Central Dalmatia

The French Riviera is so 20th century. So where do the avant-garde rich and famous vacation now? Croatia, or specifically, Central Dalmatia. To the surprise of many, this southern coastal region — separated from Italy by the Adriatic Sea — has morphed from a bullet-ridden warzone to a glamorous seaside getaway in less than two decades. Travel writers often herald the Dalmatian Coast as “The Next Riviera.”

Dubrovnik at Croatia’s southernmost point holds more international name recognition. But Central Dalmatia, which includes the city of Split, the resort island of Hvar, and several underdeveloped islands, flies under the radar. A ritzy and historic paradise where luxury resorts neighbour ancient Roman and Venetian buildings, the region still manages to offer its splendors at moderate prices. As you tour Diocletian’s Palace, you’ll wonder: where is yours? And you’ll be able to carve out a small plot of sand (or a small island if you’re lucky), to declare your own kingdom on the beautiful beaches of Central Dalmatia.

Central Dalmatia is the most action-packed, sight-rich and diverse part of Croatia, with pretty islands, quiet ports, rugged mountains, dozens of castles and an emerging culinary scene, as well as Split’s Diocletian’s Palace and medieval Trogir (both Unesco World Heritage sites).

Roman ruins, a buzzing Mediterranean-flavoured city and chic dining, wining and partying on the most glamorous isle in the Adriatic, Hvar Island, all vie for visitors’ attention. Let’s not forget the slender and seductive sand beaches, secluded pebble coves on islands near and far, and gorgeous nudie hideaways. Whatever your beat, this part of Croatia, with the rugged 1500m-high Dinaric Range providing a dramatic background to the coastline, will grip even the pickiest of visitors.

Central Dalmatia’s wild beauty is often characterized as harsh, hot, and edgy because of its scorching summers, rocky coastal beaches, steep mountains, and rugged inland. Those same words could also be used to describe the collective personality of the people that come from this region. It is precisely that combination of wild raw beauty that makes central Dalmatia stand out from its northern and inland neighbors and what attracts outsiders.

It is easy to spend a month, never mind a week, here, exploring its intriguing historical towns and cities, and relaxing on its many rugged islands such as Hvar and Vis, with their pristine beaches and warm breezes scented with wild lavender and rosemary. Its main city is Split, whose inhabitants have a reputation for being cosmopolitan, hedonistic and chic.
The region has also been discovered by the extremely wealthy international yachting community and you will see plenty of multimillion dollar yachts in the marinas. Indeed, sailing is a great way to explore the islands and coast; the marinas are well-equipped and there are far fewer boats than in the Greek islands. Add the first-rate seafood, the relaxed pace of life, the openness of the local people and the quality of the scuba diving and Central Dalmatia is hard to beat as a summer holiday destination.

Getting Oriented

Split is the main jumping-off point for exploring all of Dalmatia, not just Central Dalmatia. From there it is easy to catch a bus, boat, train, or rental car in any direction to see everything Dalmatia offers, on and off the beaten path. In each direction of Split, there are many nearby places worth exploring. Directly south of Split are the islands of Brač and Šolta, both easily accessed by ferry in less than one hour. Northeast of Split is Omiš and the Cetina river valley, and directly west across the bay from the Split port is the ancient walled city of Trogir, which can be reached in 20 minutes by taxi boat. To the north of Split and a 30-minute drive are the Klis fortress and the Vranjaca cave, which offers spectacular views over Split and are often overlooked by tourists.

Southwest toward Dubrovnik is the Makarska Riviera with its plethora of hidden coved beaches that can be reached in about 45 minutes by car from Split. In the opposite direction of Makarska, along the main coastal highway, there is Krka National park, about a two-hour drive from Split but also accessible by boat via the Skradin bay. Međugorje, which is across the border in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is less than a two-hour drive from Split and is also a short distance from Mostar.

