Where is the Zagreb Sea?
Zagreb has no sea – at least not geographically. But in the summer, a small stretch of the north Adriatic has half of Zagreb living there. This coastal line is called Crikvenica-Novi Vinodolski Riviera but it would be more correct to call it the Zagreb Riviera.
It takes only an hour and a half to reach it by car. Which is why Zagreb people fall into a peculiar summer rhythm. From June to September they spend almost every weekend on the Riviera. If you want to experience Zagreb as a local, you simply must migrate to the sea on weekends. If you don’t, and you stay roaming the empty streets, you’ll realize Zagreb magically disappears, leaving only its architecture behind.
Learn the rhythms of Zagreb summer migrations
There are three types of migrations from Zagreb to the coast.
- weekly escapes to closest coastal destinations
- ‘connected’ weekends, created by ‘stealing’ the days between national holidays and weekends
- ‘real’ summer breaks that may last up to three weeks
Today we’ll concentrate on weekly escapes, because we have just entered its season. These migrations begin as soon as the weather is nice enough to have a dip in the sea. Sometimes as early as May, you may notice that Zagreb becomes unusually empty. Driving in the centre is a breeze, parking space abounds and you can’t find a coffee mate on a Saturday morning.
This is it – summer houses are opening up for the upcoming season. Coastal towns are still sleepy and half the cafes and restaurants won’t be open, but Zagreb people begin their first flight. Apartments need airing, barbecues need greasing up and we need a dose of the Mediterranean climate.
Unlike ‘real’ summer breaks which are anticipated by a travel fever – weekend breaks are simpler. People leave work at 3pm on a Friday, jump into the car and by evening are enjoying their first glass of wine, gazing at the sea. They might even drive back on a Monday morning. After all, it’s only an hour and a half to the Zagreb Riviera!
You don’t have to own a summer house to join the migrations. Sometimes you’ll be invited to visit friends who do. Or you’ll book an apartment. But if there’s an ounce of Zagreb in you, you’ll hear the song of the coast calling you on a Friday afternoon.
Never migrate alone
Zagreb people often rent apartments in their summer houses. But before high season kicks in and they are booked up, they invite friends to join them on weekend migrations. If you’ve ever wondered how people choose where to go on the Croatian coast, here is your answer. They don’t choose destinations – they follow their good friends.
In early July, weekend migrations are in full bloom. So Nik and I happily visit our friends in Klenovica – a small fishing town just south from Novi Vinodolski. There are only a few hundred locals living here all year round. The rest of the town belongs to weekend migrants, not only from Zagreb, but from Ljubljana too. The weekend houses are big and beautiful and most of them are new. Klenovica, however, has a long history. And this is recorded in several monumental maple trees that line up the town’s promenade. In Croatian they are called klen (also javor). They give their name and charm to this beautiful spot in the Kvarner bay.
Klenovica’s fishing history is commemorated by two intriguing monuments. One is a statue of the fisherman Nikica that celebrates a 1000 years of fishing in the Adriatic. The other is even more unique. A weird wooden ladder stretching high up in the sky. Of course you are forbidden to climb it. But in the old times, fishermen would use the highest rung of this contraption to spot when tuna fish arrived to the bay.
Of course, there is no better way to learn about fishing in Klenovica but to eat fish. Our friends point us to two great places.
Stella Maris eatery is run by a local fisherman. What you get on your plate is caught by him personally. The place is modestly designed but the fish we ate reminded me of my fondest childhood memories – simple assorted pan-fried fish and boiled potatoes. There is a fancy option too: white fish charged by a kilo. But this is a regular menu item in most seafood restaurants. So why not go for what a local would eat?
The Fisherman hut, or fondly just ‘the Hut’, is a must for the ambience. It’s built around and over the main promenade, so close to the sea you can almost touch it from your table. There are fishing moorings all around the Hut – some are used by the locals to go fishing (including our friend’s parents) and others by tourists who come here to eat.
Follow your friends even on micro migrations
Don’t ask me about my favourite place on the Croatian coast. Stunning photos and tourist hype rarely prompt me to visit somewhere. Every destination unravels its beauty to me through the people I know. Everywhere can be amazing when I mimic my friends’ micro migrations: when I eat what they eat, swim where they swim and walk where they walk. You can’t learn that from a guidebook!
For example, without our friends’ guidance, we wouldn’t have discovered a wonderful coastal walk from Klenovica to the village of Smokvica. The locals must have a ‘walking bug’ like me when they built this lovely path through the otherwise inaccessible rocks. On this walk we met an unusual traveller – a foreigner with a donkey – and gazed into the islands on the horizon.
You remember each spot on the Croatian coast by the unique combination of islands on its skyline. From Klenovica, you can see Krk, Rab and even a tiny bit of Pag. There are several vista points called ‘the eyes of Vinodol’ where the view reaches even further.
We drove to Gradina vista near the attractive mountain village of Ledenice. Knowing I’m a writer, our friends told us we should go and look for the so called ‘Plague’s House’ (Kugina kuća). This is a crumbling medieval stone edifice that inspired the Croatian writer August Šenoa to write a historic poem about the black plague in the 14th century.
I’m always excited about tracking down places that feature in literature so I kept my eyes peeled for the sign ‘Plague’s House’. There wasn’t any! I kept nagging Nik to drive further until we find it. Luckily he had more senses and stopped in Ledenice to ask the locals. Gradina IS the Plague’s House – said the man sitting in the shadow of a big mulberry tree. And so, my heart was at peace.
We drove back on a Sunday afternoon, risking being caught in the migration jam. We were lucky – most Zagreb birds stayed on and will fly home on the following morning. They’ll work for 4 and a half days and repeat the cycle next weekend. Join them as often as you can!
We stayed in the apartments owned by our friends. The accommodation is beautifully designed and the view from the terrace is breath taking. Our friends are devoted hosts and a great source of information about Klenovica and its surroundings. Tell them what you like and they’ll give you excellent tips on how to spend your days. You can book Lovrić apartments through their website.
We ate at Stella Maris eatery and were impressed with their simple and hearty seafood dishes. Homemade cakes were also delicious!
Belvederes – The eyes of Vinodol
We visited Gradina – one of 6 beautiful vista points in the hills above Novi Vinodolski.
We had coffee on one of the most amazing terraces at spa hotel and resort Novi. It is worth driving 10 minutes from Klenovica to Novi Vinodolski just to admire the ambience and the skyline while you sip your mid-morning coffee.
* Kvarner bay places (Crikvenica, Novi Vinodolski, Klenovica, Opatija, Rijeka) can be reached within 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours by car. Because they are the closest coastal towns to Zagreb, they can be done as a day trip. I call them ‘one hour from Zagreb’ destinations.