Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

The island of Ugljan plays second home to many residents of Zadar on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. Guest contributor Rudolf Abraham explores an island that was once famed for its exquisitely pungent olive oil.

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Gazing out to sea from the waterfront in Zadar, in the late evening light — a spot described by Hitchcock as having some of the finest sunsets in the world — you’ll see the silhouette of an island dominating the view across the Adriatic. The elongated skyline of the island is marked by the uneven bumps of two hills, the one on the left bristling faintly with antennae. Gulls sluice through the air, lights flicker across the water, and small fishing boats crawl across the liquid gold of the inshore waterway which separates Zadar from the island of Ugljan.

Ugljan is the nearest major island to Zadar among the scatter of islands which together make up the Zadar archipelago. It is less than four kilometres as the seagull flies from the mainland. Ugljan is a long, slender island, more than 20 km in length from the headland (named after St Peter) at its north-western tip down to its south-east extremity, where the elegant Ždrelac Bridge allows traffic to speed over the 60-metreswide channel that separates Ugljan from neighbouring Pašman, an island which is just as long and narrow as Ugljan.

The eastern shore of Ugljan, facing the mainland, is dotted with fishing villages, small towns and harbours; its western shore has an altogether wilder demeanour with steep slopes and many impressive cliffs.

Inhabited since at least the Neolithic, Ugljan was settled in the 4th century BC by the Liburnians, an Illyrian tribe, traces of whose fortified settlements have been discovered on Čelinjak and other hills. The Romans were here from the 1st century BC. Fragments of its long history are dotted across the island, from those ancient Liburnian hill forts to early Christian churches, such as the 5th century three-nave basilica near Muline, the stone walls of its distinctive ground plan protruding above the grass among a scattering of cypresses and olive trees, near the edge of someone’s back garden.

The trail to Šćah

Today Ugljan plays second home to many Zadar residents. The island’s main settlement of Preko is just a 25-minute journey by ferry from Zadar’s old town.

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Rudolf Abraham is an award-winning travel writer and photographer specialising in Central and Eastern Europe – in particular Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Montenegro. He is the author of a dozen books including Peaks of the Balkans, The Mountains of Montenegro, Walking in the Salzkammergut, Walks and Treks in Croatia, Torres del Paine and The Islands of Croatia, all published by Cicerone, National Geographic Traveller Croatia, and The Alpe Adria Trail, published by Bradt. He is co-author of Istria - The Bradt Travel Guide and has contributed to many more books including DK Eyewitness Slovenia and Unforgettable Journeys. His work is published widely in magazines.

Rudolf lives in London, and is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. Find out more about his work at Rudolf Abraham Photography, or visit Rudolf Abraham | Travel Writer. You can also find him on Instagram at rudolfphoto.

This article was published in hidden europe 69.