Happening Hrvatska, Croatia - Al Fresco Holidays

Nick Riggs, Managing Director at Al Fresco Holidays reveals some of Croatia’s stunning secrets following his recent visit…

Part 1 of 3

Croatian words of wonder
For many years I’ve been put off by the exotic and slightly foreboding letters “ć, Ž, č” you see in Croatian words. Sometimes vowels are missing from their place names and you are left wondering if there’s been a spelling mistake. Take Krk for example, an island off Istria. Somehow it seems like somebody stole the “I” during the Yugoslavian war and they haven’t agreed to give it back yet.

But after spending last week in Croatia with one of the locals, much of that bemusement has been replaced with a new insight and appreciation of the place.

I’ve learnt that ć isn’t a c with an accent but a bona-fide letter in its own right and when strange letters run together, you have to pronounce them all. Like Hrvatska (hurrah vatska), the local name for the country, abbreviated HR.

Along with pronunciation lessons, I’ve discovered fascinating facts such as there are 30 letters in the alphabet, they have fables about farming gods who grow corn from their chins and that the air is so pure on Cres that your lungs actually grow in capacity when you spend a week there.

Croatia has suddenly made a lot of sense and with European membership not 3 months away it’s time to give it a serious look.

Outside Istra

I’ve never been out of Istra before now, the diamond shaped jewel at the most northerly tip of the country. I know Porec, Rovinj, Pula and Umag are still incredible pearls of the former Venetian republic of Istra and offer fascinating timeless portraits of constant occupation by empires great but seldom good to the locals. But I’ve never done Dalmatia or island hopped around the archipelago before.

After this week I’m hooked.

Fosa harbour, Croatia

Fosa harbour, Croatia

Zadar town

My week started at Zadar, a lovely small, friendly, easy to use airport with the fun right on the doorstep. Zadar is an epic Roman port town with a forum, triumphal arches and fountains like Rome. All of which was then embellished by the venetians with statues of San Marco, campaniles and piazzas in luminescent marble.

The square of 5 fountains, Fosa

The square of 5 fountains, Fosa

And then the ramparts were reinforced by the Austro Hungarians and 19th century refinements were added; then it was all flattened by the Allies.

Goodness only knows how beautiful the place was in 1940 because today it is still marvellous.

5 fountains square

I was particularly drawn to the atmosphere at the Piazza 5 ponte or square of 5 fountains. The square directly looks onto an atmospheric port called Fosa. The fish restaurant’s manager was drumming up trade by singing popular opera arias, all under the watchful eye of the lion sitting proudly in the centre of the land gate who seemed to have countenanced such tricks since roman times.

Bar Ledana

Suddenly the equivalent of the croatian red arrows zoomed into view and started barrel rolling towards the shore as if to put the opera soloist off his stride.

The Ledana bar in Zadar, Croatia

The Ledana bar in Zadar, Croatia

And then to the far side of the roman gardens overlooking the square the funkiest of bars started some dub step beat and suddenly the hip and trendy had grabbed their moment in the spotlight. (Check out the bar Ledana for probably the coolest setting in the adriatic and cocktails only £4 a pop.)

“Blimey I thought.. and all this on a wet Sunday in May; what will August be like?”
Read part 2 tomorrow.
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