Croatian Short Stories - Jadranska Magistrala (Adriatic Highway)

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August 23rd 2020
Published: September 14th 2020
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The official English translation for this coastal road the Croatians call Jadranska Magistrala (officially called State Road D8) is misleading. It is not a highway at all, but a scenic, winding road along the Croatian Adriatic coast. If you are in a hurry, take the freeway. It is toll road, which was built further inland, courtesy of the EU and other private investors. If you have time, we do recommend to slow down and explore the coast, stopping in picturesque fishing villages for delicious fish and seafood, at scenic bays for a swim and historically significant places for your personal cultural enrichment.

The D8 is the Croatian section of the Adriatic Highway, running from the Slovenian border through Istria via Rijeka, Senj, Zadar, Sibenik, Split, Opuzen and Dubrovnik to the border with Montenegro. Most of the Magistrala remains single carriageway, though with some dual carriageway stretches. The total length of the road through Croatia is 818 kilometres. Some of the parts of the road are built along the Roman and middle age structures. Some were build during the Habsburg rule. The majority works of the Magistrala were done between 1918 and 1941. This infrastructure has enabled the development of the
Croatian coastal regions and facilitated greatly the development of agriculture and food processing, industrial development and of course tourism, especially in Dalmatia.

We traveled most of the 800 plus kilometres of the Magistrala during our stay in Croatia and visited many villages and bays. Some iconic places we want to introduce here:

Opatija is situated along the Eastern side of the Istrian peninsula, only 10 km from Rijeka. A fashionable resort in the 19th century, it's dotted with Habsburg-era villas. The Lungomare is a promenade that snakes along the coastline, offering views of the town and neighboring islands. The 1800s Villa Angiolina, set in a garden of exotic plants, houses the Croatian Museum of Tourism. Parts of St. Jacob’s Church date from the 16th century. Opatija has the longest tradition in Croatian tourism and runs tourism and hotel management schools. In recent decades it has lost a bit of its past glamour and appeal. A stop for coffee or meal and short walk along the promenade will however show you its past splendor.

The city of Senj is located 70 kilometers south of Rijeka. The symbol of the town is the Nehaj Fortress or in Croatian: Tvrđava
Nehaj, which was completed in 1558. For a time this was the seat of the Uskoks, who were Christian refugees from Ottoman Bosnia resettled here to protect the Habsburg borderlands. The Republic of Venice accused the Uskoks of piracy and declared war on them, which led to their expulsion following a truce in 1617. The fortress of Krk, as explained in the previous blog, was instrumental in this fight of the Venetians against the Uskoks. Senj had its best times during the Habsburg Monarchy being used as a trading and supply port. Modern Senj is a seaside tourist town. Primary industries are fishing, boating, and tourism. As you stroll through the old city one can see the lack of development and income. The jewel remains its fortress.

Continuing on the Magistrala south, the mighty mountain range Velebit is showing its naked rock faces. It is the largest, though not the highest, mountain range in Croatia, subject of many legends. There are hundreds of caves or better described as "holes" on Velebit. It has the largest and deepest caves in Croatia. The three-part "Lukina jama" cave is 1392 m deep, making it one of the deepest caves in the world. If you have the time, what we did not take during our drive to Vodice, a day or two hiking in this wilderness would be certainly an adventure. Just if you do so watch out for the Croatia's deadliest reptile, a snake called Poskok, who resides in these mountains. Poskok is a viper species found mainly in the Balkans. It is reputed to be the most dangerous of the European vipers due to its large size up to 70 cm, long fangs and high venom toxicity.

Zadar is one of the most important cities in Dalmatia. Zadar is the oldest continuously-inhabited Croatian city. With a population of 75,000 it is the second-largest city of the region of Dalmatia and the fifth-largest city in the country. The area of present-day Zadar traces its earliest evidence of human life from the late Stone Age, while numerous settlements date as early as the Neolithic age, long before the Illyrians, an ancient Mediterranean people of an Indo-European culture inhabited the area. During Roman rule Zadar acquired the characteristics of a traditional Ancient Roman city with a regular road network, a public square (forum), and an elevated capitolium with a temple. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and the destruction of Salona in 614, Zadar's importance as a trading harbor rose even further. Of course it became city of the Venicean Republic as well, as you can see on numerous buildings today. Today Zadar is a major tourist town as visitors like the culture and the nice beaches close to the city. The Monument to the Sun and the Sea Organ are two attractions the city offers in addition to its numerous historic sites. We stayed in the city center and met with a friend. Of course the dominating topic was unfortunately the Covid related bad tourist season and anxiety what will come. Tourism income is for Dalmatia too important and there is no alternative for the people that work in tourism.