When to go

High season runs from July through August, when the region is inundated with foreign tourists. During the summer of 2014 more than 45 different airlines had scheduled flights into Split, making it the most accessible of all Croatian destinations. Prices at this time rise significantly, and it can be difficult to find a place to sleep if you haven’t reserved in advance, restaurant staff are overworked, and beaches are crowded. On top of everything, it can be very hot. On the positive side, some museums and churches have extended opening hours, the season’s open-air bars and clubs bring nightlife to the fore, and there are numerous cultural festivals with performances starring international musicians, dancers, and actors. Low season runs from November through April, when many hotels and restaurants close completely, the exception being over the New Year’s period, when some of the more sophisticated establishments (for example in Hvar Town) open their doors for the holidays. At this time of year the weather is unreliable, but if you’re lucky you could find yourself drinking morning coffee in the sunshine below a deep blue sky, against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains.

However, for most people the best time to visit is midseason, May through June and September through October. During these periods you’ll miss the crowds, the weather should be sunny and dry, and the sea will be warm enough to swim in; the region’s hotels and restaurants will be open, but their pace slow enough to lend an air of true relaxation.

How to Reach Central Dalmatia

By Air
Split is served by Split Airport (SPU) at Kaštela, 25 km (16 miles) northwest of the city center. The island of Brač is served by Brač Airport at Veško Polje, 14 km (9 miles) northeast of Bol.
You can take an airport bus to obala Lazereta, near the Split Bus Station. For your return, the airport bus leaves Split 90 minutes before each flight. A one-way ticket costs 30 Kn, and the travel time is 40 minutes.

During Summer, there are many flights directly to the island of Brač.
Brač airport is not served by bus but taxis are available.

Train Travel

There are three day trains and two night trains (with sleeping cars) daily between Split and Zagreb (journey time 5½ hours daytime; 8½ hours night time). In addition, there are three day trains daily between Split and Šibenik (journey time approximately 3½ hours, with a change at Perković).

Boat and Ferry Travel

From June through September, Jadrolinija and Blue Line both run regular services to Ancona (Italy), departing at 9 pm from Split and arriving in Ancona at 7 am the following day. The same vessels depart at 9 pm from Ancona to arrive in Split at 7 am. Journey time is approximately 10 hours in either direction. In peak season only, Blue Line also runs day crossings departing from Ancona at 11 am on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Through winter these services are reduced slightly.

From June to September the Italian company SNAV runs Croazia Jet, a daily catamaran service between Ancona (Italy) and Split, departing at 5 pm from Split and arriving in Ancona at 9:30 pm. The same vessel departs at 11 am from Ancona to arrive in Split at 3:30 pm. The journey time is 4½ hours in either direction. The same company runs Pescara Jet, a daily catamaran service between Pescara (Italy) and Split, stopping at Stari Grad (island of Hvar) en route. The vessel departs at 5 pm from Split and arrives in Pescara at 11 pm, then leaves Pescara the following morning at 10:30, arriving in Split at 4:15 pm. On Saturday only, a corresponding catamaran connects from Stari Grad (Hvar) to Bol (Brač). Jadrolinija operates coastal ferries that run from Rijeka to Dubrovnik. Ferries depart from Rijeka twice a week in the evening, and arrive in Split in the early morning on the following day (journey time is approximately 10 hours) and then continue down the coast to Dubrovnik (journey time is approximately 9 hours), stopping at Stari Grad (island of Hvar) and Korčula en route. From Dubrovnik, they then cover an overnight stretch to Bari in Italy. Jadrolinija runs daily ferries to Supetar (island of Brač), Stari Grad (island of Hvar), and Vis from Split. Jadrolinija runs a daily catamaran from Split to Hvar Town (island of Hvar), which then continues to Vela Luka (island of Korčula) and Ubli (island of Lastovo). A separate service runs to Bol (island of Brač) and then continues to Jelsa (island of Hvar). It is now possible to book most boat and ferry travel online, sometimes at a reduced price. It is highly recommended to purchase online in advance whenever possible, especially during high season when waiting until the last minute could often mean waiting an extra day.

Bus Travel

International buses arrive daily from Trieste, Ljubljana, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Munich, and Stuttgart. There are buses once a week from Vienna, and London via Paris.
There are good bus connections to destinations all over Croatia. There are approximately 30 buses per day to Zagreb, 12 to Dubrovnik (in Southern Dalmatia), 14 to Zadar (in Northern Dalmatia), and 12 to Rijeka (in Kvarner). Buses traveling south to Dubrovnik stop at Makarska en route, while those going north to Zadar stop at Šibenik. In addition, regular local buses run every 30 minutes up the coast to Trogir and down the coast to Omiš. Timetable information is available from the Split Bus Station, or from their website.

