach the ethno village, from where you can walk to the spectacular Skradinski Buk waterfall. You can swim here in a roped off area in the summer months. There are lots of other waterfalls and gorges to discover by following a 2km Educational Trail. There are actually seven main waterfalls spread across the national park and it’s one of the most photogenic places I have ever had the pleasure to visit.
While it's hard to drag yourself away from this Eden, do save some time to visit Visovac Monastery if you can. The Franciscan monastery is on an island in the middle of Visovačko Lake and it looks like something straight out of a screensaver. Short tours of the monastery are included in the Krka National Park ticket price, while it makes a really special place to swim. And the holy waters will add five years to your life. Probably…