Islands we visit
One of the unique features of our Croatia bike and sail trip is the fact that we stay on a luxurious 102 feet gulet for the duration. This allows us the opportunity to travel between some outstanding and interesting islands which we visit by day for point-to-point rides through some glorious scenery. Here we describe some of the islands we visit in some detail; however because of nautical challenges this list is neither set in stone nor exhaustive - we can't guarantee we will visit each of these islands on every tour.
Hvar is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful islands in the Adriatic. It extends out in an east-west direction and on its southern-south-western coast there are a number of small islets and islands. Along its northern side there are only two islands, Zecevo and Duga.
Amongst these islands, the most numerous are the Pakleni islands which are in the immediate vicinity of Hvar city. Due to its distinctive vegetation, these island landscapes are protected.
The Pakleni islands (Fiery Islands) got their interesting name from a little known fact...tar and resin used for coating the bottoms of boats used to be cooked there. The western side of Hvar is the widest and mostly contains fields and small towns. Hvar city bestows its beauty upon wide-eyed travellers with medieval fortresses Spanjol (from 1551) and Napoleon (built by the french in 1810) and their hilltop fortressed walls, located high above, atop St Nicolas, offering a splendid view of below. The Benedictine monastery in Hvar is well known for it's craftmanship of unique lace made from agave fibres. The scent within Hvar is difficult to miss with fields of lavender, heather and sage which offer a stunning visual and fragrant experience. The mountainous areas from Brusje to Hvar presents an exceptional view of the largest plantations of lavender on the island. Stari Grad (former greek colony of Pharos) is positioned on a route which passes alongside the island and today's ferry port. Jelsa is a town on the northern side of Hvar where the first hotel was built in 1911 bounded by the two highest points of the island; on the west St Nicholas and on the east, Hum. Only 7 km east of Jelsa, you'll find the abandoned village of Humac. The houses were built of polecat fur and stone and they're completely unique in their entirety of rural architecture. Below Humac is the Grapceva Cave, the most vital prehistoric findings from the Neolithic era, 5000-4000 B.C Close by Jelsa is Vrboska, which is hidden in the depth of the bay that contains a small islet in the centre. They call Vrboska "little Venice" due to it's small bridges with which it is connected. On the northern part of the island and near the city of Hvar is Lozna Beach, then Basina beach not far from Vrboska, and the beaches of Pokrivenik, Zaraca and Virak beside Gdinja. To head to the southern side of the island you must pass through a natural tunnel (hollowed out of the rock) beside a place called Pitve on the southern side up to Ivan Dolac. You'll come across a gorgeous view of the islands Scedro, Korcula and the Peljesac peninsula before exiting the tunnel. When you pass the tunnel you'll get to the southern side of the island which is beautiful and on which vineyards grow abundant with the Plavac Mali (small blue) grape, located in Sveta Nedalja, Zavala. On this southern side of the island you can bathe on the Jagodna and Bojanic beaches which are situated between Sveta Nedelja and Ivan Dolac, so too are the Jedra, Srhov Dolac, Skozanje and Vela Lucica beaches. On the island's eastern side lies the small port of Sucuraj which is also the starting point of the mainland ferry service (Sucuraj-Drvenik line). Hvar and the island of Vis are the hubs of winemaking in these areas, the history of which stretches back far into the past. Hvar possesses a number of local grape varieties Bogdanusa and Drenkusa which cannot be found anywhere else. The southern side of the island is ideal for the cultivation of Plavac Mali due to its sunny hillsides which give the wine a high quality. Renowned wine estates include Plenkovic, whose cellars provide the high quality wine Zlatan Plavac (Grown Cru, 2003), the Tomic wine estate where you can find Hektorovic prosek (sherry - Plavac Mali Barrique 2003), the Dubokovic estate, the Caric estate (Plavac Ploski Barrique 2005), the Plancic, Vujnovic and P.Z Svirce estates.
The island of Vis is one of the most interesting marine areas in the Adriatic. Due to its many years as a forbidden zone for foreigners in Communist Yugoslavia, the island has largely remained untouched and unmarred, surrounded by seas of indescribable beauty. The most attractive is the archipelago around the southeast coast of Vis, then around the western coast, the islets of Bisevo, Brusnik and Sveti Andrija (St Andrew), and in the east, Susac. Vis is one of the most valuable Hellenistic sites in Croatia. One of the most important Dalmatian cities of the Greek colony of Issa was located here in the 4th century BC. The ruins of the ancient city of Issa can still be seen in parts of the port, the Roman baths, the necropolis and theatre and you can also view artifacts from Issa at the Archaeological Museum of Vis which is located in the Austrian fortress Gospina Bataija (Our Lady's Battery) also known for its large collection of amphorae and more notably for its bronze head of the Greek goddess Artemis. The island Vis has a rich sacral heritage as seen in the churches of St Cyprian (Sv. Criprijana) and the Holy Spirit, the Franciscan manostery on the Prirovo peninsula and the sanctuary of Our Lady (Vele Gospe) in Podselja. Komiza is a fishing village located at the southern end of the islands which is dominated by the Grimaldi fortress, which also houses the Fishing museum. The main church in Komiza, the church of St. Mikule is positioned above the village offering a spectacular view of the below.
Small enough to be quaint and cozy but large enough to have extras like a disco or two, swimming pools and tennis courts, Solta is located about nineteen nautical miles from Split, just west of Brac. The island is another of those special places in Dalmatia where the traditional Croatian way of life has been largely maintained to the present day. This means that the principal industry on the island is fishing, donkeys are still a viable form of transportation and the locals in the eight villages on Solta might strike visitors as unusually kind, inviting and warm. It also means that the pace of life is markedly slower than in other places in Dalmatia, which is quite a feat in itself. This slow pace of life is an ideal environment in which to enjoy the benefits of the island, not the least of which is the main product of the island, fish. The island's fisherman can be seen leaving in the morning and returning with the day's catch, which is then prepared for the evening's meal and accompanied by some excellent homemade wine, both of which will be on hand for you to sample in abundance. As we know, however, man does not survive on bread (or fish) alone. We also need a little adventure from time to time and Solta has that to offer, as well. The tranquil coves and beaches around the island pay perfect host to swimming, sunbathing and even windsurfing, and the island itself is perfect for hiking through the olive groves and vineyards that supply the island's other principal products. In short, Solta is a nice mix of atmosphere, nature and local culture.