Places to see

We will be covering the highlights of the Central Dalmatian coast, Split, and the islands of Hvar, Brac and Vis.

Split

The second-largest city in Croatia, Split (Spalato in Italian) is a great place to see Dalmatian life as it’s really lived. Always buzzing, this exuberant city has just the right balance of tradition and modernity. Split’s ancient core is so spectacular and unusual that a visit is more than worth your time. The heart of the city lies within the walls of Roman emperor Diocletian’s retirement palace, which was built in the 3rd century AD. Diocletian, born in the nearby Roman settlement of Salona in AD 245, achieved a brilliant career as a soldier and became emperor at the age of 40. In 295 he ordered this vast palace to be built in his native Dalmatia, and when it was completed he stepped down from the throne and retired to his beloved homeland. Upon his death, he was laid to rest in an octagonal mausoleum, around which Split’s magnificent cathedral was built.

In 615, when Salona was sacked by barbarian tribes, those fortunate enough to escape found refuge within the stout palace walls and divided up the vast imperial apartments into more modest living quarters. Thus, the palace developed into an urban center, and by the 11th century the settlement had expanded beyond the ancient walls

The palace has become a World Heritage site, recognised by UNESCO. This is such a marvellous piece of work and the happenings in the premises of it are something to be marvelled at. There are numerous bars, restaurants, shops and commercial establishments set up all in one place, within the historic walls of the palace. And most importantly, a balance of modernism and ancient life have been preserved in this area.

The pristine turquoise blue waters bring in a zippy and pleasant setting to the town of Split. It is no wonder a jewel in the Adriatic when you get opportunities to laze in the glorious representation of scenic beauty during your ferry shuttles up and down.

It was just some years ago when Split became more than just a transit or a stopover to destinations near and around. Subsequently, due to its continuous developments, it wrestles itself in par in trendiness with the other chic towns in the vicinity. The old Riva (seafront) has been dappered and the city was washed with a marble floor, completely, overlooking all the grumbles and squawks of the locals. The city looks much painted with zest and in-vogue.

Things to do

Diocletian’s Palace

If you have been picturing Diocletian’s Palace as a royal remnant of the imperial past, you will be taken by surprise at the total contrast the palace offers a visitor. In lieu of a regal structure, will you find relics of the past, with the fortress representing imperial occupation of yore. The area of the palace is 31,000 sq.meters, with the measurements ranging from 215 m left to the right and 181 m wide.

Inspite of the commemoration of the 1700 years of existence in 2005, the city of Split still celebrates Diocletian’s Night every last Friday of July. A very good gesture indeed to encourage visits to the Roman heritage.

This Palace hosts a plethora of shops in its rich heritage premises. Coffee shops, food markets, family homes have been promenading and if you are keen to stay put inside the walls, there are hotels just within. Roman’s past and history would enthuse you so much so that taking a walking tour would be forfeitted for a narutal walk admiring the architecture.

An expert guide is the best bet for your walking tours around the palace. Sip your morning cuppa as you tread the palace early in the morning when you are comfortable with yourself with the quietude enveloping the palace. With the current population in the palace crossing a 1000 people, it becomes a herculean task to bring back the original cache of the imperial.

Cathedral and Bell Tower of St. Domnius

The Cathedral and the Bell Tower of St. Domnius attract visitors for being the centers of their photographic escapades. These are located within the palace of Diocletian in Central Dalmatia., bringing back ecclesiastical reminiscences of the 3rd Century. What originally stood as Emperor Diocletian’s mausoleum, the cathedral was made over into a place of worship, falling behind the epic Romanesque tower.

The Cathedral and Bell Tower of St. Domnius are thrown open to visitors every day from 8 am to 7 pm in summer, while there is a small break between 12 noon and 4:30 pm, on the other days. Entry is free and you pay 10 HRK (US$2) for the depository within the church. Get closer to the Bell Tower for 10 HRK (US$2), or be contented to view it from the city of Split, anywhere. A quick direction to Peristil, the central square of Diocletian’s Palace takes you to the Tower.

