My bare feet pound against dust and stone. One foot after another, the rhythm builds to a crescendo of silence. There’s no ground beneath me any more, just five metres of air and 20 metres deep blue Adriatic Sea.

The five of us hit like an airstrike. Five impacts. Five bodies. Five moments of silence followed by a breach of the surface and five deep inhales. Five hangovers, delayed – at least temporarily.

And as you swim over to the shore – to prepare for the next, inevitable airstrike – you get the feeling that everything will be okay because you’ve been to Zadar, on Croatia’s east coast.

You’re never forced to find the beauty in Zadar, it’s just there.

Zadar’s charm lies in it’s ability to not try and be anything other than itself. It doesn’t mind if you’re a tourist or a local. It begs to be experienced in a way that’s authentic, because there’s very little that’s contrived. Sure, there’s the inevitable tourist traps – boat tours, pop up stands and kitsch tourist shops, but it does it in a way where it seems it doesn’t matter if you buy or not.

Regardless of what high school you went to, there was always someone everybody liked that didn’t need to prove anything. That’s Zadar. It didn’t sit at the back of the class. It didn’t listen to the same bands everyone else did. It didn’t jump on the bandwagon of the latest paleo-centric, buy-local-live-local, gluten-free, vegetarian diet. It just ate what it wanted to eat.

This pervasive confidence in its own ability may stem from the fact that it’s been one of the jewels of Eastern Europe for thousands of years – from the native Iadasinoi people that occupied the area 2500 years ago to its position as the fifth largest city in Croatia, and home to what Alfred Hitchcock called the “world’s most beautiful sunset”.

The face of Zadar today is a mixture of this ancient history, the bohemian philosophy of sunburnt backpackers and an almost cosmopolitan nightlife set. The brown cobblestones and Roman architecture of the old town mix with the glass and neon of clubs.

We’d started the night before exploring the cobbled streets, eating our fill of ćevapčići and fresh seafood from local restaurants, getting lost in alleyways and bartering with locals. I whiled away hours smoking cheap cigarettes, drinking cold beer and writing whatever came into my head. Others shopped, people took photos, laughed with one another. Locals looked you in the eyes and smiled – you don’t get that in nearly enough places.

And as dusk approached, we bought a few bottles of wine and head towards the city’s famous sea organ – Nikola Bašić’s experimental instrument that uses the wind and the waves to turn the marble jetty into a haunting sountrack to the city.

And there we sat, the embodiment of Zadar’s personality. We drank wine and smoked and talked. We didn’t have a care in the world. We could have solved the world’s problems, if only we’d taken a few minutes to think about it. We watched the locals go by, gloriously unaware of the beauty that surrounded them by virtue of the fact that it did surround them, and it did it every day.

The rest of the night followed a familiar trajectory – too much cheap beer, people awkwardly undulating on the dance floor and a meandering trip back to a hostel – but the sunset… the sunset, with wine and conversation and weather and laughter.

Hitchcock undersold it.