The annual Zadar Outdoor Festival takes place each May in what is probably the most underrated city in Croatia. The enchanting seaside city of Zadar is famous for its old town, which sits on a small peninsula that’s made up of whimsical narrow streets, unique tourist attractions, and fantastic restaurants serving only the freshest seafood. It’s easily the most romantic city in all of Croatia, and plausibly one of the most enchanting in all of Europe.
Push Your Limits at the Zadar Outdoor Festival
Along with the city center, the entire Zadar region plays a role as the backdrop for the festival. The stunning setting also includes sailing, swimming, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding (SUP) in the Adriatic Sea, trekking through the olive groves on the island of Ugljan, and mountain biking through vineyard-lined villages—and, of course, all of these activities take place with the Velebit mountain range looking down upon you.
This enchanting atmosphere makes the perfect location to enjoy a weekend of fitness, adventure, wining & dining, and of course competition. The great thing about Zadar Outdoor Festival (ZOF) is that it’s extremely family-friendly.
“How do you know if someone ran a marathon? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” – Jimmy Fallon
Participants are able to make each activity or excursion as personally challenging as they’d like to. For example, neither of us are considered fitness gurus (by any stretch of the imagination), and yet we’ve both competed in many of the events and never once felt out of place.
We absolutely love visiting Zadar during ZOF because it’s held in early May when the tourist season is just barely kicking off. The overall energy of the city is elevated, locals are welcoming and enthusiastic, and spring flowers are blooming. Best of all, cruise ship traffic and fellow tourists are only trickling in at this point, and therefore most of the time you’ll feel like you have the city and especially the entire region to yourself. Rick Steves eat your heart out!
Sunset Run Includes 5 km and 10 km
We highly recommend checking out the events for next year and picking out a couple of events that align with your interests. For ZOF 2019, we decided to participate in the 5 km sunset run. The race starts at the Greeting to the Sun, a monument made up of about three hundred multi-layered solar panels that light up in various colors (at night) and are designed to illuminate based on the rhythm of the waves and the sounds of the Sea Organ.
At this point in our lives, 5 km is about the maximum distance we can run without stopping. Those looking for a bit more of a challenge were able to compete in the 10 km race which took place along the same exact route as the 5 km. This year both races ran along the seaside in a there and back format.
Overall, the sunset race was a good time and something we’d do again. We were able to run on seaside roads that were closed just for the race. The atmosphere was energetic and the spectators were encouraging.
The trouble with jogging is that the ice falls out of your glass.” – Martin Mull
There was also an abundance of scenery to enjoy along the way—people were at the cafe bars, boats were rocking in the marina, palm trees were swaying, and there was even a wedding party that we had to navigate through as they were partially blocking the route!
After the race, we celebrated with some local wine and beer at a popular bar in the heart of the old town. Eventually, we made it to dinner at Restoran Zadar Jedera dinner where we dined on traditional Croatian cuisine. So good! Audrey had the grilled sea bass with Swiss chard, and Harry enjoyed the Dalmatian pašticada “slow-cooked pot roast” with gnocchi. Both paired with a beautiful local light red wine. Compliments to the chef!
Stand Up Paddle Board in Calm Waters
The next day we geared up for the SUP event, which took place near the marina, right next to the historic bridge. This area of the bay is protected and therefore the water is perfectly calm, making it the ideal place to SUP.
Unfortunately, Harry wasn’t able to participate. After all, someone needed to get the footage, right? With only one SUP experience under her belt, Audrey bravely navigated the course in frigid 61°F (16.2° C) water. The sea temperature is a little colder than usual this year making it a bit uncomfortable for those not used to it. Regardless, Audrey courageous navigated the course and finished, respectively.
Sea Organ Swim Along the Riva
Later that day we decided to check out the Sea Organ Swim, a 1500 meter race that is shaped like a triangle. The race started next to the Sea Organ, which consists of about 35 tubes and a large resonating cavity, which is played by the sea and wind. The organ’s melody is uncannily reminiscent of the moan of a whale call.
Swimmers were able to jump in the sea right from the promenade, referred to by locals as the Riva, and listen to the Sea Organ from the starting line. Although we didn’t participate, it was obvious to both onlookers and participants that the weather conditions would make for an exciting and unique experience. Congratulations to all of the brave souls, including one man who came all the way from São Paulo, Brazil. While many racers wore wetsuits, the Brazilian wore a speedo in the chilly 61°F (16.2° C) water!
Later that night we celebrated with other participants over dinner and drinks. Our appetizer was a cold plate, which included: prosciutto, cheese from the island Pag, local olives, a fish pâté, walnuts, and octopus salad. Based on Harry’s glowing reviews from the prior night, Audrey tried the Dalmatian pašticada with gnocchi, and Harry enjoyed the grilled squid. We concluded the dinner with a chocolate cake and a shot of the local rakija.
Sunday Was a Rain Out
Sadly, this year’s ZOF ended a bit early due to the weather—a nasty cold front moved in with a torrential downpour that lasted nearly all day long. But what do you do in Croatia when it’s raining? You go to a fabulous restaurant of course!
We ended up visiting Restaurant Groppo on Široka street, located on the main boulevard in the old town. During our previous visits to Zadar, we’ve walked past this restaurant numerous times were extremely intrigued. It has a beautiful covered outdoor terrace with large glass windows facing the Cathedral of St. Anastasia!
We dined on a three-course menu which included a thick fish soup, a Dalmatian style Adriatic tuna (both paired with Jokić Maraština), and a white chocolate mousse with Marasca cherries (paired with Degarra Bomary, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah with combination of Marasca cherry liquor and Mediterranean herbs). The service was excellent and the entire menu focused on local food and wine found only in the Zadar region. It was wonderful!