Split

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.

 

Arrival

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.

 

Settling in

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.

 

Discovery Trek

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 Baši?. 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.

 

 

Food Scene

Nostromo

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.

 

Konoba Korta

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.

 

Villa Spiza

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.

 

Bistro Spalotin

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.

 

Tinel Tratoria

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.

 

Epilogue

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.

 

Related Topics

 

Croatia Travel Planning

Croatia Travel Planning

Motivation – Croatia Travel Planning

The Balkans are a part of the continent that must be explored by anyone wanting to see a good representation of European history, geography, and culture. There is so much more to Europe than France and Italy, with all due respect to the charm and allure of this magical duo. Let’s face it, we won’t see the rest of Europe, not to mention the world, if we don’t stop visiting these two wonderful countries. It took me years to move on from the France/Italy habit, and I still go back occasionally – just not exclusively.

Croatia has so many wonderful things going for it, starting with its mild, sunny Adriatic climate. The Croatians are a friendly, even-keeled lot – easy going, English speaking, and customer focused since so much of their GDP comes from tourism.

Modern day Croatia has a history going back to Roman times, then through periods of Hungarian, Venetian, Ottoman, Napoleonic, and Austrian rule – all before World War II. It is steeped in history. Croatian food has a focus on the bounty of the sea, the Adriatic to be specific. Lovers of seafood will have a heyday, and others will enjoy the great variety of meats, sausages, and cheeses that have made Croatia famous. They have traditional restaurants called Konobas that specialize in a variety of meat dishes. Vegetarians be warned.

Croatia has thousands of islands comprising its sunny Dalmatian coast. The geography is perfect for lovers of the beach, sunshine, and island hopping. And the very best part – it is amazingly affordable. Compared to the dynamic duo of France and Italy, it is even dirt cheap.

Plan a trip, and pack your bags.

 

Itinerary – Croatia Travel Planning

The calendar allowed for 12 nights on this trip, starting at the beginning of June 2016. I wanted to establish reasonable lengths of stay at each destination to explore them at my leisure, and to have the best chance for an immersive travel experience. Three nights in Zagreb is necessary, not only to get over the jet lag, but explore the city thoroughly, and to do a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park. I apportioned  five nights for Dubrovnik because I wanted to do day trips to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzigovina, Kotor, Montenegro, and do some island hopping in the area. And lastly, I set aside four nights for Split because I expected to do at least one day trip there as well to Hvar and Zadar.

Zagreb – 3 Nights

 

Dubrovnik – 5 nights

 

Split – 4 nights

 

Logistics – Croatia Travel Planning

There are no regularly scheduled direct flights to Croatia from the US at the time of this writing. So the best we can plan for is a one-stop of reasonable duration in London, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, or Munich airports. Other airports – most notably Istanbul, take us out of our way with lengthier flight times. From my Atlanta home base, I can book flights on Delta and their SkyTeam partners conveniently to Amsterdam and Paris using frequent flyer miles. This greatly reduces transportation costs for the longest and most expensive leg of the flight. I selected Paris Charles DeGaul as the layover because it had the most convenient connecting flights to Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city. The Air France connecting flight to Zagreb was very reasonably priced due to the intense competition in Europe from all of its startup carriers, like EasyJet and RyanAir. So my airfare requirements to get to Zagreb were complete –  frequent flier miles sponsored round-trip to Paris, and round-trip Paris to Zagreb on Air France – a major carrier without the silly bag restrictions that some of the smaller carriers impose.

There were other destinations in Croatia to be visited beyond Zagreb. I briefly considered driving to them, but such an itinerary would have only made sense with more days than I had because the driving times were so long.  Flying was more pragmatic, convenient, and relatively cheap as well.

I planned to fly to Dubrovnik, the Southernmost point in Croatia for this trip. Dubrovnik would be a perfect hub to use for exploration by car. The car would be used to work my way North on the Dalmatian coast to Split, our last destination on this trip. And finally, Split had many scheduled flights to Zagreb to conveniently connect back to Paris.  Air Croatia had a near monopoly on these flights, but didn’t gouge its customers because of it.  I found the service to be very good, and the prices competitive, much to my surprise. I think the Croatians understand the gold mine that tourism is to their economy, contributing nearly 20% to GDP.  I think Air Croatia is a key factor to that gold mine.

