Holiday & Beaches
The best sunset in Croatia – The Dalmatian Coast
Whether you are looking for beaches, nightlife or ancient history, the Dalmatian Coast offers a wealth of opportunities. This part of Croatia was under the control of the Venetians for almost four centuries and you’ll find their influence everywhere in the architecture and in the Italianate sense of style of Dalmatian people. It is also a part of Croatia that is well known for summer music festivals – Ultra in Split and Sonus in Pag are just a couple on offer. The Croatian Tourist Board always has a summary of the events for each year, well worth checking either if you want to be there or prefer to avoid the party!
Split is perhaps the best known destination on the Dalmatian Coast, and the second largest city in Croatia. It’s a fascinating city, literally built into the 4th century palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian. You’ll find plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants in the old town if exploring the ancient city isn’t to your taste. There’s also a small but well managed beach and a very popular promenade with shops and bars.
Croatia’s own Little Venice, Trogir, was recently used as a location double for Doctor Who’s ‘The Vampires of Venice’. It’s a beautiful medieval city surrounded by 15th century walls and built on an island reached by a short causeway. Trogir is full of fine Venetian style architecture, but it is the Cathedral that stands out for me. Built on the foundations of an early Christian church, the building was started in 1213 and only finished in the 17th century. If you look at the bell tower, you can track when each floor was built by the different styles of architecture. Officially dedicated to St Lawrence, it is known locally as St John’s Cathedral after bishop John, who died in 1111 during the Hungarian rule of Dalmatia. During battles with the Venetians, the Bishop’s sarcophagus was removed from the church and dragged onto the beach, where they cut off his hand so that they could take the valuable episcopal ring. On their voyage home, there was a massive storm and most of the fleet sank. The remaining boats limped on to Venice, bringing with them the Black Death, which decimated the city. Then, legend has it that the Bishop’s arm reportedly flew back to Trogir and is still incarcerated in the Cathedral.
Many more of the thousands of islands along the Dalmatian coast can be reached by causeway or bridge. And, each has their own piece of history.
Pag, for example, is famous for cheese, lace and salt. The local sheep’s cheese has a unique, fine flavour thanks to the richly salinated herbs and grasses that the sheep graze on. While the salt flats were what brought wealth to this tiny island, working to harvest salt was physically demanding and unpleasant. Instead, some of women of the island developed skills creating fine lace. There’s a museum where you can see a fascinating collection of their work and a lace school. And, if you are lucky you may spot some of the lace workers sitting outside their homes, dressed in black, working their lace.
Nin is known as the Island of Kings from a heritage dating back to the 9th century AD. Seven Kings were crowned here and presented to the people at the Church of St Nicholas, which is still standing just outside the main town. During medieval times, the ‘Golden Period’ for Nin, the island had 12 churches and three monasteries, despite being just 500m from one side to the other. At that time it was used by Croatian Kings as a temporary or permanent home. One side of Nin has beautiful sandy beaches and the ‘Queen’s Beach’ is so called because the first ever Croatian King, Tomislav, visited Nin with his Queen after his coronation. She loved the sandy beach with mud baths, where she could bathe and soften her skin. Now, you can stay in well equipped holiday resorts there, or visit for the day and enjoy the medicinal healing muds.
Finally, for reputedly the best sunsets in the world, head to Zadar. This small coastal city has a host of things to see and do, including a glass museum where you can learn to blow glass yourself. But, most people go for the sunsets, to experience the gentle natural music of the Sea Organ and to watch the illumination of ‘Greeting to the Sun’, two contemporary works of art installed at the far end of the city, looking out to sea. It was Alfred Hitchcock who wrote that the sunsets here were the finest in the world. The sun seems to sink into the sea at the very tip of the peninsula. The popularity of the Zadar sunset means that you’ll find locals and visitors alike sitting and watching, kids skidding across the ‘Greeting to the Sun’ and a wealth of cameras and tripods set up waiting for that perfect shot.
It’s a great way to end the day, with a walk from the city centre along the seafront to the peninsula and then a wait for a few minutes to see that moment when the sky seems to be on fire, before wandering back for supper.