Cool, urban style in the Old Town married with rugged good looks in the surrounding mountains and islands – Croatia’s lesser-known Zadar is an Adriatic gem, says Mike MacEacheran
Long before the arrival of the Balearic-style cocktail bars and cruise ships, the transcendent experiences of sailing and island-hopping and the jetsetters on the hunt for the next Hvar – before all that, there was just a couple of churches and a Roman Forum here.
Zadar grew up in the shadow of the Roman empire and, despite its new lease of life as Croatia’s latest mustn’t-miss stop, there are still oodles of cobblestone streets and chessboard squares to drool over between groovy bars and glimpses of the neon-blue sea.
Even if Zadar has been 3,000 years in the making, it doesn’t show its age.
I begin my trip at the Unesco-listed Old Town’s Roman Forum on a sun-soaked morning and, instantly, it feels like stepping into an earlier, more untouched Croatia. Instead of Dubrovnik’s hordes of Game of Thrones tour groups or the sardines-in-a-tin reality of other Roman-era sites such as the Diocletian Palace in Split, here the Old Town’s core is uncrowded and ripe for wandering. It’s an area so easy to stroll, you can soak up centuries in seconds.