This is the 3rd destination of three in the Croatia itinerary. The details related to planning for this destination and the others on the Croatia circuit are described in The Croatia Travel Planning post.
Founded by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC, and made famous by the Roman emperor Diocletian, the city of Split is the second largest in Croatia. It has a long history, having passed through the hands of Romans, Venetians, and Byzantines over the centuries. At its core are the remains of the massive palace and grounds erected by Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th century. The palace was comprised of 200 buildings within its white stone walls, with a cathedral at its center, now housing cafes, restaurants, shops, and people’s homes. It is the historic as well as current center of the city, with both locals and visitors alike gravitating to it.
It was a pleasant three hour drive along the Adriatic from Dubrovnik to Split on a day that started overcast, with a drizzle in the air, but which turned out to be perfect for a leisurely drive. The serpentine two lane road clung to the Adriatic coast as picturesque scenery drifted by, passing the few little towns which peppered the coast. The drive was among the most pleasurable I’ve had in Europe, with wispy clouds hanging on a blue sky as a backdrop, and the Adriatic in the foreground. The road was sparsely traveled on that Sunday morning, all of which made it so pleasurable – the joys of driving a German car on a twisty two lane road along the water with so few fellow motorists.
The apartment was centrally located, and only a five minute walk to the palace complex, and the heart of the old city. Convenient, secure parking was available close to the apartment, so I didn’t have to worry about the Audi while not in use. Our lovely Croatian hostess Marina met us at the apartment, and showed us to our home for four nights in Split. The two-level, 2 bedroom apartment had all of the comforts and necessities a couple would need, including a washer – a real bonus for those traveling light, with only carry-on luggage.
We wasted little time lingering at the apartment, as we were both eager to stretch our legs, and do some initial exploration of the old town. A nice meal was on my short list of immediate things to do, and armed with recommendations from Marina, we set off for the center of the old town.
The photo gallery below shows the views from the apartment, as well as the unusual light treatment for the stairs leading to the second floor.
The real heart of Split lies within what remains of Diocletian’s palace. Originally built as a rectangular fortress, it has an impressive gate at each of its four walls – named after metals: Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron. The area around the palace is a labyrinth of passages and alleyways, that open up into courtyards and broader roads. Some 3,000 people call the palace complex home. Visitors are charmed by the great variety of restaurants and cafes within the palace complex. The heart of Split is very compact, and easily walkable end to end, and criss-crossing all of it in a single leisurely afternoon. We took a guided tour of the palace grounds from a seasoned tour guide, which I would highly recommend. There’s just too much history to absorb without the help of a knowledgeable person.
For Game of Thrones fans, Split is a filming location for the famous HBO Series. You might recognize some of your favorite series locations in the photos below.
Ferry to Hvar
It was just over a two hour ferry ride from Split harbor to the long island of Hvar. Croatia is all about islands – with more than 2,000 islands dotting its coast. It’s hard to resist visiting one of the more beautiful.
On a single day trip, I decided I wanted to see the main city on the island, also called Hvar. More cosmopolitan, and even a bit upper-crusty, Hvar had elegant restaurants and shops to accommodate its higher end, yacht owner visitors. We had a wonderful lunch overlooking Hvar’s harbor at one of those elegant restaurants.
The more laid back city is Stari Grad on the island’s north coast, and draws a different kind of tourist and visitor. Personally, I enjoyed Hvar, but Stari Grad was more of my kind of place, with more character and charm.
We could have spent a couple of days, or more exploring the rest of the island and its older, out of the way little towns, vineyards, lavender fields, and rolling hillsides – all bathed in the bright sunshine of the Adriatic.
Zadar Road Trip
Driving in Croatia had grown on me. What a joy it was to drive the sparsely trafficked two lane roads and highways. Zadar is known for its Roman and Venetian ruins, medieval churches, with a lovely walled old town set on a peninsula on the Adriatic. But my main reason for visiting was to see and hear the Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation.
The Sea Organ, a series of stairs along the water with embedded piping that captures the wind and air forced into them from the waves. It makes eerie, not exactly melodic sounds that are difficult to describe. It was interesting – if for no other reason that someone had the imagination to conjure up such a thing.
Physically near the Sea Organ lies the other interesting creation of architect Nikola Bašić. The Sun Salutation is a huge circle of blue glass with embedded photovoltaic cells, converting enough solar energy to light the harbor area surrounding it. The whole thing is a sort of homage to the solar system, with representations of the planets as more plates embedded into the pavement at various distances from the enormous blue glass photo cell. An interesting imagination.
This place was recommended by our hostess for great seafood, and looked to be on the small side upon entering the restaurant. We were ushered upstairs where we had much more room. English wasn’t spoken as fluently here as other places, but the service was very good. We split a grilled seabass, which the waiter prepared for us tableside. The sides included chicken soup served family style, along with salad and grilled vegetables. Very local, and a great meal.
This meal is an example of the meat dishes typical to Croatia. We split a meat sampler plate for two, with grilled veggies, frites, and a red bell pepper puree – which was a little unusual. Rounded out with a cucumber and tomato salad. The meat selection included bacon wrapped chicken, grilled beefsteak and a variety of sausage.
This place was tiny, seating less than 20 people, but very popular, with a line at the door. The entire staff was the cook, a kitchen hand, and one waiter. The seating was tight and cozy, and the entire kitchen operation was in full view of the customers. We ordered grilled amberjack steak, and mussels from a hand written menu. The food was very fresh, and the atmosphere uniquely local.
Park – Hvar
This was an upscale restaurant with a large outdoor patio seating area overlooking the marina in the city of Hvar. We ordered anchovies in olive oil as an appetizer, Gilthead fillet over potato Dalmation style, and grilled squids over Swiss chard and potatoes.
We found this bistro walking along the harbor area in Stari Grad, Hvar. We originally sat down for a drink, and eventually ordered the mountain of food they called the meat sampler plate for two. This was a common offering in Croatia, and was pretty good if in the mood for hearty fare. The plate included grilled beefsteak, sausages and chicken, along with grilled veggies, frites, with a tomato/cucumber salad, and a huge dollop of brown mustard. Lumberjack food – and it went well with beer.
Konoba Bonaca – Zadar
We found this lovely restaurant with outdoor seating walking around the town of Zadar. We were early to lunch, and so the owner waited on us personally, recommending the fresh catches of the day, along with a proper wine pairing. We had mussels as an appetizer, grilled Orada and seabass with Swiss chard and potatoes. This was a great meal with attentive, personal service.
We looked this restaurant up on TripAdvisor because our first choice was booked up for dinner, and it turned out to be an excellent place for seafood. As our last meal in Split, we ordered a seafood platter for two, which included grilled sea bream, tuna steak, squids and shrimp. Rounded out with spinach Dalmation style, which means the spinach had pieces of potato throughout.
Reflections on Split. Pleasantly different than Dubrovnik, both in pace and the density of tourism. Deeply steeped in history, and a treasure to be discovered. The region is rich in immersive travel experiences as possible. We only day tripped to Hvar and Zadar, but there were weeks of exploration possible near and around Split. The fresh seafood was wonderful, and relatively inexpensive – another significant departure from Dubrovnik. I had a wonderful time in Split, and would highly recommended this destination for an immersive travel experience.