Travel to Croatia - part I
The central and northern coast of Dalmatia
Visiting the Dalmatian Coast
I spent a weekend in Split in early 2020, just before the pandemic, to teach a weekend master’s level course. It was my first visit to a country of the former Yugoslavia and I was very taken with the culture of that area of Croatia. So when I was deciding on a destination to celebrate my 60th birthday, I chose Croatia, specifically the Istrian Peninsula, but also including a few days along the Dalmatian Coast.
The itinerary had us flying into Ljubljana for a weekend stayover, which was an ideal way to begin the holiday, because I think Ljubljana is one of the nicest capital cities in Europe. Everything about Ljubljana feels hip, from the very fit-looking Slovenians to the convivial outdoor dining terraces outside most restaurants in the old center serving amazing cuisine that seems like it is influenced by both Italy and Austria.
Visit to Trogir
From there we headed to Croatia by car with a stopover in Plitvice National Park. Our first detination was the seaside town of Trogir, which anchors the uppermost area of central Dalmatia, and became our base for visiting Split to the south and Sibenik to the north. Trogir is a marvelously preserved medieval town with an ornate Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral. The restaurant scene is robust and the waterfront promenade facing the Adriatic lively. There also seemed to be a gelato shop every 100 feet inside the old town!
Visit to Split
The next day we traveled to Split, which is the largest city on the Dalmatian Coast and is home to the best collection of Roman ruins in Croatia. The crown jewel of these is Diocletian’s Palace, the only residence of a Roman Emperor outside of Italy. Because several seasons of Game of Thrones was filmed in Croatia, Split has become one of the most popular stops for tour groups, particularly at the Palace, so arrive early to avoid the mid-to-late morning visitation peak.
Split is a maze of alleyways, backstreets and narrow passages, which contain some of the best shopping, art galleries and restaurants on the coast; in fact, one of the best lunches we had In Dalmatia was at Colto Maltese, where we dined on boar pasta, risotto with cuttlefish and Pag cheese and tuna steak, all paired with excellent selections from the extensive list of wines by the glass.
A trip to Sibenik to the north of Trogir is another interesting day trip. The Cathedral of St. James is an excellent Renaissance period basilica with a colorful and ornate altar. We also had one of our better lunches in Dalmatia – a roasted octopus dish at Restoran no. 4.
Visit to Zadar
Further to the north is the town of Zadar, a slightly quieter coastal town that offers some very interesting sights, including the Church of St. Donat and adjacent Roman Forum, as well as the Cathedral of St. Anastasia, which is the largest church in Dalmatia. Along the seaside promenade are the popular Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun. The former is an architectural statement that is also a musical instrument and the latter a solar powered representation of the solar system that is activated when the sun goes down.
The overall experience of this coastline in Croatia was very good. The people were friendly and welcoming, the gastronomy was fresh and the history interesting. Because most of these villages are reasonably close, it is possible to use one as a base and make day trips to the others, as we did. While we chose Trogir as our base, Zadar would equally be viable and offers more accommodation options.