The problem with Croatia – if you can call it a problem – is that there’s just so much to explore. I’ve returned time and time again over the past three decades, and I still can’t say that I “know it”. What I do know, though, is that this is a place that shines just as brightly off the beaten track as on the well-trodden tourist trails. Through the benefit of my extensive travels in this wonderful country, allow me to share a few things I’ve stumbled upon along the way.
Croatia has no dearth of festivals and historical, cultural and natural treasures on display. But if you step just a little to the left or right and peek around a few corners, you’ll be captivated by the diversity and authenticity of the country’s spirit. While my recommendations might not be state secrets, they’ll certainly show you a different side of Dubrovnik, Split and the surrounding areas – and will take you away from the crowds.
Dubrovnik is dazzling in terms of its high-profile cultural attractions, but if you prefer to stay away from the busier areas, I have some wonderful suggestions for soaking up the history without going shoulder to shoulder with hordes of tourists. Relax and enjoy Croatia a little more like a local…
You don’t have to go too far to take advantage of one of the most beautiful spots in the city. Just 3km from the centre, Park Orsula offers jaw dropping views over the Old Town, Cavtat and across to Lokrum. I’ve whiled away many a lazy hour in this lovely park, where I’ve entertained myself with a picnic, a glass of wine and the good vibes of the various concerts staged during the warmer months. Set against a backdrop of the romantic crumbling remains of St Orsula’s church, I can think of very few spots more relaxing.
Top Tip: I enjoy strolling up to Park Orsula, but you can also jump on the number 10 bus from the city centre.
Walk the Lapad Peninsula
For those who want to brush away the holiday cobwebs, I recommend a picturesque stroll on the Lapad peninsula. The well-maintained coastal promenade runs from the bay at Uvala to Babin Kuk. This walk is entirely relaxing, and is accompanied by spectacular scenery, including magnificent views out to Gruz. I suggest setting off first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon, as it can get quite hot in the early afternoon. You can walk as far as you want, but allow yourself at least 90 minutes for this beautiful outing.
Top Tip: Why not stop off for a dip at Copacabana Beach along the way?
Day Trip to Cavtat
The ancient town of Cavtat played a vital role in Croatia’s history. It was from here that refugees fled to set up their own outpost, which became Dubrovnik. While the latter thrived and evolved into the jewel in the country’s crown, Cavtat’s charm lies in its unspoilt traditional ambience and charming setting.
A visit to Bukovak House is a must for anyone interested in this important artist’s work. The house where Vlaho Bukovak was born and raised is now a museum, packed with original art and mementos. The highlight is his very first artwork, which features a painted frieze of animals that runs around the walls.
Our Lady of the Snow Monastery is a lovely church that’s part of the fifteenth-century Franciscan monastery. It’s worth a visit to see the stunning Renaissance paintings and Bukovak’s poignant Madonna and Child.
I’m thrilled to recommend the stylish Hotel Uvala to clients who are planning a visit to Dubrovnik. The modest size gives it a lovely and intimate ambience, but it’s lacking none of the appointments of the larger luxury hotels. Thanks to its contemporary design and its breathtaking view of Lapad Bay, you’ll feel totally relaxed, whether you’re lounging by the indoor or outdoor pool or are enjoying a meal on the terrace restaurant.
Split is simply seething with history – you’re faced with stories and relics of the past wherever you turn. Thanks to the Hollywood drama of Game of Thrones, it’s been hurled into the spotlight, as everyone’s keen to see the now-familiar ancient settings in real life. But it’s also not too hard to uncover some wonderful historical attractions that aren’t quite so “touristy”.
Walk to Marjan
Every time I visit Split, I make it a ritual to take a brisk walk up the forested hillside trail to Marjan. It does take a little effort, but it’s well worth it if you’d like to explore the interesting historic landmarks. On the eastern side, you can explore the city’s Jewish cemetery, with graves dating back to the 1700s. You’ll also discover two very sweet churches: the thirteenth-century St. Nicholas and the fifteenth-century St. Jerome. The interiors of both are lovely sights to behold, particularly St. Jerome, which is decorated with a fabulous Renaissance altar.
Visit Klis Fortress
Actually, it’s hard to escape Game of Thrones entirely, but Klis Fortress is worth visiting, even if you’ve never heard of the show. Around 10km from Split, this ancient stronghold presides over the town from its strategic cliff-side vantage. In addition to Game of Thrones, it’s seen its share of real life drama as well: for the past two and a half thousand years, countless wars have been waged to defend this imposing fortress. If you want to get a feeling of what life was like in centuries past, discovering the history that’s secreted in the impenetrable walls of this fortress is a great way to start.
A Day Trip to Trogir
Excuse my whimsy, but I always feel that a little bit of magic’s at work when I visit Trogir. Set within medieval walls on the tiniest of islands, this town is truly charming, and for clients looking for some genuine peace and quiet, I always suggest a visit.
The town is so renowned for its superb Renaissance and Romanesque architecture that it gained World Heritage Status in 1997. While there’s a lot to be said for simply wandering around taking it all in, I highly recommend seeking out the thirteenth-century St. Lawrence’s Cathedral, which features a stunning Romanesque portal. Another must-see for history lovers is the small but exquisitely curated Museum of Sacred Art, which is home to a Bellini painting and numerous illuminated manuscripts.
For an all-embracing Croatian welcome in Split, I can’t recommend Hotel Peristil highly enough. If the phrase “small but perfectly formed” was ever appropriate, it’s in regards to this charming hotel, which is just a few minutes’ walk away from the Emperor Diocletian’s Palace. Everything about this place is designed to make you feel relaxed and cared for. The traditional décor of the rooms harks back to another time, but the modern touches remind you that you’re wrapped in contemporary comfort.