Lake Jarun: on golden pond

Jarun, located within the Sava River, will celebrate its 32nd birthday in 2019. Lakes rarely have birthdays, but this one was created for a specific reason. The Universiade, the prestigious student Olympics previously held in Rome, Tokyo, and Moscow, was held in Zagreb in 1987. The city rolled out the red carpet, pedestrianizing Trg bana Jelaia, its main square, and accommodating 6,000 athletes from over 100 countries.

At the opening ceremony, iconic basketball hero Draen Petrovi lit the torch, and images of event mascot Zagi, a blue squirrel with a rainbow-colored tail, brightened the grey streets of the Socialist-era metropolis. This was one of Zagreb’s golden summers in the late 1980s, when the city was opening up to the rest of Europe.

Universiade left not only these memories, but also the artificial lake where the rowing competitions were held. Jarun, which is two kilometers long and surrounded by six kilometers of cycle paths, has become a popular public park for picnics, pedal boats, swimming, and jogging.

Along with these innocent pastimes, a half-moon of exotically named beach bars and discos – Saint Tropez, Trocadero, Aruba – has long since fringed Jarun’s north-east corner. Overlooking the Otok Ljubavi, the smallest of the five islands dotting the lake, these mostly summer-only spots were inspired by nearby Aquarius, the pioneer of Croatia’s great dance clubs, which opened here in 1992.

It’s odd to think of only five years passing between the Universiade and the opening of Aquarius, one representing the era of Gorbachv and glasnost, the other representing a new, independent Croatia and a dynamic entertainment and hospitality industry that would sweep down the coast within a decade or so.

Aquarius established a sister operation on the Adriatic at Zre, now considered Croatia’s very own Ibiza, ten years after those early days of techno. Meanwhile, the seminal Zagreb mothership is still in operation, serving as a regional benchmark for urban clubbing.

A wide carpet of shingle lines this relatively busy corner of Jarun, providing the ideal setting for Zagreb’s main beach volleyball club. A longer littoral at the diagonally opposite corner is dotted with various organized activities at and set back from the shoreline. Zagreb’s main windsurfing club, set by a horse-riding center, is just by the pedestrian bridge that leads onto the two main traffic-free islands. Every year, hundreds of local youngsters are trained by national champion riders. A pair of canoeists may glide past under the bridge, as if to emphasize the pastoral scene – their own club is further around by the largest of the islands, Otok hrvatske mladei, named after Croatian Youth.

A skate park attracts young teens to Jarun between a row of recliners and tropical-looking communal parasols.

Here’s a bird’s-eye view of the setting for INmusic, a high-profile three-day festival in June that will feature Kings of Leon, Arcade Fire, and Kasabian this year. INmusic, which debuted in 2006 and relocated here a year later, is the best of both worlds: an urban – 15-minute tram ride from the capital’s center – yet rural event. Two of the islands are occupied by CampIN’s tent sites and outdoor sports and workshops, with the main stage set up one hop over onto Otok hrvatske mladei.

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