CROATIA: Hitting Dalmatia after a 20-year wait

I remember trying to book a holiday to Croatia in the late nineties and found it prohibitively expensive.

It was in the years after the Yugoslav Wars and the country had only reopened to tourism.
Suddenly everyone and their next door neighbour were on a flight to Dubrovnik and the prices went through the roof.

I had always been fascinated by this Balkan country and the thwarted attempt to travel there at the time just made it more of an alluring destination.

Despite my interest it took nearly another 20 years before I was finally able to get on a plane, except we detoured  to  Zadar, the a historical centre of Dalmatia,  as opposed to the big draw of the capital Dubrovnik.

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Zadar’s seafront

Primarily this was because Ryanair flies a handy, regular and cheap service to the northern city and from here it is it possible to drive to Dubrovnik several hours to the south.

That was the plan last year although now with two young ones on board and a number of rental car/crying kids/getting lost scenarios under our belts we decided to play it safe and so we settled on a nice easy drive to the famous Dalmatian coast just an hour or so north.

This proved to be a winner. We reached our destination, a tiny village called Privlaka, located on a picturesque  peninsula close to the historical royal town of Nin, famous for its ancient churches.

Here we had arranged to stay in an Airbnb accommodation and it seemed a popular choice in this quiet part of the country where signs for holiday homes and cottages were dotted among the olive groves. Since we have become a young family we have found that the Airbnb option has proved a convenient alternative on recent trips as we enjoy having our own little home from home compared to the anonymity of a hotel.

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A beach near Privlaka

After receiving the keys from our friendly hosts we took a short stroll along a country path that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Kerry boreen that brought us to a stretch of sandy beach. As I took in the shimmering views of the islands out in the Adriatic I could relax and reflect that yes, the 20 year wait seemed worth it.

It appeared to be a favourite with locals as well and as it turned out we had done our homework before we left home as this narrow beach was one of the few in the area where the coast is predominantly  rocky.

We could have quite happily spent the rest of our time here eating the seafood caught that day in the local restaurants and swimming in the warm waters of the sea off our sandy beach but we roused ourselves from the hot sands for a road trip out along the Pan peninsula, a bizarre lunar moonscape of rock stripped bare by the north wind (bura) blasting salt across its hills.

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Yachts in Kornati National Park

However, the other side of the peninsula is protected from the winds and is covered with rich green forests and vineyards. Sparsely populated, the peninsula has only a few towns to break up the journey before you run out of road at the party town of Novalja.

Well known on the summer rave scene where it is often referred to as the Ibiza of the Adriatic, we left the town to its younger hedonistic masses and turned the car back toward our oasis of calm.

We also spent an afternoon in Zadar, well worth a stop off, with its beautiful architecture and amazing sea organ down by the port. Designed by local architect Nikola Bašić, the unique artwork  consists of a system of pipes and whistles set within the stone stairs that descend into the sea that sigh as the waves push the air up though the pavement under your feet. Here we joined the locals as they gathered to watch the sun set and take in the cool street entertainers.

Restless after a few more days we were lured by a local sea captain selling boat trips on the beach and as there are more than 1,000 islands that make up the country we felt it would be amiss not to sample at least a few of them.

Just off the Dalmatian coast is the Kornati National Park, a stunning archipelago that includes some 89 islands of the 140  strewn across this section of the Adriatic Sea.

After a couple of hours cruising along the coast we arrived at one island where a winding track revealed a shimmering inland  lake in the middle of a forest where we could have had our own Robinson Crusoe moment.

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Zadar

That was until the  hundreds of other  boat trippers who were all dropped off for the day arrived but with a little bit of searching  we eventually  found our quiet spot among the dappled trees and watched as the kids jumped into the still waters of the lake with delight as we splayed  out on the  rocks like two contented lizards.

After a perfect day swimming and eating a picnic  there was just a  momentary  stab of envy as I watched the yachts arriving in the bay  where they were  anchored to stay the night, waiting for the crowds of day trippers to leave.

But hay, it was a small price  to pay for a day full of memories and sure we can always come back, except hopefully next time it will  be on a yacht!

 

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