Biograd na Moru, commonly shortened to simply Biograd, is a town in northern Dalmatia, and is significant for being the former capital of the medieval Croatian Kingdom. It is located on the Adriatic Sea coast, overlooking the island of Pasman, on the road from Zadar towards Vodice and Šibenik. Biograd na Moru is known as a tourist resort, with the first tourists arriving in the 1920s from Czechoslovakia, and its first hotel was built in 1935. It has a lovely Riva and is the perfect place for us stop for lunch.

The countless viewpoints along the Magistrala give excellent photo opportunities of the coast and its islands. Of the 1244 islands, islets, cliffs and reefs that have remained following the dramatic rise in the level of the Adriatic Sea around 13000 years B.C., today only 50 are inhabited. An eldorado for boating enthusiasts. In Croatia, there are more than 60 marinas which together offer 20'000 sea berths and 8'500 berths on land for sailing boats. Apart from marinas, there are also many private sailing clubs and ports offering additional berthing capacity. If you are a sailing or boating enthusiast, you can not live in piece without having sailed the Kornate archipelago, Vis or Lastovo islands.

Skradin is a small town in the Sibenik area, with a population of 3,800. It is located near the Krka river and at the entrance to the Krka National Park. It was founded by Romans, later settled by Slaves, in the 16th century occupied by the Ottomans and 1800 conquered by the Venetians. It is today the starting point for visits to the Krka National Park. Among sailors it is famous as a well sheltered harbor with a well developed marina, as it is protected by mountains and the Sibenik canal and Prokljansko lake, famous as the fresh water from the river Krka and sea water from the Adriatic mix. This water quality is well suited to wash away sediments of algae and shells stuck on the hull of the yachts. So another reason for the skippers to stop over. Yet another is the cute old city with many excellent restaurants.

Promosten app 20 km south of Sibenik was situated on the islet close to the mainland. During the Turkish invasions in 16th century the islet was protected by the walls and towers and a draw bridge connected it to the mainland. When the Turks retreated, the draw bridge was replaced by the causeway and in 1564 the settlement was named Primosten after the Croatian verb primostiti, to bridge or to connect. Primosten is famous for its huge and beautiful vineyards. It is also known for the traditional donkey race that takes place there every summer. The largest beach in Primosten is called Raduca, which has been voted one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Croatia. So a must stop destination if you travel south on the Magistrala.

Another must stop place is Trogir, a city located about 30 km north of Split along the coast. Trogir has 2300 years of continuous urban tradition. Its culture was created under the influence of the ancient Greeks, and then the Romans, and Venetians. Trogir has a high concentration of palaces, churches, and towers, as well as a fortress on a small island, and in 1997 was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. "The orthogonal street plan of this island settlement dates back to the Hellenistic period and it was embellished by successive rulers with many fine public and domestic buildings and fortifications. Its beautiful Romanesque churches are complemented by the outstanding Renaissance and Baroque buildings from the Venetian period", says the UNESCO report. Trogir is the best-preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex not only in the Adriatic, but in all of Central Europe. Needless to say a tourist magnate, in the high season it can get very busy here. But again Nui and Nenad had the place for themselves; thank you Covid.

The Neum corridor is a small stretch of coast along the southern end of the Croatian Magistrala not far from Dubrovnik. To be precise it lies app 160 km south of Split and 65km north of Dubrovnik. It is vital for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) as it the sole access to a sea port, but cuts Dubrovnik and its surrounding areas from the rest of Croatia. This right of access for BIH was received after the war through the Daton Agreement in 1994. The other agreement for free passage for passenger and cargo between Dubrovnik and the rest of Croatia has always been hampered in its implementation. As you drive through this part you can observe a mighty bridge being build which will connect the Croatian mainland with the island of Peljesac and bypass the Bosnian territory. The Peljesac Bridge currently under construction will be finished 2022. It is build by a Chinese (PRC) company and funded by EU and Croatia !!!

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