Mestrovic Gallery

Known for its highly acclaimed sculptures and works of art, the Mestrovic Gallery was partially set up by Ivan Meštrovic, one of the highly renowned sculptors of the 20th Century. His works include 192 sculptures, 583 drawings, 4 paints and 291 architectural plans, focussing on religion. It is wise to learn about the artist in detail from the Internet before embarking on this tour, as there is insubstantial information on the artist, at the museum. This would enable the visitors to appreciate and admire this work of art in the Roman setting.

A very short taxi ride takes you to the museum from the Diocletian’s Palace. Bus numbers 7, 8 and 12 go through the city center of Split. Expect an admission fee of 30 HRK (US$5.75). Children have discounted rates. The Meštrovic Gallery is open to public from Tuesdays to Sundays from 9 am to 7 pm during summer and for a reduced duration the rest of the year.

Hvar Island

A beautiful, breathtaking island of Central Dalmatia, Hvar is the first among its archipelago, offering luxury, comfort and experience. It holds record for the most comfortable island and also the sunniest place in the Central Dalmatia with 2724 hours every year. There is nothing flashy like the islands of Europe, yet, nothing lesser than them. It serves as the most popular tourist destination with Dubrovnik. Hvar town offers chichi hotels, chic restaurants, upscale bars and clubs, ritzy yachties, and modulent commoner. If you love to be seen and to see, Hvar town it is! Stari Grad and Jelsa are the most tranquil and penetrative of the other islands in the country

Lilac lavender fields send scents of fragrance to seduce you in Hvar, along with other aroma herbs like rosemary and heather. Luxurious hotels catering to pricey customers use products made of real herbs and fragrances.

Get into the interiors to have a glimpse of the abandoned villages, the beautiful hideous landscapes of Hvar. They get you some unedited, unabridged moments of the rustic and little known coves of Hvar. It takes just about a day to cover the southern tip of the island.

The most sparkling island, Hvar has been the most sunny of all the islands in the Adriatic, with 2724 hours of sunshine and two foggy days in a year. There is plenty of water spots up for consideration for the visitors, with no disturbance to fret their spirits. You are sure be refunded if it is one of those two foggy days of the year.

Things to see

Hvar Town

The island’s hub and busiest destination, Hvar Town is estimated to draw around 20,000 people a day in the high season. It’s odd that they can all fit in the small bay town, where 13th-century walls surround beautifully ornamented Gothic palaces and traffic-free marble streets, but fit they do. Visitors wander along the main square, explore the sights on the winding stone streets, swim on the numerous beaches or pop off to the Pakleni Islands to get into their birthday suits, but most of all they party at night.

Day or night, the place to see and been seen in Central Dalmatia is Hvar Town. Fashionable shops and quaint bistros inhabit the centuries-old buildings, and, in its summer prime, the citizens and travelers spill outside into the squares and narrow avenues. The small island city is centered around Trg Svetog Stjepana, the main square originally built in the 1500s. On the southern side you’ll find the spectacular Arsenal building (be sure to snap a few stunning photos). On a different side of the square, you’ll find the Cathedral of St. Stjepan, whose bell tower rises high above the city. Also, don’t miss the Venetian loggia, an elegant building with a beautiful arcade and clock tower in front of the Hotel Palace. Aside from these sights, you’ll find plenty to photograph and to do in this picturesque town during the day.

At night, Hvar Town transforms into a hip bar destination. Carpe Diem, a beachside bar and nightclub, stands out as the most famous Hvarian watering hole; it’s also the place to rendezvous with the rich and famous. The night-time crowds are very chic, so be sure to dress to impress.

Stari Grad

Stari Grad (Old Town), on the island’s north coast, is a more quiet, cultured and altogether sober affair than its stylish and stunning sister. If you’re not after pulsating nightlife and thousands of people crushing each other along the streets in the high season, head for Stari Grad and enjoy Hvar at a more leisurely pace.

Although most ferries connecting the island to the mainland list Stari Grad as their port of call, the town is actually a couple of kilometres northeast of the new ferry terminal. Stari Grad lies along a horseshoe-shaped bay, with the old quarter on the southern side of the horseshoe. The bus station (no left-luggage office) is at the foot of the bay. The northern side is taken up by residences, a small pine wood and the sprawling Helios hotel complex.

