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IS Zadar ON YOUR RADAR? IS Zadar ON YOUR RADAR? You might recognise it from Game of Thrones, but this stretch of the Croatian coastline is one of the country's best-kept secrets says STEVE RACE.

Byline: STEVE RACE

WHEN he wasn't making films about violence, murder and crime, Alfred Hitchcock liked to sit and watch a good sunset.

And, according to him, nothing could match the close of day in Zadar, Croatia.

On his holidays there he used to watch from his hotel as the sun slowly sank behind the island of Ugljan and proclaimed this was "the best sunset in the world".

Of course, the view of the setting sun was not the only reason he, or anybody else would choose Zadar as the location for their holidays.

The attractions of the region are obvious. Even when you are on the plane, coming in to land you can see the dozens of islands off the coast, some of them national parks. And inland, behind the coastal plain where Zadar sits, mountains rear up behind the town like an impenetrable barrier.

Along the coast are towns with a rich history, dating back to Roman times and which have gone through a series of occupiers and influences, from Venetians and the Ottoman empire to, more recently, Communist bloc Yugoslavia.

To many, a holiday in Croatia is sitting on the Dalmatian coast, beside the Adriatic, soaking up the sun, as the waves lap gently at your feet. But, if you are more adventurous, there could be a few surprises in store.

If you drive up through the mountains, on a motorwaystandard road, you will reach a plateau that could be in a different country - a cooler one, too, as the rocky coastal strip makes way for greenery and forest on the two-hour drive to the Plitvice national park.

You'll find it worth the trip. Known as the greatest pearl of Croatia's natural heritage, a series of 16 lakes is linked by waterfalls, surrounded by dense forests where you could chance on wild boar and the odd brown bear. It is well-equipped for tourism, with marked trails and a series of wooden paths.

Boats and road trains criss-cross the area, helping to ferry visitors about.

For a mixture of seaside and activity holidays, closer to Zadar, rising from the sea behind the resort of Starigrad, the centre of the Paklenica Riviera is the Velika Paklenica Canyon, where walkers can trek through spectacular rock formations.

Many people come here to rock climb, and a cave system, once used by old Yugoslav communist boss Tito as a secret nuclear shelter, is being converted into a visitor centre.

Local people are very proud of the area's connection to a series of successful films made in the 1960s. The Winnetou films were famousthroughout Europe - apart from in Britain, that is.

About a native American chief, they were German-made, with a French lead actor, and used the Palenika National Park to double as the "Wild West".

It was such a cult hit that the stars, now elderly, are regularly brought back to the area to meet the fans, also presumably similarly elderly, a bit like Dr Who conventions here.

If you haven't heard of Winnetou, it's more likely you will have heard of Game Of Thrones. As we took a jeep safari up through the Velebit range, behind Starigad, our guide told us of his pride in being an extra in the hit series when it was filmed at Dubrovnik.

If you're a fan of the series you'll start spotting Kings Landing landmarks straight away.

And he pointed out some of the bleak spots high in the hills where location scouts had been ahead of filming.

The trek, which took us high above the coastal plain, was an eye-opener in more ways than one.

It took us past isolated windswept shepherds' huts where we heard about the Bura, a bitterly cold and very strong wind, which blows down through the winter, causing roads to be closed for the season, and we were shown the small village where Real Madrid star and local hero Luca Modric was born.

These mountains also became of great strategic importance during the Yugoslav independence battles of the early 1990s.

When they speak of "the war" in Croatia, they are talking of something that happened just 20 years ago. It is a conflict where many of the wounds are still fresh.

Just a short boat ride from Starigrad is the "island" of Pag, which is reached by road from the mainland over a short bridge. On first sight there is virtually no vegetation here, nor on nearby islands, thanks to the Bura. But it makes up for that with abundant supplies of salt, carried on the wind, which has been dredged out from the sea here for hundreds of years.

And, though sparse, there is vegetation, because the sheep here provide the milk for prize-winning cheese which has become a big industry for the island.

More than that, though, it is a holiday destination, particularly for the young, who flock here in the summer with the promise of "Party Beach" a pebbled bay lined with a series of disco huts, where revellers can drink and dance all night and sleep on the beach during the day.

They could also take time to explore the tiny island capital of Pag, which has a lace museum and a salt museum and centuries of history.

The same can be said of Zadar itself, now a thriving university town and port. It can trace its history back 3,000 years, before Roman times, and it still boasts an impressive Roman forum and temple.

The food in the region is a mixture of Italian and Greek, with the emphasis on plenty of meat and fish. And there aren't many places where you can buy a round of three gin and tonics and two pints of beer and still have change from a tenner.

Despite all the history you'll find that things have moved on since Alfred Hitchcock first watched the sun go down 40 years ago.

Unlike him, as you watch the sun set, you can hear the deep tones of the world's first Sea Organ, which produces its notes as the waves hit the shore, providing a surreal soundtrack to the end of the day.

NEED TO KNOW STEVE RACE | was a guest of the Croatian National Tourist Office and stayed at the Hotel Bastion, Zadar.

H | | E flew with Ryanair, which has now launched a twiceweekly route from Manchester to Zadar, flying on Mondays and Fridays.

T | | O book, or for a full list of destinations from Ryanair's 15 UK airports visit ryanair.com.

F | | OR more information on Zadar and the surrounding region, go to croatia.hr

CAPTION(S):

Legendary | director Alfred Hitchcock felt Zadar's sunsets were the best he'd ever seen. Above: The beautiful falls at Krka National Park

Sound waves: | Zadar's sea organ transforms tidal patterns into musical notes
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Geographic Code:4EXCR
Date:Jun 29, 2015
Words:1130
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