The small but lively town of Biograd was once an important political centre of the Croatian state and the seat of kings. Croatia's crowned heads of the Middle Ages were peripatetic – travelling throughout their territories between their power bases – often smaller towns, since larger cities such as Zadar functioned almost as individual states. Biograd was one of these royal towns, as was Nin. One of the most important moments in Biograd's history was the coronation of Koloman as Croat-Hungarian king in 1102 – the first time that the states of Croatia and Hungary were joined under a single crowned head – this time, by treaty.
You can still see evidence of this proud yesteryear in Biograd's pleasant old centre: an obelisk bearing the date 925, the date of the coronation of Tomislav, the first true Croatian king and a figure with almost mythical status. It was he who united Pannonia and Dalmatia into a single Croatian state and built the country into a military power rivalling Venice. The 11th century Basilica of St John was one of the few buildings which escaped after the Venetians attacked Biograd in 1125. There is an early Romanesque Church of St Anthony (13th century), the Church of St Rocco (16th century), and the imposing Church of St Anastasia (Sveta Stošija) built in 1761, with a fine clock tower, a decorative well in front and baroque altars inside.
Fans of history should visit the Homeland Museum, which has archaeological, ethnographic and art collections, and presents a fascinating picture of the town’s colourful and turbulent past. It’s at Obala kralja Petra Krešimira IV 20, tel. (+385-23) 38 37 21, www.muzej-biograd.com. Open 08:00 - 14:00, 19:00 - 22:00, Sat 09:00 - 12:00, 19:00 - 22:00. Closed Sun. Admission 20/10kn.
Biograd is, however, far more than a destination for history nuts. The old centre is picturesquely laid out on a peninsula with a view over Pašman Island, which you can reach by the ferry which leaves from the town quay. Pleasant seaside promenades are lined with cafes and palms, and are attractively planted with lawns and flowerbeds. To the east of the centre is a large pine forest, within which you can find the tennis centre. The pebbly Blue Flag Dražica beach is just a ten minute walk from the old town. Voted one of Croatia’s best beaches, it’s isolated from traffic but has a car park. You can take part in watersports, and there’s an aquagun and a host of other amenities.
The pinewoods extend further, providing a healthy and scented environment with a number of campsites, hotels and apartment complexes. A coast path through them leads you past more beaches. Some, such as Soline, are shallow and partly sandy, so particularly suitable for children. Be aware that some of the more secluded beaches along the coastline here are “clothing optional”, while at Crvena Luka you’ll find a proper FKK naturist beach. Crvena Luka is a deep bay with a holiday village behind.
Apart from the aforementioned tennis centre, Biograd is well equipped with diving centres, and is a gentle place to learn to windsurf. You’ll also find many opportunities to try your hand at waterskiing. Another activity we can recommend is a bike route which takes you from Kumenat (a neighbourhood just east of the centre) through Crvena Luka, Pakoštane (a nearby resort) and to Lake Vrana (Vransko jezero). This lake, just south of Biograd, provided the water supply for Zadar since Roman times, and is a pristine Nature Park, with a rich stock of birds and aquatic life. As such, it's a mecca for fishing and birdwatching. The land there is very flat, so it's perfect terrain for biking - it's encircled by a 30km bike trail, which gets more hilly and interesting to the north of the lake. There’s a peaceful campsite which has a great fish restaurant. It’s a nice break from the hubbub of the coast.
Other trips you can take are a boat to the islet of Saint Katherine, just a hop away from Biograd’s shores. There’s an old lighthouse there and it’s great for bathing. Ask your host if they can arrange for a day trip for you. And a highlight of the entire Zadar region must surely be the Kornati archipelago lying scattered beyond the island of Pašman. Kornati is one of the most spectacular sights in Croatia, and dare we say, Europe.