I had been to Croatia a couple times before, visiting Dubrovnik on two cruises. I was happy to get a look at a new region after reading so much about all the fabulous beaches and other towns along the coast of the Adriatic Sea.
Sometimes I like to let the day take me where it may when I arrive to a new destination. If I've never been to a place, everything I see or do will be fresh and interesting. I can generally start wandering and interacting with residents to find out about a place.
Coming to Zadar, Croatia, on a cruise ship and being able to stay for just one day, I decided to play it loose with the plans. I knew that I could at least take a walk and explore the historic old town and enjoy the day with plenty to see.
As I said, the well-known and popular cruise destination in Croatia is Dubrovnik, and that port is an incredible spot to visit. I first went to Dubrovnik more than a decade ago and immediately was in awe of this historic and battle-torn city by the Adriatic Sea that had rebuilt itself into a top tourist site.
The orange-roofed buildings standing in marvelous contrast to the sturdy gray stoned walls, towers and ramparts that encircle this fortress of a town. Dubrovnik quickly rose to prominence as more and more people learned that it is a stunning place to visit with friendly Croatians eager to share their clear blue waters and tasty foods with travelers. The UNESCO World Heritage city has such a unique look and feel that filming for Game of Thrones and an upcoming Star Wars movie take place there.
However, the crowds can be stifling when in Dubrovnik.
As we cruised toward Zadar, though, during my recent cruise on Oceania Riviera, I knew this would be different. A more relaxing, stress-free exploration. It helped that our 1,250-passenger ship was the only one in port. Also in our favor was the fact that I planned to go off in a different direction from all of them.
When the ship pulled into port, I saw the nearby surrounding islands. They are quite stunning, which of course drew my interest. I immediately started my research.
I wanted to check out one of these gorgeous and scenic spots. What are they? What is there to do there? Beaches and swimming, I bet.
A quick Internet search let me know that I could get from the cruise port, Gazenica, where our ship docked, over to the island of Ugljan, by a quick and cheap ferry ride. Plus, the ferry terminal is a 10-minute walk from the ship. Just like that, I had a plan for the day.
Zadar is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Croatia and does not get too crowded. We'll definitely look to return to venture the old town area. But if you want an "off the beaten path" day when visiting Zadar, I recommend that you hop a ferry and head to Ugljan.
The island is just a 15-minute ferry ride once you board at the terminal. We paid about $10 for two roundtrip tickets on the car ferry, which drops you off right in downtown Ugljan. Downtown is a loose term. There is one small convenience store/gas station and the ferry landing.
This is also when we began to look intently for a place to settle in for some swimming and reclining in the sunshine. Most "beaches" in Ugljan are stone and gravel spots leading to the waters' edge. Many public swimming spots, like where we settled, are constructed of wide concrete seawalls with wooden seats and recliners that you can use. They also feature small changing huts so you can put on your swimsuit in privacy.
The waters are crystal clear with small bits of reef and rock. I loved splashing around off and on for a couple hours before we picked up and decided to explore more of this secluded getaway. (I was already imagining coming back for an extended stay because of its charm.)
Poking about Marina Preko and looking over the menus at the dozens of eateries, we settled on a spot that offered enticing pizza. Konobo Roko served up a delicious pizza topped prosciutto and shaved parmesan cheese (We seem to like the wood-fired pizza in Europe better than almost any style in the U.S.). I also tried a new-to-us Croatian beer, Ozujsko, the nation's flagship lager.
Shhh! Let's keep it our secret, OK?
Always travel happy!