The Dalmatian coastal city of Zadar is one of my favorite cities in Croatia. Venetians built this Adriatic beauty, and you can witness their influence around every ally. The history of this town has a delicious story, the maraschino liqueur. Our 2021 trip to Zadar included a stay in the Villa Maraschino, a unique villa near the city’s old town, behind the old Maraska factory. The villa is named after the famous liqueur built by the liquor-making Luxardo family.
Maraschino liqueur is a sweet, clear liqueur made from Marasca cherries, a variety of sour cherries native to Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. The liqueur is distilled from these cherries, including their crushed pits, which impart a distinctive almond-like flavor. Maraschino liqueur has been distilled since the 16th century, the Luxardo brand being the most notable and widely available.
The origins of the Luxardo family, who popularized maraschino liqueur, can be traced back to the early 16th century. The Republic of Venice controlled much of the Adriatic coast, including Zadar, and a family named Luxardo settled in the city. The Luxardo family was originally from Genoa, Italy, and had been involved in producing liqueurs and spirits for several generations.
In 1730 the botanist pharmacist Bartolomeo Ferrari created a medicinal tincture that was turned into a sipping liqueur by Dalmatian-Italian café owner Giuseppe Carceniga; later, in 1759, a Venetian merchant, Francesco Drioli perfected the distillation process of the Marasca cherries, and he started industrial level production of maraschino in Zadar. The liqueur was made by macerating marasca cherries in alcohol, distilling the resulting mixture, and then aging it in oak barrels. The early bottles of liqueur were sold in Murano glass bottles.
In 1821 Girolamo Luxardo opened a new liqueur factory in Zadar, which he called Maraska. He won several gold and silver medals for excellent products. He even participated in the 1854 World’s Fair in Vienna. He quickly gained fame throughout Europe, especially in England, where the first advertisements were scattered around in the London Morning Post and Daily Advertiser. In fact, on their way home, British warships made sure to stop by to pick some up for British royalty, and it was even served at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Today, the liqueur is used in various classic and modern cocktails, including the Aviation, the Last Word, the Hemingway Daiquiri, and the Mary Pickford. It can also be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or as a flavorful addition to desserts and pastries.
The Family Home
The Villa Maraschino is a historic mansion located in the city of Zadar, Croatia. The villa is named after the famous liqueur, as the Luxardo family built it in the early 1900s as their private residence. The Luxardo family’s wealth and success allowed them to commission the construction of the grand mansion, which was designed in an Art Nouveau style by the Italian architect Giuseppe Meynardi. The Villa Maraschino was completed in 1903, and it quickly became known as one of the most luxurious and opulent homes in Zadar. The mansion featured stunning gardens, intricate stonework, and ornate details, including stained glass windows and frescoes.
During World War II, the occupying German forces used the villa as a military hospital. After the war, the Luxardo family could not reclaim their property, and the mansion was converted into a state-run hotel. Today, the Villa Maraschino is owned by the city of Zadar and has been restored to its former glory. The mansion is now apartment rentals.
During the summer months, two villa units can be rented on Booking. We stayed in the charming two-bedroom unit with a terrace out into the garden. The immaculately decorated and beautifully maintained villa was a dream to wake up in every morning we were in Zadar. The gardens and terrace seating were perfect for eating our meals in the tranquility of the shaded trees. When in Zadar, I always fill up on their juicy pink shrimp, it’s my preference to rent a house or apartment so that I can cook. The villa is close to the center, the park where the sphinx rests, and plenty of little beaches. The nearest bus stop is about a two-minute walk, and it will take you to the old town or along the coast so that you can stop at any beach you prefer.