Brac, the Croatian Adriatic's third largest island, offers spectacular beautiful scenery. It has the highest mountain of any Croatian island and despite its proximity to Split, retains a rustic, rural atmosphere. Even the largest town, Supetar, is not very big. If you like to sunbathe or swim, check out Croatia's most famous beach, Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape). Its a point jutting out into the sea near to the town of Bol, on the south side of the Brac. However, this beach is liable to be crowded during the summer, especially by younger people. It's also a popular spot for windsurfing. If you'd prefer a less frenetic bathing experience you can go to the beach at Lovrencina Bay, which is 4 km east of Postira, in the middle of Brac's north side. There are great views of the mainland mountains from there as well as the ruins of a medieval basilica just above the beach. Skrip is unique in that structures spanning two millenia are located here. There are a Roman cistern, sculpture and mausoleum; medieval castles; and churches from the Middle Ages. Skrip's Museum of Brac contains many ancient artifacts recovered from archeological digs, including a relief of Hercules. There is a beautiful late 15th century Dominican Monastery (Dominikanski Samostan) in Bol. Its museum has a collection of ancient Greek and Cretan artifacts as well as a Tintoretto painting of the Madonna and Child dating from 1563. An even more interesting monastery to visit, especially if you like to hike, is the Hermitage of Blaca, founded in 1588 by monks fleeing the Turks. Perched on the side of a steep sided canyon about half way between the sea and the summit of Brac's highest peak, Vidova Gora, Blaca indeed is a perfect place to hike. You can hike to the monastery either up a trail that begins near the coastal village of Murvica, or down from another trail that starts from a dirt track on the flank of Vidova Gora. Allow several hours for the round trip hike and bring plenty of water. You will be rewarded with great views plus Blacas's ascetic architecture and splendid isolation.
Hikers also might want to climb to the 780 meter summit of Vidova Gora, the highest mountain of any Adriatic island, 2 hours on a well marked trail from Boll. Olive tree orchards and wild olive trees cover a significant portion of Brac, and there are many small-scale olive oil producers. Brac white marble has been exported all over the world. It's claimed that Brac marble is used in the construction of the American White House. And of course, it was used in the building of many local houses. There are two caves worth exploring on Brac: Zmajeva (dragon) and Kopacina. They're located between Supetar and Donji Humac
Mljet gets a growing share of tourists, but as one of the more remote and less developed Islands, with (thankfully!) a limited ferry service, it lacks the kind of mass tourism of much of the Dalmatian coast and some other more accessible islands. This isn't the place to come for late night bars, concerts or discos. One might hope it never will be. Be prepared to fall in love with nature all over again, for this island has a stunning quality waiting for you to discover. Croatia's 8th largest island is approximately 3km wide and 37km long making it attractive to explore. It has an area of roughly 100 square km with 131 km of coastline and many little niches and coves to discover, so you'd be forgiven for wanting to stay. With five distinct forest tree varieties, abundant fauna and lush vegetation, it's easy to see why Mljet is called The Green Island. Miljet offers a panorama of coastline, cliffs, reefs and numerous islets as well as the rich topography of the hills that rise steeply above the sea and plummet back into deep valleys sheltering ancient stone villages. The submarine world includes quite an array of fish and several types of corals. With fantastic weather, sailing, recreational sports, swimming, scuba diving, hiking and bicycle paths are only a fraction of the pleasures that you can enjoy here. The western end of Mljet has been protected as a National Park since 1960.
Mljet National Park is Mljet's top attraction. The park, encompasses 54 square kilometres at the western end of the island, with an astonishing interior and coastline beauty. Veliko Jezero and Malo Jezero (Big Lake and Small Lake), and the villages of Soline, Babine Kuce, Pomena, Polace and Govedari all lie within the park boundaries. Of interest, this park represents the first institutionalised attempt to protect the native eco-system in the Adriatic. The Benedictine Monastery on the islet of St Mary (Samostan Sv Marija) stands on a tiny island, in a lake on the island of Mljet and is the island's cultural and spiritual heart.
Polace is a village named after the ruin of a significant Roman palace and fortifications - one tower is 20m high - built between the 2nd century and the 5th century. Second in size to the palace of Diocletian in Split, you can't miss it: the road to Pomena slips right between its high walls.
Pomena is located on the western coast of Mljet in the National Park, about 200m from Malo Jezero. This village, built after World War II, has only about 50 inhabitants living among the charming thick forests and working in agriculture, fishing and tourism. The bay of Pomena is perfect for small yachts, which can pull up to the pier.
The Govedari settlement began here in the late 18th century when two families of land workers and fishermen from Babino Polje were given permission to settle by the Benedictines to work as cattle-breeders (goveda means cattle in Croatian). Located in the national park, 5km inland, this ethnologically interesting site is a great place to be surrounded by peace, serenity and lush vegetation. Babine Kuce is a picturesque little fishing village located on the shores of the Veliko jezero just beneath Govedari. It offers a splendid view of the islet of St Mary.
Babino Polje is the central and largest inhabited area with around 350 people. Babino Polje is the administrative centre of the island. Stretched along a ridge above the bypass road and a field (the name means Grandma's Fields), Babino Polje is surrounded with pine woods, groves of old, twisted olive trees and vineyards, and at 514m, Veliki Grad is the hightest hill on the island. Odysseus's Cave (Odisejeva Spilja), that technically would be Calypso’s cave, is a place where supposedly Odysseus was on his travels; Odysseus, shipwrecked on his home from the Trojan War, only stayed with the nymph for seven years, and most of the time he was pining for his wife and his home. After walking along a path lined with rock walls and wildflowers, which takes you out above a deep grotto and the crashing waves, you may wonder why he was in such a hurry to leave. Local fishermen now use the grotto as a harbour.
Prozura is a medieval village used by Ragusan nobles who were looking for a relaxing getaway. Perched on a hill over a Blato (an intermittent lake) and the sea, Prozura has a 17th century watch tower and three beautiful chruches; the church of the Holy Trinity, the church of St Martin and the church of St. Rocco. Maranovici is an 18th century Baroque house of the Pes family and is located in the middle of the town. The 19th century parish church of St Anton rests on the foundations of an older church and features Gothic architectural elements.
