9 reasons to stay in Split, Croatia
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Split, Croatia's larger than life second city, is seriously remarkable. The heart of this sultry Mediterranean port is a 1,700-year-old Roman palace.
Far from being a museum piece, Diocletian's Palace is a thrillingly alive web of tight stone streets where old ladies hang out their washing in former staterooms and tourists stroll down streets smoothed by the sandals of Roman legionnaires, before joining the famously stylish locals reclining in cafes set in dreamy Roman courtyards.
Until recently most visitors just passed through Split to catch a ferry to one of Croatia's many idyllic islands yet, if you linger, Split grabs you and compels you to stay longer.
1. That palace...
Diocletian's Palace really is something special. Delve in from the waterfront and you enter a brilliantly preserved Roman palace, fashioned by Emperor Diocletian for his own retirement. The streets are arrow straight, the columns, well, Roman, and the architectural flourishes enough to get visiting university professors very excited.
Architect Robert Adam was so excited he was inspired to bring shades of Split to his own designs in both Bath and Edinburgh. The palace is pedestrianised and you can just lose hours strolling around with plenty of cafés to stop off in en route.
2. Relaxing on the Riva
The locals - the Splicani - like nothing better than a good pose and the epicentre of the people watching action is on the sweeping waterfront Riva. It was tarted up a few years ago and now functions as a slick catwalk where the evening promenade is a local institution.
Make sure to pack your best designer clobber and cool shades before heading out to see and be seen. The wee upstairs terrace at Café St Riva is a sneaky little spot for catching the action.
3. Mestrovic Magic
Arguably Croatia's finest sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic, built a glorious villa and studio in his beloved Split. It is now the Mestrovic Gallery, which showcases some of his finest work, as well as sketches and other various insights into the great man. You can find Mestrovic's striking art dotted around Split with the most dramatic example the epic sculpture of Grgur of Nin, which lords it over a park just outside Diocletian Palace's Golden Gate.
4. Superb seafood
Croatia's Adriatic dishes up some of the finest seafood in Europe, and Split is a great place to sample these delights. An ideal place to start is at the fish market on the edge of Diocletian's Palace. Mornings see frenetic activity here as the fresh catch of the day arrives and is furiously haggled over. Look out for the little bar, Buffet Zlatna Ribica, which overlooks the market.
Here, you can join the market workers nipping in for simple fried fish dishes. I recommend coming back at night to dine at Nostromo next door. Order the groaning platter of grilled Adriatic seafood, laden with such delights as white fish, squid, prawns and mussels. It's best washed down with the crisp local white wine, Posip.
5. Retail therapy
You cannot fail to notice how well dressed the Splicani tend to be. Traditionally many citizens designed and made their own clothes, but these days most shop in the boutiques and stores that hideaway within the walls of Diocletian's Palace and on the wide sweep of Marmontova. The palace also houses myriad wee craft shops and souvenir stores, while the lower level of the palace has stalls stacked with souvenirs.
6. Split has its own sport!
Yup, Split has its very own sport, picigin. I say a sport, but to be honest, the main aim of it as far as I have been able to ascertain is that the local lads get a chance to pose around in the water battling hard to impress the local ladies.
Imagine the beach volleyball scene from Top Gun with a hard table tennis ball instead of a volleyball and you'll get the idea. The best place to witness it is at Bacvice, the beach where picigin originated.
7. Buzzing nightlife
Split's nightlife is gloriously fun especially on long, languorous summer nights. Early doors it's all about a sundowner on the lifeblood Riva. Then the action moves into the hip bars of Diocletian's Palace.
A wee insider tip is to head up the stairs to the little known second tier of the palace where a string of bars await and locals always outnumber tourists. Hide your guidebook and camera and enjoy a drink with the local cognoscenti at Ghetto Bar.
For late night revels it's back to the sprawling complex at Bacvice Bay. Diocletian's Palace starts to empty later on as a curb on noise kicks in to protect palace residents. Join the Splicani wandering behind the port to Bacvice Bay. Here a swathe of cafes, bars and restaurants batter on late into the balmy Adriatic night.
8. Catch a game at Poljud
Hajduk Split is a legendary name in European football. The team play their games at the incendiary Poljud Stadium, a striking modernist affair just back from the waterfront just outside the centre. If you can snare a ticket you can enjoy the febrile atmosphere and see the famously rabid Torcida fans in action. Big games against Dinamo Zagreb have the whole city captivated.
9. A brilliant base
Ok, I've been telling you what a great idea it is stay in Split and not just fire off to an island. I stick by that, but that doesn't mean you cannot use what is Croatia's busiest ferry port as a base for a few day trips out to some of the country's 1,244 islands.
For cool cats it's all about jet-set favourite Hvar Town on the eponymous island, while beach bums will want to catch a fast ferry out to Bol on the island of Brac. If you like your isles rugged then Vis (think a Scottish isle in warmer waters) is the island for you. There is great world-class scuba diving here at the famous Blue Grotto too.
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