Take a look at Croatia on Google Maps. It begs to have some exploration by car. Driving on this trip is a must – definitely for aesthetic reasons, aside the pragmatic need to get between points A and B. I booked a car for a day trip from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park – a single day booking, which I had not done previously. I also booked a car for a week, to be picked up in Dubrovnik and dropped off in Split. This would provide ample opportunity to day trip from both locations, as well as the basic transportation to get between them. Sixt is my go-to car rental company in Europe, having booked many times previously with them, and always having had a good experience – even the one time I damaged the car during the rental.  The customer service is very good, and the execution is German-efficient.

I have a strong preference for apartments over hotels for several reasons. In general, apartments are a better value as compared to hotel rooms because they have much more space, can come with a washing machine so that both excess luggage and laundry services can be avoided, and are typically less expensive than hotel rooms – sometimes much less expensive for a much better experience. And the most important reason for apartments over hotel rooms is that it leads to a much more immersive travel experience for me.

I can find apartments in the center of the old part of town in most of the destinations of interest, which leads to more exploration time because I’m already located where I usually need to be for my style of travel, and I avoid transit time to the center of town. An apartment feels more like being a resident as compared to a hotel room. I found excellent apartments for each of the three destinations on this trip using a combination of Homeaway.com, and Airbnb.com.

 

Resources – Croatia Travel Planning

Indispensable for planning purposes: Google flights. It works well with mainstream carriers, as well as the puddle jumpers.  I use it to analyze costs related to date ranges, as well as stopover options for those destinations unreachable directly from my home airport – like Zagreb.  Once I have my flight schedule selected, I add my flights to the alert list for price changes, and patiently wait for a good price to come my way.

I rely on several sites for apartment rentals.  In the order of preference:  HomeAway, booking.com, and last and definitely least, Airbnb.  Some may be shocked that I prefer to avoid Airbnb, but I have good reasons to avoid them.  On this particular trip, I did end up using Airbnb for Zagreb as they had some good apartment selections, and I was  able to circumvent the Airbnb location ambiguity (mostly) before booking it.  The other two apartments were booked through HomeAway, as they had quality listings in both Dubrovnik, and Split. Ironically, I booked nothing through Booking.com.

Google maps is a staple, and I use it on every trip for a variety of purposes.  On this trip, it served as my GPS while navigating through Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. It’s also very useful for navigating to restaurants and points of interest while on a discovery trek.

TripAdvisor is awesome for advanced trip planning, as well as finding a decent restaurant on the spot.  When I use it for this purpose, I select “near me now/restaurants” and filter on “open now”.  Then I sort by distance – not highest rated.  When I’m hungry enough to find an unplanned restaurant, I want closest, then best.  To be fair, Google maps is also good for this purpose, although the restaurant ratings are less sophisticated.

With Google translate on my phone at the ready, I fear no language barrier. But every place I went to in Croatia was English friendly, and I only had some minor issues with language in Mostar, Bosnia.

 

Epilogue – Croatia Travel Planning

Reflections on Croatia. The trip was a wonderful extended vacation, with immersive travel experiences in Zagreb, and Split. Dubrovnik was very touristy, and as a cruise ship port of call, it received tourists in great volumes on certain days. Still, it was an exceptional travel experience, which I would both recommend, and personally return to in the future. The trip was relatively inexpensive – I rarely comment on this because my focus is on immersion, but it is noteworthy. The people were lovely, accommodating to travelers, and were sharply focused on providing a good experience for visitors. English was spoken well everywhere I visited in Croatia. The food was excellent, and a great value – although vegans might have a tough time finding accommodating fare. I find myself at a loss in recalling any negative reflections on this trip.

 

 

Related Destinations – Croatia Travel Planning