In nearby Korita, the ruined 14th century church of St Mary of the Hill mixes Gothic and Renaissance elements, and demonstrates features typical of the island’s churches. A roughly square plan with a deep porch extending to the front, and a picturesque belfry "na preslicu" (on a distaff, that is, the belfry has a split where the bel hangs, the way a distaff's end is cleft to hold wool). Some of the manor houses have Renaissance-Baroque elements. The town has its own 17th century defence tower with loopholes for firing. Korita is named for the stone troughs, common on the island, that are used to capture rainwater.
Korcula, birthplace of the renowned traveller, Marco Polo, is a compact jewel of Venetian architecture surrounded by the clear blue waters of the Peljesac channel and its terracotta rooftops at sunset are a sight to behold.
Korcula town, alongside Dubrovnik, is one of the Adriatic towns which hits the news from time to time with reports of rich, famous and notable types who buy up old town properties for heart-stopping sums. There is good reason for this - the tiny, almost circular old town occupying a rocky promontory is one of the most perfectly preserved and most romantic and historic towns you'll ever see with many opportunities for shutterbugs. It doesn't take long to wander through the atmospheric streets, where you'll come across Gothic details and balconies that make you feel like you've entered a Slavic version of Romeo and Juliet. Pay attention to the hidden architectural delights, such as relief figures on the cathedral of St. Mark and, as rumor has it, the interestingly sculpted menu of an old brothel near the main entrance or visit the town museum and the local galleries.
Many of the historical sights and landmarks are just a stone’s throw from the main square and you'll be bedazzled by the amount of history and culture that surrounds you. Take for instance the Tower of Marco Polo, believed to be the house in which the great world traveller and writer was born, whilst there head up to the tower for some breathtaking panoramic views of the islands. There is also a Marco Polo Museum which reflects on his life through seven vast and deep scenes which bring to life his amazing adventures. The Abbey Treasury of St. Mark is in the heart of the main square and features reliquaries, artworks, liturgical vestments and manuscripts with some dating as far back as the 12th century. The Icon Gallery features artworks of Byzantine paintings on wood and most of which were brought across by island sailors from the 13th to 17th century. The Revelin Tower with its descending steps is a majestic site in itself whilst the Maximilian Vanka Gallery hosts his astute paintings and portraits for which he is most known. All in all, it is a perfect place to recharge your batteries.
One of the other most prominent features of the island is its folk tradition which includes the Moreska, a dance with swords, which you can witness during the summer months, heralded by drumbeats as a parade of citizens in historical costume passes through prior to the performance.
With such material, Korcula has a long tradition of tourism and is one of the more commercialised of Croatia's Adriatic towns, so the town itself gets pretty busy during high season. But this is a relatively large island, there are plenty of other places to explore and get away from it all. Head towards the village of Lumbarda where you'll find picturesque vineyards. You must try the Grk wine, only produced in the surrounding area, and said to have been brought from ancient Greece after the fall of Troy. Wander the stone streets of the old village and feel miles and centuries away from everything else. Other destinations for wine connoisseurs are the villages of Cara and Smokvica, these two island gems also add to the Agricultural palate as they are known for the top quality white wine known as Posip, considered to be one of the most prestigious wines of the Croatian South.
Lastovo is not furthest away from coast, that honour goes to Vis. Maybe that's why the island culture is so different and well preserved. Like Vis, Lastovo was a military base until 1989, so access to the island was restricted. With not a great deal to do, the island became depopulated. But nature has been left pretty much undisturbed, so you could say it's an untouched ecological paradise.
Many people sense in Lastovo a spirit unlike anything else, a sense of breath of ages. Lastovo town sits uphill in a basin facing away from the sea to escape the attention of pirates. The mellow stone of the houses basking in the warm sunlight is captivating. Walking in the town's streets, those with a sense for the antique and the eccentric will wonder at a culture so very detached from modern urban life.
Lastovo is a town of chimneys. In times past, a sign of the wealth of a household was the size and ornateness of one's chimney, and many unusual examples still stand. Another vital aspect of Lastovo's heritage is the Poklad - the traditional pre-Lent carnival celebrating the island's deliverance from Catalan pirates. An effigy of the Catalan messenger takes centre stage, spectacularly released from a hilltop to slide on a rope to the town centre with firecrackers exploding at its feet. Humiliating indeed. At this time, as well as during summertime festivals, you can see the island's folk costume, where the men wear scarlet and black with embroidered braces and hats bedecked with colourful flowers.
With so little (except carnivals) to disturb them, fish adore Lastovo, and you can be sure of an excellent meal here.
Diocletian Palace, From Emperor To Enigma
Few people are so central to the history of Split as the third-century Roman Emperor Diocletian (245-311). And yet it is surprising how little we know about the man. The narratives routinely trotted out by tourist publications are frequently based on a consensus of suppositions rather than hard facts. With new interpretations emerging in the wake of every archeological discovery, however, the sands of historical record are constantly shifting.
Diocletian's status as founder of the city is celebrated every year in the Days of Diocletian, when locals dressed as Diocletian and his retinue arrive by chariot to greet the crowds. Putting his three-day toga-party aside, however, there's a surprising lack of a commercialized Diocletian cult in Split. If you're looking for a Diocletian T-shirt, an imperial signet ring, or even a decent biography of Diocletian written in plain language and with nice pictures, you'll be going home empty-handed. Diocletian is thought to have been born to humble parents in or near the city of Salona (next to present-day Solin just inland from Split), rising through the ranks of the army before being proclaimed as Roman Emperor in 284. He reformed the Roman Empire by establishing the Tetrarchy (basically rule by four - a system of divided sovereighnty in which there were two emperors and two vice-emperors), then abdicated in 305, returning to the land of his birth. The retirement palace he built on the Adriatic shore became the founding structure of present-day Split, its walled precincts re-used, adapted or plundered for their stone by subsequent generations, creating the core of the modern city.
We know a lot about Diocletian's military victories and governmental reforms because they are described in detail by near-contemporary sources. The personal biography of the man is a much mistier affair - we can't say with any certainty where he was born, why he retired, or precisely how big his palace settlement actually was. Wandering around the palace precinct today, Diocletian's heritage is ever present, but the man remains elusive.
