Last Updated on January 29, 2020 by Fiona Maclean
A brief visit to Nin:
Standing outside the Tourist Information Office, I look across the bridge to an ancient stone gateway. The tiny island across the water is the historic old town of Nin. It’s just 500m in diameter, connected to the mainland by two old bridges. Walk across, like me, and you’ll find yourself immersed in history and culture.
Nin was a main settlement of the Liburnians, founded in the 9th century BC. You can still see remains of a large Illyrian temple while the museum of Nin Antiquities houses maps of the excavation of over 100 Liburnian graves together with a fine collection of jewellery and pottery collected from the graves. During Roman times the town grew in importance.
The development of salt pans was key to the importance of Nin (or Aenona, as it was then called). Romans valued salt, not just for adding flavour, but for helping to preserve foods, in the days before refrigeration. There’s little to see of the salt production in the main town, the salt museum and salt flats are on the mainland, but, like Pag, salt was a key economic driver for this small Island and the wealth it generated is evident in the remains of a large Roman temple, forum, and other Roman remains.
Although Nin was largely destroyed in the 7th century by the Avars and Slavs, the city gained a particular significance to the rulers of Croatia. Known as the ‘oldest Croatian Royal town’ today, legend has it that seven Kings were crowned in Nin, presented to the people at the Church of St Nicholas just outside the main town.
The first Croatian bishop held court in Nin (from the middle of the ninth century) and in the Medieval period the island had 12 churches and 3 monesteries. During what is known as the ‘Golden Period’ Croatian national rulers used the Island as a temporary or permanent home, though much of the Island was destroyed later. Indeed, the ‘Queen’s Beach’ is so called because the first Croatian king, Tomislav, visited Nin with his Queen after his coronation. She loved the sandy beach with mud baths, where she could bathe and soften her skin. One day, King Tomislav joined his wife and promised her that ‘this place will be only yours when you come to Nin’.
The Church of the Holy Cross, a 9th century construction, is one of the few remaining buildings. It was cloudy when I visited, but the construction of the church means that it serves as both a sundial and a calendar, with Sun shining through the windows to indicate the time of year.
Nearby, the statue of Bishop Gregory, a contemporary of Tomislav, stands. It’s worth a visit just to touch his shining big toe(!) and make a wish. You never know…it might come true.
The Church of St Nicholas was built in the 11th/12th century, just outside the town, on top of a prehistoric tumulus. If, like me, you think it looks a little more like a castle than a church, you would be correct. In the 16th and 17th century, defensive crenelation was added and the Church was used as an observation post.
Nin, along with much of the Dalmatian Coast, was given to the Venetians in 1409. Destroyed twice during Venetian rule, it is said that the town was sacrificed to save Zadar. The charm of this small town though, seems unassailable.
A visit to the salt pans, Solana Nin, serves as a good example of regeneration. The network of salt pans were closed under Venetian rule, but have been reinstated some 500 years later. Today, they still operate traditionally, with waterways and wooden locks connecting the pans, controlling how quickly the salt is formed. The salt from Solana Nin, in particular the ‘fleur de sel’ is particularly fine, thanks to the surrounding environment; this part of Croatia is dominated by natural parks. The salt pans are a haven for birds, including the Black Winged Stilt, apparently capable of walking on water, making it’s way across the shallows in search of food.
What more is there in Nin?
Still under development is the medicinal mud centre. Even if you don’t intend to try the mud, it’s worth a visit to this tranquil wetland, laced with rare marshland flowers like the dainty wild gladiolus, and stunning views across to the Velabit mountain.
The bura, a cold wind which comes down from the Velabit mountain range in billowing white clouds, is credited with many things. It is said that the air carries health-giving properties from the mountains, making the salt from Nin particularly precious. And, without the wind, Sokol wouldn’t exist. A local delicacy it is produced by first salting pork neck for three to seven days, then marinading it in spiced red wine, then smoking it and finally drying it outdoors in the bura. The result is a fine dry-cured meat which has an intense flavour like no other.
Another local speciality can be found at the Donkey farm, Dar-Mar. Donkey milk (yes, I did try), is sweet and light. It is known as a cure for whooping cough, as a breast milk substitute and as an excellent aid to all kinds of convalescing. Whether or not you drink the milk, it’s worth a visit to see the donkeys, pigs, chickens, geese and ducks.
This is a part of Croatia well suited to families. The beaches here are sandy and safe for swimming. Just outside the old town you’ll find Zaton, a large holiday resort with a well equipped camp-site, private beaches, kids activities and some beautifully fitted out self catering apartments. While I’d personally prefer to stay in a hotel or guest house, Zaton offers any young family the opportunity to mix and match culture, food, sun and sand in a relaxed and informal setting.
Nin packs a punch well above it’s size. While there’s an obvious dependence on tourism, the effect is subtle – there’s enough variety to keep everyone happy. Added to which, the meals I enjoyed on the island were some of the best from this visit to Croatia.
Like Zadar, Nin is relaxed and friendly. Just 14km from the regional capital, it is easy enough to reach from the UK now you can fly direct with RyanAir.
With many thanks to the Croatian Tourist Board for hosting my trip to Zadar and the surrounding area.
My trip to Nin was hosted by the Nin Tourist Board