Zadar and Northern Dalmatia Feature
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Benkovac: Truly Off the Beaten Path
It's a hot August day, and our rickety bus is not one of those modern, air-conditioned wonders that ply the bustling coast we're about to leave. Unlike those packed coaches, however, our bus—which has just 12 passengers—leaves on time; for there is no one else waiting to get on.
We are headed to Benkovac, 37 km (23 mi) east of Zadar, away from the sea. Not far at all geographically, this town—so prominent on the map, and indeed a main transit point to points farther inland—is far indeed economically and psychologically. Soon after you leave Zadar, the coastal construction boom fades away; house after house is missing its roof, a legacy of the war that ravaged the region until 1995. For a while, the Velebit range forms a striking view many miles to the left, but then the mountains vanish and the horizon is flat in all directions.
There's next to no tourism in Benkovac. The only hotel in town—a concrete box called the Hotel Asseria (named after an ancient city whose ruins lie nearby)—is hardly a place for a cozy stay. The town was abandoned by most of its Serb population by the mid-1990s, and it's strangely empty on a summer day. Despite its spare feel, Benkovac's small business district is attractive, and the town is so close to Zadar that it's easily done as a day trip. You'll certainly leave Croatia with a richer impression of its diversity and of the reality of so many small inland towns away from the tourist path.
Among the bright spots in this region is the family-owned Markica farm, less than 4 km (2½ mi) from the airplane crossing. At this farm you can sample all sorts of scrumptious homemade fare, and children can play with farm animals, including a donkey and ostriches. Unless you're passing by, anyway, call before going out there; as of this writing, the English-speaking family member to ask for is Marina. Josani, near Galova, Nin. 023/392-222.
Benkovac's early-16th-century fortress, the Kastel, houses the local museum. This austere structure, built by the Benkovic family (after which the town probably takes its name), towers prominently on a hill a short walk above a charming town center that is home to a few pleasant if unassuming cafés and pizzerias. It's open weekdays, from 8 to 3. Admission is 10 Kn. Obitelji Benkovica 9, Benkovac. 023/681-055. www.benkovac.com.
Near Benkovac are the massive ruins of Asseria, an ancient city. First settled around 6 BC by Liburnians, who built it into one of their most important towns before the Romans came, Asseria—which is nearly 1,640 feet long and roughly a third as wide, and is situated 6 km (3¾ mi) east of Benkovac, near the village of Podgrade—was inhabited for more than 1,000 years before crumbling away along with the Roman empire.
For more information on the city and Asseria, contact the Benkovac Tourist Association. But you may need to brush up on your Croatian before calling or dropping by, since English is not likely to be spoken here. Setaliste Kneza Branimira 12, Benkovac. 023/684-880.
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