The fact that the former palace area now forms the heart of a living city means that it is not a traditional archeological site with everything labeled for the visitor, making it difficult to extrapolate much about how Diocletian lived. Things are compounded by the fact that none of Split's museums provide a detailed picture of Diocletan's era, and the visitor really has to tour the palace area, visit the City Museum and then trek out to the Archeological Museum in an attempt to piece together a picture of what third - and fourth-century Split was actually like.
It's because the palace precinct remains a residential area that it's unlikely that archeologists will ever be able to examine it in its entirety. The best opportunity to discover more about Diocletan's life and times came in the 1950s with the clearing of the palace basement, a substructure in the southern part of the palace precinct which is thought to mirror exactly the floor plan of the imperial apartments that once stood above. The reason why a basement exists beneath this part of the palace is believed to be because the ground beneath Diocletian's planned living quarters dropped sharply towards the sea, so a set of foundations had to be built in order to raise the level of the ground floor.
The basement has since served as a film set for several scenes of the HBO series Game of Thrones; what it was used for during Diocletan's time remains the subject of much conjecture. It was almost certainly used as a living space by the squatters who took over the palace following the fall of Salona in the seventh century. Once they moved up to ground level and started building their own dwellings from the palace masonry, the basement became a huge waste bin and shit hole, fed by the primitive toilets and inadequate drainage channels of the tenements above. When the petrified shit of medieval Split was finally cleared out of the basement by post-war archeologists, several tantalizing lefovers of the Diocletian era were revealed. A fragment of a porphyry sarcophagus, possibly Dioclitian's own, is nowadays on display in the lapidarium of the Archeology Museum. The City Museum displays a large menza or marble food table from which the emperor himself may once have eaten.
The popular view that Diocletian was a true-born Dalmatian who came home is plausible, if not exactly watertight. Diocletian's original name, Diokles, is Greek, so he could have been born anywhere with a bit of Hellenic heritage: multiracial, multilingual Salona certainly can't be ruled out. Contemporary writer Lactantius, who was a civil servant under Diocletian, tells us that the emperor, upon his abdication, left the imperial capital Nicomedia like an old soldier 'dismissed into his own country', suggesting that the old man was going back to where he was born.
However there were many other reasons why Diocletian may have chosen to build his palace here - access to sulphurous springs, proximity to a big city like Salona, and most crucially, good maritime links and ease of seaborne escape. Construction on the palace began at least ten years before Diocletian's abdication, which may indicate that it was initially envisaged as the seat of a ruling emperor rather than the retirement villa of a homesick pensioner. Diocletian didn't just reform the administration of the empire, he also reformed the ceremonial that surrounded the imperial court. The Emperor was henceforth considered a god from the moment of his accession, and people had to abase themselves when introduced into his presence. The desire to build fabulous palaces was an outgrowth of this new culture of adoration, and the palace at Split was by no means the only one that Diocletian built. Diocletian wanted his imperial captial at Nicomedia to rival Rome, and large parts of the city were demolished to make way for his official residence. He also built a fortified palace in Antioch which, although no longer in existence, is thought to have resembled the one in Split.
It's also an open question whether Diocletian's palace really was just a palace, or a part of an already exisitng settlement. The name Split derrives from the Latin Spalatum, which in turn is a corruption of the greek Aspalathos (which really means hairy broom, the wiry, yellow-flowered plant that covers this stretch of the coast), and it is assumed that the Greeks got here before Diocletian did. Stone fragments of a well found at the entrance of the palace basement predate Diocletian's time by several centuries. The recent renovation of the Split waterfront revealed wooden beams which confirmed the existence of a port here in the pre-Roman era. It's entirely possible that Diocletian demolished parts of an existing settlement in order to make room for his palace, much in the same manner as Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who cleared large parts of downtown Bucharest to make way for the brand-new Centru Civic in the 1980s.
Although we know a great deal about the shape and function of Diocletian's palace (imperial apartments in the south, accomodation for guards and servants in the north), the question of what lay immediately outside the palace walls remains the subject of much fervant debate. Recent excavations have suggested the existence of a hppodrome just outside the palace, and an amphitheatre (or at the very least a theatre) just inland. This might mean that the palace was not just an imperial retirement home but a much bigger settlement comprising entertainment facilities: 'some kind of Roman-era Las Vegas', the Croation magazine Globus suggested in April 2014. The idea that Diocletian's Split was a resort seems to be a backward projection of our present-day preoccupation with the travel and entertainment industries. However it's certainly plausible that Diocletian's settlement was more than just a palace and served a wider purpose. It is possible that the retired emperor was still an important player on the imperial chessboard, making his palace a political centre to keep the old man out of the way.
Ultimately there's a huge amount of ambiguity about Diocletian's role as local hero or imperial villain. Sure, he built a palace here, but he also presided over the last, greatest persecution of Christians in the annals of imperial Rome. And in a solidly Catholic city like Split, Diocletian's heritage can never be regarded as something entirely positive. The patron saint of the city is after all St. Domnius (Sveti Dujami), the third-century bishop of Salona who was decapitated in the city's amphitheatre on Diocletian's orders in 304AD. St. Domnius's feast day is marked on May 7th with church processions and a city-wide fair - an annual celebration of the fact that Diocletian did not end up on the winning side.
In a very real sense central Split is both a monument to Diocletian and also a solemn shrine to those he had executed. The early-medieval Christian civilization that took over Diocletian's palace engaged in a deliberate attempt to demonstrate its mastery over the emperor's pagan heritage. Diocletian's mausoleum became the Cathedral of St. Domnius. One of the cathedral's most famous altars (carved by Croatian Renaissance master Juraj Dalmatinac) honours St. Anastasius the Fuller, a Salona Christian who was thrown into the sea with a stone around his neck. The crypt of the cathedral, formerly a shrine to Mithras, was rededicated to another of Diocletian's martyrs, St. Lucy. Diocletian's sarcophagus, which once rested in the mausoleum, is assumed to have been thrown into the growing shit pile in the palace basement.
