The first image that pops up when you hear the word “Dalmatian” would be the black and white spotted dogs made famous by the Disney movie. The origin of this breed is from a region of the same name in Croatia. The historical Dalmatia region is along the Adriatic coast and covers most of the southern half of the country. The major cities in this region are Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik. There are many beautiful islands off the coast, some of the best ones being Hvar, Brač and Korčula.
We started our holiday from Zagreb where we spent half a day (enough to see all major attractions). We then spent an amazing day at Plitvice National Park. A 4-hour bus journey from Plitvice took us along the coastal cities of Zadar and Sibenik to Split. We were picked up by our Airbnb host from the bus stand who had come along with his two cute kids. Nino – our host – was super-friendly and a really nice guy. He gave us a mini tour of the city and told us how to get around. As we entered the residential neighborhood, we noticed gardens behind every house with vines wrapped around the garages. And on these were grapes!
Coming from Indian city life, it is indeed a wonder to see grapes growing freely in every house! We left our luggage in the room and walked back to the old city.
As we entered the old town area, the vibe itself changed. The tiny streets transported us to another age as we walked around looking for a place to eat. We always read up about the best places to eat so that we experience the best foods in the limited number of days we spend. We arrived at our destination, Villa Spiza – a small restaurant in a tiny lane. For a place so tiny, there was a lot of crowd waiting to get a table. As we waited (40 mins in total), we saw the owner come out and strike off some items from the menu. We learnt that their menu changes every day based on what they get fresh from the market. Luckily, the dishes we had our eyes on were still on the menu when we got our table. And it was totally worth the wait! Delicious pork chops and minced lamb pasta and amazing wine to go with it! All food pics are available on the Food page. After dinner, we walked around, got an ice-cream and saw some hostelers partying out on the lanes – looked like this one was going all night long.
Our second day at Split was mostly spent exploring Diocletian’s Palace and the walled city.
We first headed to the farmer’s market where we picked up some fresh fruits for the day. The Palace itself has a lot of interesting elements – sphinxes from Egypt, a temple dedicated to Jupiter and actors dressed up as Romans putting on a show for the visitors.
We also spotted some of the shoot locations of Game of Thrones there. If you get tired walking, there are plenty of little restaurants and takeaways. We ended our day by taking a bus back to Zagreb.
Pro Tip: To get a panoramic view of Split old town and the port, head up to Park Marjan. We started our day here walking all the way up to the observation deck. The early morning light gave us a beautiful view of the city. From here, you can climb down the steps and get to the Riva Promenade.
We had planned to visit Hvar, Dubrovnik and come back to Split – so we decided to leave our luggage at the Split port instead of lugging it around all the way. Look out for lockers near the bus stand where you can leave your luggage for a daily rate. We took the 9:45 am Jadrolinija catamaran from the dock. Wondering how to book tickets for these? Check out our guide to local travel in Croatia.
The boat was good and the ride was smooth – it cut through all the waves and almost glided through to reach Hvar in just under an hour. We walked up some steps near the port to our Airbnb where we left our bags and went to explore the town.
Walking along the coast-line itself is a soothing experience. The water is so clear that you feel the boats are floating in air!
We continued to explore the old town area and a series of stairs led us up to the Fortica. The climb up is quite tiring but the end result is worth it – you get a view of the entire town with the coral tiles roofs, blue skies and the blue sea merging into it, rugged terrain along the coast and cactus plants with beautiful flowers all around!
We walked into a restaurant for lunch where we had some amazing fried calamari. We headed back to our room as the sun was beating down on us. We met our host, Zora who suggested some off-beat places on the island. There was a beach which was a good 30 mins walk along the coast on the southern part of the island which she recommended. We passed through a neighbourhood of premium apartments and some remote roads along the coast to reach the beach. The beach was full of white pebbles and the water was perfect for a swim.
We took care not to step on the sea urchins! After spending a couple of hours here, we took a shortcut by climbing over a hill to cut across.
For dinner, we headed to the Marinero bistro which is just off the old town centre. The food we had here was possibly the best we had on the trip to Croatia. Grilled tuna fillet, calamari with tartar and house wine – the memory of the taste makes us want to go back there! Food pics here!
We spent some time at the beach spotting stars and constellations (the sky was so clear!). As we walked back to our room, we saw many people dressed up getting on boats to go to Carpe Diem – one of the craziest party places around. We had to catch a boat the next morning and decided to skip it – best to leave it for later!
We took the Kapetan Luka catamaran from Hvar to Dubrovnik at 8:45 am. This time we sat on the upper deck where we enjoyed views of the coast and the islands of Korčula and Mljet. As we got closer to Dubrovnik, we saw not one, but many cruise ships off the coast. Oh no! Cruise ships could mean only one thing – crazy crowds!
As you exit the port at Dubrovnik and cross the road, you will see a visitor information centre and a counter from where you can buy bus tickets. We got our tickets and boarded bus 1-A to the Old City (Stari Grad). The walled city welcomed us in a manner that we expected – full of tourists. There were multiple Game of Thrones tours going on along the walls and inside as tourists tried to recreate the scenes. We explored the city for the better part of the day – the inner walls, the cathedral, the port (of wildfire), drawbridge and lots of steps (including the Shame, Shame ones).
The restaurants are all tourist traps with super expensive menus and even the exchange rate here was the worst we had seen in Croatia. After lunch, we took Bus number 3 back to the port where our boat to Split was waiting.
As mentioned in our top post, if you are crunched for time, you would do well to skip this journey to Dubrovnik as the crowds will put you off. If time is not a constraint, stay for 2 days and start exploring the walled city early in the morning before the cruise crowd hits.
One place we would like to mention here is the Mlinar bakery – it came to our rescue more than once when we were starved and couldn’t find a decent restaurant and also as a place to stock up on supplies before we hit the road/boat. For more on places to eat in Croatia, check out our post here.