Pakleni Islands

Most visitors to Hvar Town head to the Pakleni Islands (Pakleni Otoci), which got their name – ‘Hell’s Islands’ in Croatian – from paklina, the resin that once coated boats and ships. This gorgeous chain of 21 wooded isles has crystal-clear seas, hidden beaches and deserted lagoons. Taxi boats leave regularly during the high season from in front of the Arsenal to the islands of Jerolim and Stipanska (40KN, 10 to 15 minutes), which are popular naturist islands (although nudity is not mandatory). They continue on to Ždrilca and Mlini (40KN) and, further out, Palmižana (60KN), which has a pebble beach and the Meneghello Place, a beautiful boutique complex of villas and bungalows scattered among lush tropical gardens.

Jelsa

Jelsa is a small town, port and resort 27km east of Hvar Town, surrounded by thick pine forests and high poplars. Although it lacks the Renaissance buildings of Hvar, the intimate streets and squares are pleasant and the town is within easy reach of swimming coves and sand beaches.

Jelsa is wrapped around a bay with several large hotels on each side; the old town sits at the foot of the harbour.

St Stephen’s Square

The centre of town is this rectangular square, which was formed by filling in an inlet that once stretched out from the bay. At 4500 sq metres, it’s one of the largest old squares in Dalmatia. The town first developed in the 13th century to the north of the square and later spread south in the 15th century. Notice the well at the square’s northern end, which was built in 1520 and has a wrought-iron grill dating from 1780.

Hvar Fortress

Officially called “Fortica Spanjola,” this 16th-century citadel has acquired the colloquial name of “Hvar Fortress” as it presides high above the town of the same name. You’ll be able to survey that town from these ancient fortifications, as well as the rest of Hvar Island and the surrounding islands that appear like gigantic lily pads on the Adriatic Sea.

It costs about 20 HRK (or about $4 USD) to enter the fortress. In the summer, you can visit from 8 am till midnight, but by appointment only, the rest of the year. For appointments, call the fort’s office at 021-741-816 and more information.

Brač Island

Well-connected to Split by ferry and catamaran services, the island of Brač makes for the perfect island escape. It can be easily visited as a day trip from Split, but it is recommended to stay a few nights in order to uncover the true gifts the island has to offer. With much of the attention in recent years focusing on Hvar, Brač has been left to quietly develop as a solid, more sustainable tourist destination. Despite its proximity to the mainland, the slow pace of island life pervades the island’s main attractions from the Blaca Monastery to the Dragon’s cave to the Pučišća stone masonry school.

Šolta Island

Vis Island

Vis constitutes two appealing towns at the end of the bays, namely Vis Town in the northeast and Komiža in the southwest. Talk of aristocratic generosity and you can find them in Vis Town and talk about the fishing tradition and the pirates pranks. This scraggy shores share beautiful coves and relaxing beaches. The relics of the island spell of culture, tradition and history. These can be found in the Archaeological Museum and at certain catchy points in the town. How better can it get than exploring the rich heritage of this tiny island through such relics.

Nacionalni Park Krka (Krka National Park)

The natural beauty of the park beckons in different ways through different entrances, Yet, the best known one is the drive from Šibenik to Skradin, which captivates your heart. Followed by a short ferry ride through the Krka river. The admission fee includes the ferry trip as well. The park entrance is at Skradinski Buk, which is a location that is in close proximity to the crystal green beaches. Plunge into the beach or go for a stroll on the wooden bridges to keep yourself connected to the surrounding. The place does not have a full fledged restaurant, for which, you need to trace back to Skradin established during the Roman times. The park however, has a quick snack bar, lounges and benches for a beach picnic.

This place captivates throngs of visitors for the seven waterfalls that flow from 40 meters high to the emerald green pond. These seven water falls are an attraction on their own, but coupled with 17 cascades of water gushing down in glory, is a great sight to behold. There are wooden walkways that meet their ways through the woods to the place of Roski Slap. There are small and beautiful islands enroute in Visovac, the place residential to Franciscan monastery. This can be also reached by ferry.

The park offers home to 860 and odd species of plants and 200 bird species. This is evidently the best and treasured ornithological sites in the whole of Europe.

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