Diocletian shares the fate of many Roman emperors in the sense that there are so few reliable likenesses of him that we can't really be sure what he looked like. Busts of Diocletian may well have been destroyed because of his status as a persecutor of Christians, and the only surviving likeness we can be sure of is a head of Diocletian belonging to the Istanbul Archeological Museum. It shows a bearded, rugged, resolute man, and rather like the images of emperors that appear on coins, it may well be a stock representation of imperial power rather than a genuine portrait. Ultimately the most iconically recognizable character to emerge from Diocletian's palace is not the emperor himself but the granite sphinx that crouches on the balustrade beside the cathedral. One of the several that Diocletian had imported from Egypt, this is the only sphinx that survived in its complete form. Early Christians beheaded all of the others, as if the best way to get at the dead emperor was by decapitating his stone pets. For an emperor like Diocletian, a historical riddle remains unanswered, maybe the sphinx is the most appropriate symbol of all.
This has been reproduced by kind permission from the website Split In Your Pocket.
Johnatan Bousfield, Diocletian, From Emperor To Enigma, Split In Your Pocket, Autumn 2015
Dubrovnik: Attractions and Day Trips
Dubrovnik Cable Car
Join the 778 meter long journey in the cable cars and be amazed by the most beautiful, breathtaking views the Adriatic has to offer. The upper station has two panoramic terraces equipped with binocular telescopes, a snackbar, a panoramic restaurant that overlooks the Old City, a souvernir shop and more. The lower station is at the beginning of King Petar Kresimir Street (opposite of the fire station) where tickets can be bought, also in Restaurant Panorama at the top of mountain Srd, or in Restaurant Dubravka close to the Pile Gates where you can pay in kuna or by credit card.
Island of Lokrum
The island of Lokrum, a special nature reserve under the protection of UNESCO is Dubrovnik's favourite swimming and relaxation place. It takes only 10 minutes by boat from the Old Port to "teleport" into an oasis of peace and quiet, breathtaking nature and crystal clear sea. Once on the island there are plenty of things to see and do, from an impressive botanical garden, to the remains of the 12th century basillica, the 15th century monastery and the Habsburg summer residence dating from the 19th century. You can also enjoy lunch in one of the island's restaurants, coffee in the shade of the pine trees or simply chill under the centuries old olive trees in the olive grove.
Montenegro Private Tour
This exclusive private, guided tour in the luxurious comfort of a BMW 7 series, follows the route down the enchanting Adriatic coastline, starting from Dubrovnik towards St. Stefan. You will discover all the beautiful, natural and historical sites in Montenegro, including visits to the scenic coastal towns of Kotor, Budva, Perast and St. Stefan with an optional lunch stop at the famous Catovica Mlini at your own expense.
Full day private tour to Montenegro from Dubrovnik
Optional lunch at Catovica Mlini
Montenegro coastal towns visits
Possible swim-stop upon request
The Year Of St. Blaise
According to legend, back in 972 AD, invading Venetians found themselves before the walls of the majestic city of Dubrovnik with the intention of conquering it overnight. However, their efforts stifled thanks to an apparition from St. Blaise to the then parish priest Stojko, subsequently the city was successfully defended and St. Blaise had become its official patron saint.
From then on churches dedicated to St. Blaise began to spring across the entire Dubrovnik region, reminding people of his background, contribution and most of all giving thanks for his intervention. Statues of St. Blaise were erected around Dubrovnik buildings, walls and gates. After Dubrovink had gained its independence in 1358, much emphasis was assigned to placing statues and replicas of the saint in public buildings and areas. The largest number of sculptures was placed around the ring of the city walls, which symbolically reinforced their protective role. Inside the city, statues were erected on administration buildings; his image had adorned many manuscripts, charters and sailing permits, but also appeared on money, seals and flags. St. Blaise's character was a reminder of commitment and responsibiltiy, the so called duty of any citizen and he was therefore placed on the first page of the Dubrovnik Statute as well as on the stamps used for labelling criminals. His image of sitting on a throne and sending his blessing was a unifying message of heavinly protection with that of justice and self-consciousness to the city's authorities.
St. Blaise the martyr is known in other regions of Croatia as Blaz, or sanctus Blasius in Latin. He was born in the town of Elaiussa Sebaste in former Armenia Minor that was ruled by Rome, and which is the present-day city of Sivas in central Turkey. The people and clergy elected him for bishop after the death of his predecessor. It is said that during the persecution of Christians, this bishop of Elaiussa Sebaste was hiding in the mountains of Cappadocia and chose a lonely and dark cave for his home from which he carefully went out only at night to share comfort and help tortured and unhappy Christians. God gave him power to become a friend of the wild beasts and they would bring him food, whilst he would heal them in return. By order of the then Roman governor Agricola, the Bishop was caught and convicted to the most serious suffering for not renouncing his faith, and was finally murdered in February of 317 AD.
The Feast Day of St. Blaise has been celebrated for over 1000 years and the City of Dubrovnik declared the year 2016 as the Year of St. Blaise, on the occasion of the 1700th anniversary since the martyrdom of the saint. It is also worth mentioning that the year 2016 also marked the 600th anniversary since the issuing of the abolition of slavery by the Great and General Counsel of the Dubrovnik Republic, which at the time was made up of 78 councillors and which on January 27 1416 was among the first in Europe and the world to legally prohibit the slave trade. 75 seats voted in favour and the proclamation came into force the day after, as soon as it was read out loud in the city's streets and squares.
The Feast of St. Blaise has been a part of the UNESCO Intangible Heritage since 2009 and is celebrated in the heart of winter. It is the central winter event that is both unique and has remained unchanged for centuries. What can be seen at this gracious time? There is the evening candlelit mass, a procession through the streets of the city, feštanjuli is a ceremony marking the blessing of the organisers who ensure that tradition is upheld, the unveiling of banners, mimosa and its symbolic beginning of Spring and last but not least the feasting on šporki makaruli (a soucy meat pasta with century old tradition that leaves more on the chin then the mouth). All this makes the Dubrovnik Festivity as equally unique as St. Blaise himself.
Traditionally, the celebration begins with a Candlemass or Candelaria on the 2nd of February; white doves are released in front of the saint's church as a symbol of freedom and peace and the raising of St. Blaise's flag is held at Orlando's Pillar. Along with a church ceremony in Dubrovnik, a number of secular events are also organised during that period that are intended for residents and tourists alike. Restaurants offer typical winter specialities, exhibitions and concerts dedicated to St. Blaise are in abundance, and a walk through the city walls reveal more than one hundred stone statues of the patron saint.
