Murter is also a beautiful, relatively unspoiled parcel of Adriatic nature, made up of a sequence of rocky hillocks, pines and tamarisks, and acre upon acre of olive trees – many growing wild amid thorny Mediterranean maquis. Piles of stone heaped up on the hillside recall the times when local villagers cleared the rocky ground to create small patches of cultivable land, collecting the spoil into thick dry-stone walls that have slowly collapsed with time, creating the enigmatic cones and pyramids seen today. Over to the west are the alluring profiles of the Kornati islands, and it is Murter’s status as main gateway to the Kornati National Park that brings a constant stream of nautically-inclined visitors.
Tisno is Dalmatian dialect for ‘narrow’, which is an accurate description of the town’s location, hugging both shores of the narrow strait that divides the island of Murter from the Croatian mainland. The bridge that spans the strait is raised at regular intervals (twice a day in summer, at 9am and 5pm) to allow boats to pass through the town.
There is an engaging huddle of old buildings in the historic core of the town on the south side of the bridge, where the 18th century Katunarić Palace contains a small history display including finds from a Roman villa at nearby Plitka Uvala bay. Paths lead up beyond the Parish Church of the Holy Spirit (Crkva svetog Duha) to the hilltop shrine of Our Lady of Caravaggio (Gospe od Karavaja), a popular pilgrimage site established by families who moved here from northern Italy in the late 17th century. There are sumptuous views of the surrounding countryside from the top. Back at sea level, the town’s long coastline on both sides of the straits makes it perfect for extended shoreline strolls. The rock-and-pebble beaches at Lovišča (southwest) and Jazina (northwest) are ideal for a family-oriented splashing-around holiday.
A relatively tranquil port sprawling around a broad bay. Jezera (“the Lakes”) gets its name from the seasonal ponds that used to appear on the outskirts of the entrance to the village. One of them, called Lokva (”Puddle”), still exists behind the Parish Church and fills with water in rainy periods of the spring and autumn. The other one, known as Blato (“Mud”), further south, was filled in during the early 20th century and is now grazing land. Jezera’s pretty centre spreads horseshoe-style around a bay raked with yacht jetties and breakwaters. The hilltop chapel of Sveti Rok (immediately south of the Lokva) provides an easy target for recreational hikers. The best beaches are a long walk (or short drive) south of the village, in coves such as Podjasenovac and Kromašna. The rural tracks linking Jezera with these and other bays forge their way through olive groves and are ideal for cycling.
With a cluster of stone houses at its core and an extensive suburban spread of modern villas, Murter constitutes a relaxing blend of Dalmatian history and easy-going modern vacations. Most Murter families were granted farm land on the nearby Kornati islands in the past, which explains why most of the houses in Murter face out to sea, with a small jetty and boat mooring serving as some kind of aquatic front door. Locals do indeed claim that Murter has the highest number of boats in proportion to the local population than anywhere else in the Mediterranean. Of the several yachting marinas in Murter, the ACI marina at the northern end of town is one of the best equipped in the Adriatic, with a big repair yard.
Everything in Murter revolves around the irregular-shaped, café-lined town square, Trg Rudina, which opens out towards a palm-lined seafront promenade at its northern end. Stroll west from here along the narrow alleyway known as Luke to enjoy a taste of Murter’s traditional stone architecture. One of the most atmospheric parts of town is Selo, grouped around a cone-shaped hill 800 metres south of the seafront. The narrow streets of Selo lead uphill towards St Rock’s Chapel (Kapelica svetog Roka), a gleaming whitewashed building that is the site of a major religious procession on St Rock’s Day (August 16). From the chapel’s forecourt you can enjoy a stupendous panorama of Murter with the lumpy brown-green forms of the Kornati islands rising up in the distance. The narrow streets below the chapel contain some of the oldest and most picturesque of Murter’s stone houses.
Rising beyond the yachting marina on the northeast side of town is the scrub-covered hill known as Gradina, site of an Illyrian fortress subsequently occupied by the Romans - who went on to build the settlement of Colentum on the hill’s slopes. Follow the shoreline path around the graveyard of the Church of Our Lady of Gradina (Crkva gospe od Gradina) and you will arrive at a the former site of a Roman villa, its walls partially rebuilt by conservationists to provide an idea of what it once looked like.
There is not a great deal else of Colentum to see (much of it lies underwater), but the bayside location is a powerfully evocative spot.
Most popular of Murter’s beaches is Slanica, 1.5km west of the main square, a part-shingle part-sand beach that gets crowded in summer. There are bars and a pizzeria behind the beach, and coastal paths that lead to rockier (and potentially more secluded) parts of the coast in either direction.
Follow the coastal path south from Slanica and you will arrive after 20-30 minutes at Čigrađa beach, an attractive crescent of pebble bordered by a jetty for small boats. Behind the beach lies a cool beach bar in the shape of Lantana (see p.35) and a well-regarded seafood restaurant (the Čigrađa, see p.29). Čigrađa can also be reached by road from the centre of Murter – take the main southbound road out of town and turn right when you see the sign.
Over on the northeastern side of the Gradina headland (and within easy walking distance of Murter), the village of Betina used to be a major ship-building centre and part of the seafront is still taken up by small repair yards catering for yachts and local fishing boats. At the centre of the settlement is a kasbah-like maze of narrow alleys grouped around the Parish Church of St Francis (Crkva svetog Frane), famous for its distinctive octagonal belfry topped by a bulbous red dome and spindly weather vane.
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