Despite ranking as Croatia's oldest continuously inhabited city, Zadar is a place most people would struggle to place on a map. While jet-setters tend to head for the cliff-clinging paths of Vis or sun-scorched sands of Split, we suggest swerving the crowds to discover a destination bursting with history, jaw-dropping beauty and a surprisingly flourishing creative scene.
While life here dates back to the ninth century, there is absolutely nothing dated or dull about Zadar, whose beautifully modern streetscape marries traditional heritage with a free-spirited urban vibe. This is a city best explored on foot. Start your day navigating narrow passageways and wandering alongside the Unesco-listed fortified walls, before visiting the crumbling ruins of the famous Roman Forum. Then, while away the afternoon dipping in and out of charming cafés, independent galleries and parasol-shaded bars.
Water babies should look to book onto one of the daily boat tours from Zadar to Kornati National Park. The protected area is known to have some of the cleanest, clearest waters in the country - on a good day, the dolphins even come out to play. An eight-hour excursion will see you beach-hopping, snorkelling and swimming, with most packages also covering drinks, breakfast and lunch. History buffs, meanwhile, shouldn't miss a chance to tour the Museum of Ancient Glass.
Where to stay?
Bed down at the 16-key boutique Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel. Perfectly placed in the heart of the old town, just a short stroll from the water's edge, this contemporary space promises an idyllic, design-driven stay. Dreamed up by husband-and-wife-team Vjekoslav Bobić and Irina Bakija, the property combines 19th-century architecture with a modern touch. A former military hospital, the building's structure has been retained, while interiors have been jazzed up with the help of talented designer Boris Ružić: think walls framed by purchasable local artworks, marble bathrooms laced with matte-black detailing and queen-sized beds placed directly beneath skylight windows. We're not usually the type to settle for a hotel's restaurant over feasting at a traditional eatery, but this place is an exception. Pop downstairs to the leafy courtyard to find platters of freshly caught seafood and an impressive wine list packed with native bins.
The Orangery and a Deluxe Mezzanine Room | Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel
Where to go for dinner?
There are a few things that make a holiday memorable, and we'd argue that watching (and capturing, time-lapse-style) the sunset is one of them. To taste the delicious flavours of Croatia while watching the sky turn a thousand shades of blood orange, head to Restaurant Lungo Mare. Just a 15-minute wander from the old town, the no-frills dining room overlooks the tranquil Maestral Bay. After you've finished gawking, start off with the four-cheese gnocchi, before savouring a plate of grilled squid - consider ordering one of the wood-fired pizzas to share, too.
And for a drink…
Sea-facing cabanas, live DJ sets and a first-class cocktail menu await at The Garden Lounge. Join laid-back locals for a mid-afternoon Aperol spritz, or arrive at 7pm to kick-start your night amid a techno-loving crowd.
Who to take with you?
With such a short flight time from London, we can think of no better place to spend a long, lazy weekend with our bestest girlfriend.
When to go
Zadar remains off the tourist track: plan your visit between July and September to enjoy peak sunshine season without the swamped streets and crowded coves found elsewhere in Croatia.
Essentials to pack
A bag that will take us from airport chic to beach babe? We'll have three, please. This Casablanca knitted tote bag promises to be the ultimate holiday partner - no cramming required.
How to get there
Take a direct flight from London Stansted to Croatia's Zadar Airport, from where the city's old town is just a 20-minute drive.