The Feast of St. Blaise brongs out the best of Dubrovnik, national costumes of Primorje, Zupa Dubrovacka or Konavle evoke the time of old costumes. Attention is drawn towards the colourful church banners and their fluttering on the square behind Orlando, as well as the group of trombunjeri in their eye-catching uniforms. The trombunjeri carry broad rifles on their sholders and their gun shots recall the old times when Dubrovnik residents used them to frighten potential enemies. They fire shots before entering the city, at the Brsalje which is where at the time of the Republic any shooting with rifles and cannons used to be practiced. It is only in the evening hours, when the City is covered in darkness and the saint's relics are resting in the treasury, do the village confraternities return home. Before the beautiful baroque entrance into the patron saint's Church one can see a green laurel wreath, stained-glass windows above the entrance doors which are surrounded with ornamented stone walls, and statues of St. Blaise which for centuries have been holding the model of the city in his arms as if to bring his heart and protective embrace to his beloved city and its town folk.
For over a thousand years this grand Medical city which sits beneath the Srd Mountain has been celebrating the day of their patron saint with little change in custom and tradition. And it is true that Dubrovnik no longer has its Rector or grand nobility of yester year, but the beautiful stony Rectors Palace is still here, with the baroque Church of St. Blaise alongside it and the Baroque Cathedral, but most importantly the age-old commitment of its inhabitants to the patron saint.
With their songs, hymns, lyrics, music and visual arts, Dubrovnik inhabitants honoured their patron saint throughout the year 2016, by way of religious and secular programmes. The completely renovated interior of the Church of St. Blaise was another important contribution to the celebration of the great anniversary. Finally, as St. Blaise is revered not only in Europe but throughout the world, the city went all out in commemorating this gentle and cirtuous bishop who had a gentle and harmonious soul. A true defender of Dubrovnik in all its hardships, whose sanctity is celebrated, whose impact has touched the lives of generations past and present, and whose impact has been felt on the overall life of the City of Dubrovnik.
Despite Dubrovnik having centuries-old trading connections across the globe, the cuisine of this region is very much based on the gifts of nature in this part of the world. Classic Dubrovnik cuisine is seasoned with parsley, garlic, olive oil and lemon, and perhaps a touch of rosemary or bay leaf if the chef is on the adventurous side. A true Mediterranean experience, you might say.
This tendency to eschew more exotic ingredients can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the city's menus can seem somewhat repetitive. On the other hand, what you eat is fresh, natural and , in the better restaurants, local. The simplicity of the preparation lets the flavours of high quality ingredients do the work. It's hard to beat a good piece of meat or fish grilled over charcoal with a salad freshly picked from a hinterland garden.
In defence of simple cooking, experiments with "imaginative" cuisine can be like playing Russian Roulette. In anything but the most skilled hands and pedantic husbandry the result can be disappointing. For example, in Provence, as Financial Times food columnist Rowley Leigh complained bitterly in summer 2012, it's hard find an authentic bouillabaisse or ratatouille these days. Peasant food gains elevated status and loses its guts. Croatian food is still unfashionably plentiful and full of flavour, and all the better for it.
So, what can you eat in Dubrovnik if you'd like to escape the grilled fish - grilled meat - pasta trinity? The best answer is the same as anywhere; the same as the local people eat at home.
Let's start with the basics. Šporke makarule is the local version of everyone's favourite: spaghetti bolognese. However, with hand-made pasta, small chunks of beef (not mince) and fresh tomatoes, it becomes something special. You'll see big vats of the stuff served on the street at Carnival time in February. But even on the hottest day, add a crisp green salad and you've got the perfect lunch.
A more special dish served throughout Dalmatia is pašticada. There are many variations, but generally a lean piece of beef is studded with carrot, garlic and smoked bacon and marinated in wine, oil, vinegar with perhaps a little orange and lemon. It's cooked in a rich sauce, sometimes with prunes, and served with soft gnocci.
A winter warmer that truly displays the spirit of the region is kanavoska zelena menestra. A selection of cured meats (pork, mutton, sausage) is cooked up with winter greens and potato. When finished, the meat is served on a plate and the smokily scented veg dished up with a little of the soupy liquid and lashings of olive oil. This dish dates from the 16th century; for added historical effect substitute barley for potato. Fast forward to springtime when broad beans are ready for picking: try them cooked with smoked mutton, garlic, parsley and bacon fat.
To get a little more exotic, consider an excursion northwards to the Pelješac peninsula, where you can treat yourself to Ostrea edulis, otherwise known as the finest oysters in the world, prepared in a million different ways. While you're there, look out also for butarga (dried flathead mullet roe); there are a couple of families here who still prepare this rare delicacy.
Split is one the oldest cities and the second largest of Croatia. This is a dynamic city centred on the palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Split is a great city with a lot of cultural diversity and is settled in an magnificent area between coastal mountains and the turquoise waters of the Adriatic.
- Palace Judita Heritage hotel:
Palace Judita Heritage is a 4-star hotel located in the heart of Split, right in front of the Diocletian’s Palace. You can choose between four different types of rooms whose names are inspired by a legendary local figure. Be sure to bring ear plugs; the Palace can be a loud place at night.
- Hotel Vestibul Palace:
Vestibul Palace Hotel, located inside the Diocletian’s Palace, is a 4-star hotel and a member of the ‘Small Luxury Hotels of the world’. The hotel has different orientations regarding the architectural style, there are indeed Romanic, Gothic and Renaissance influences which contribute to its unique character. The comfortable rooms are a combination of ancient and modern styles which are an integral and inseparable part of what make the charm of the Hotel Vestibul Palace. Be sure to bring ear plugs; the Palace can be a loud place at night.
- Hotel Atrium:
Hotel Atrium is one of the only 5-star hotels in Split, located just a few minutes away from the city centre. All rooms are modern and furnished with cutting-edge equipment. While staying there you can enjoy several different pleasant services such as an organized visiting day through the city, a relaxing massages at the Spa centre or a swim in the pool.
- Marmont Hotel
Marmont, located in the old city centre, is a four star hotel that, despite its old-fashioned and traditional exterior, is very contemporarily furnished. The large rooms are very luxurious, very comfortable and furnished in a modern fashion. The restaurant shares this interior and offers dishes from all over the world. The hotel is only a few minutes away from Diocletian's Palace.
- Cornaro Hotel
Cornaro is a four star hotel in the middle of Split's old city centre, a short walk away from the Palace and the Riva. This luxurious hotel has contemporarily styled, large rooms and modern interiors. The exterior is in a lovely pink-red building that fits right in the traditional old centre.
- Augubio Congo:
Augubio Congo is a restaurant located in a 15th century villa. In this cosy and relaxing restaurant you will have the opportunity to discover some traditional Mediterranean food mixed with modern influences.
- Bokeria Kitchen & Wine:
Bokeria Kitchen & Wine was built in an old hardware market, and its style is inspired by the lively markets of Barcelona . Located right in the centre of the town, this restaurant offers you a broad range of dishes plus several seasonal meals which will perfectly match the flavourful Croatian wines. The detail that you will undoubtedly appreciate at Bokeria Kitchen & Wine is the live jazz music. The accoustics in here however make for a very loud environment.
- Konoba Varoš:
Konoba Varoš restaurant is located in the ancient part of Split. It is an old-styled restaurant with wood decorations offering a pleasant Dalmatian background music creating a very authentic and pleasant atmosphere. They serve various typical Dalmatian meals with fresh local meat or fish, which will match everyone’s requirements. If you intend to order a Peka Octopus (stew), be sure to give the restaurant some notice - ideally 24 hours minimum.
- Zinfandel's Food & Wine Bar
According to the owners, they wanted the interior to be both industrial and rustic looking and it truly looks exquisite. Importantly, they've also managed to capture the hearts of guests with their contemporary Croatian cuisine and tapas, charcuterie and cheese platters, excellent wines and impeccable service. It is tucked away nicely in a quiet little alley, close to Diocletian's Palace.
- Paradox Wine & Cheese Bar
This wine and cheese bar has 'Dalmatia' written all over it with over 100 wines. Representing the diversity and quality of wines in this region, 50 wines are available to try by the glass. As well, they offer about 20 artisan cheeses that are primarily produced locally. You can pick and choose whatever suits your taste buds as you relax in their cozy interior space with stonewalls set against elm and oak furniture. They have an extremely friendly staff, many of which hold wine qualifications
Newer eateries like the eclectic Mazzgoon at the West Gate of the Palace, with a charming courtyard that wraps around the place, are creating imaginative interpretations like terrine of rabbit with grapefruit marmalade starters; a smashing risotto with raisins and apples and finishing a traditional brudet fish stew with local sweet wine to give it a marvelous new taste. Their pastry chef adores chocolate and her homemade truffles are absolutely killer. If you really consider yourself a seafood aficionado, now that you are finally here, the one dish you must have at least one serving of is Black Risotto. Don't be put off by its strange licorice look, the taste is remarkably light and sweet. Other fin food not to miss, despite its lowly status and bargain price is Gavuni and Sardines. The former are tiny smelts that are quick-fried and so downright yummy they're like seafood pomme frites. And the sardines here are so fresh and unsalty, you will be amazed. Then there's Grdobina (devil's mother), a ferocious looking monster whose fat, sharp toothed head is chucked into the soup pot, but it's firm white yummy tail is deliciously grilled. Padraic, owner and operating manager of Fresh Eire Adventures, claims the macaroni, shrimp, cream and black truffle dish here is the best he has tried in the city.
- Diocletian’s Palace:
The Palace of Diocletian is listed, with the Historical Complex of Split, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This massive palace charged with history was built in the 4th century as an retirement residence for Diocletian, the famous and powerful Roman emperor. Nowadays it represents almost half of the town's historical centre and is one of the most crowded tourists sites. While visiting the Diocletians’s Palace, don’t forget to visit Saint Domnius Cathedral which basically built as a mausoleum, a majestic funeral eulogy from another time. Be sure to check out our blog post Diocletian: From Emperor To Enigma written by renowned historian Jonathan Brucefield.
- Archaeological Museum
Even though it's situated north of the town centre, Split's archaeological museum is certainly worth the trip. The museum was founded in 1820, making it the oldest museum in Croatia. The museum's contents come mainly from central Dalmatia, especially from Salona, with thousands of stone epitaphs from that region. Also featured are ceramics and glass of Greek and Roman origin, along with hundreds of other objects made from bone, metal and glass from various historical periods including prehistoric, pre-Christian, Greek and Medieval.
This quirky museum exhibits over 500 stuffed frogs in every day human situations. This is all possible thanks to Taxidermy, a preservation technique that fills up the frog from the inside through its mouth. The museum features frogs who have been preserved by masters such as Francois Perrier, Walter Potter and Pierre-Yves Renkin. Ferenc Mere, founder of the museum and also a master in the art of Taxidermy, created this unique collection which, to the present day, remains the biggest and best collection of its kind in the world.
Riva beach is the perfect place to enjoy a moment of relaxation with either a walk along the promenade or a glass of wine in front of the water. This is a dreamy setting with palm trees and pristine waters where several cafés and bars are situated. This location is popular and the setting is as beautiful by day as by night.
2. Bačvice Beach
Bačvice Beach is the favourite beach of Split for swimmers, as they can practice all year around. Not only the warm temperature is appreciated but also the cleanliness of the water. Indeed Bačvice Beach as earned the ‘Blue Flag’ which awards the quality of the water. Finally this popular beach is also accessible to disabled people and you will find plenty of activities there to make the best of your stay. Try catch a game of
- The Ivan Meštrović Gallery:
The Ivan Meštrović Gallery is an art museum honouring the work of the 20th century scultpor. The building in itself is a work art as it as constructed on plans designed by Ivan Meštrović. Inside the building as well as in the beautiful gardens, you can find several masterpieces in marble, stone, bronze or wood.
Dubrovnik: Restaurants & Wine Bar
Here are our Top Restaurant & Wine Bar Recommendations in Dubrovnik, as prepared by intern Mathieu.
For the ultimate Dubrovnik dining experience pay a visit to Restaurant 360° a trendy and elegant place commited to presenting top-notch cuisine prepared with the finest ingredients, inspired by Mediterranean flavours, influenced by local history and presented in a contemporary manner. The chef at 360° takes modern Mediterranean dining to a whole new level constantly experimenting with new techniques and recipes to keep their menu full of delicious selections and inventive combinations. Regarding the food, there isn't really a thing we wouldn't recommend from the delicacies they serve, for all the dishes encompassed in their menu are a gastronomic adventure. There is a special degustation menu that serves several mains in smaller portions. One other thing you shouldn't miss, is treating yourself with some of the exclusive wines recommended by the sommelier.
360° is a sophisitcated outdoor oasis, showcasing superb fine dining amidst the iconic sights of Dubrovnik's dramatic architecture. Their superior service is a pearl of the Adriatic's gastro scene. Whether it is a romantic dinner with your significant other, a family get together, or just a night out with your friends, 360° offers something for everyone.
Jam packed into a street filled with restaurants is this small haven for non-meaty lovers. You'll find a fusion vegetarian cuisine from all over the world. Choose from falafel, curry, soups, salad bar and much more. The menu also contains vegan and gluten-free dishes for those mor in tune with Mother Nature. Enjoy the local wines, beers, and home-made juices that Nishta has to offer. A lot of thought has gone into the design of the toilets, so make sure you arrive with a full bladder otherwise you will miss out on the joke.
In the old town of Dubrovnik, Barba is a restaurant which offers you delicious seafood in a simple but modern interior. Their burgers and salads are also gorgeous. This restaurant is a nice place to order fast food such as fried fish.
Here’s a review from TripAdvisor of Barba by Padraic, owner of Fresh Eire Adventures:
“Great value, no nonsense fast food in a comfortable and friendly restaurant setting. I made the mistake of ordering too much - the tempura prawn dish was very heavy. However, the server saw it wasn't to my liking, and (they also forgot to order it for me so it took half an hour to arrive) didn't charge me for it.
Recommended (for the calamari)”.
D'vino Wine Bar
D'vino Wine Bar is the perfect place to relax, share an intimate conversation, celebrate a special occasion, or just unwind and enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day. Located in a narrow street in the heart of Dubrovnik Old City, D'vino has an imported wine available by the glass, bottle, and tasting servings. D'vino offers over 60 wines by the glass, which is by far the richest selection in Dubrovnik, with a focus on small wine producers and family vineyards across Croatia. From quick bites to elaborate gourmet platters, D'vino has it all. Based on local ingredients and traditional delicasies, they serve delicious food with a twist.
Razonada Wine & Tapas Bar:
Razonada Wine & Tapas Bar is simply the best place to discover high quality Croatian wines in Dubrovnik. With its elegant interior, we suggest to combine a fabulous glass of wine with Croatian tapas such as Proscuitto. Charming and romantic, this establishment is located inside the Pucic Palace Hotel, in the very heart of the Old City of Dubrovnik. Croatia is a land of contrast and the fine wines follow this diversity. Produced on lush rolling green valleys or steep cliff sides the wines of Croatia range from refreshing light whites to full-bodied reds. We recommend sampling a glass of the famous red wine from the Peljesac peninsula, Dingac. Or if you are looking for a cool white wine then we recommend Posip from the island of Korcula. And the lounge bar Defne, a rooftop terrace over Razonda, offers a stunning ambience above the busy streets, after a glass of fine wine make your way up to the terrace for a light lunch. If you are looking for a slightly different way to explore and experience the beauties of Croatia look no further.
Kopun, one of the rising stars among Dubrovnik's restaurants, and a local favourite, is located on one of the most enchanting squares in Dubrovnik's Old Town, the calm and peaceful Ruder Boškovic square, approached via romantic baroque staircase. Elegant interior, gorgeous outside seating and relaxed setting of the whole area, popularly known as Jezuiti, enhances their rich offer, and puts Kopun in the top of the town's restaurant scene. Alfresco dining at Kopun, gives you a unique opportunity to enjoy the view of a wonderfully ornate Jesuit church of St Ignatius, while indulging in authentic delicasies. Their menu features buzzes for everyone's taste, with an emphasis put on tradidtional Croatian recipes, thus one can enjoy flavours from all over Croatia, tastes of Istria or Slavonija, Zagorje or Dalmatia, all carefully gathered and brilliantly created in this one lovely venue.
Special feature on their menu is capon, young rooster bread exclusively for meat. Capon represents a highly valued delicacy in traditional cuisines all across Europe, and in time of Dubrovnik republic it was served to local aristocrats. The recommended dish Dubrovnik Capon, rooster in sauce of sour orange and honey, is inspired by the work of Marin Drzic, Dubrovnik's famous 16th century writer. So sink in and sense the true Dubrovnik, as it once was.
Here are our Top Hotel Recommendations in Dubrovnik, as prepared by intern Mathieu.
The Pucic Palace:
The 5-star Pucic Palace is a 17th century baroque building in the old town of Dubrovnik, and the unique hotel is located inside the fortifications. Rooms are chic and charming, and bathrooms are unique with their Romanesque Italian mosaic in walls and tiles. Open your window, and admire a stunning view of Dubrovnik (be sure to pack some earplugs: the old town can become very loud at night).
Their Defne terrace offers a creative contemporary eastern Mediterranean cuisine, best enjoyed on a sunny day; it’s so pleasant and refreshing.
The 5-star Hilton Imperial is a wonderful building on the doorstep of Old Dubrovnik just outside the Pile Gate, and close to Banje Beach. Rooms are spacious and comfortable with high-quality bedding. To fully decompress, the Beauty Line Center at the Hilton Imperial, allows you to enjoy their indoor swimming pool, spa, steam room, fitness gym or even massages.
The Porat Restaurant offers refined Mediterranean cuisine with local produce meticulously chosen by Hilton Imperial Executive Chef, Julija Basic. The Lobby Bar is also a smart way to appreciate cocktails, wines or even a simple coffee in their sumptuous terrace, facing the beautiful old town and their ramparts.
Lapad Hotel is a 4-star Victorian architectural building located close to the old town of Dubrovnik, in front of the sea in Lapad. Rooms are spacious and cosy; you have the option to choose between the old and classic parts of the establishment. The breakfast is substantial and varied, no better way to start a good day. To relax, the swimming pool is ideal after a day visiting old Dubrovnik city, as is the restaurant where you can enjoy gastronomic Mediterranean creative food.