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Fresh Eire Blog

Ireland: Driving Tips For Your Trip In Ireland

Driving tips for your pre or post self-guided trip in Ireland

Drive on the left!

Yes, it's obvious.  Yes, everyone is doing it.  But if you're used to driving on the right, it's easy to fall into old habits first thing in the morning, after a lunch stop, or pulling back onto a quiet country road after taking that latest awesome photo.

Left Sign for ireland

Heed the speed limits

The speed limit on most regional (R) roads is 80kph/50mph, on national (N) roads 100kph/62mph, and on motorways (M) 120kph/75mph.  In towns, the limit is 50kph/30mph.

Get a good map

Irish motorways are straightforward.  Country roads ... not so much.  That's why it's a good idea to have a reliable map (such as those availble for purchase in Tourist Information Offices) or GPS in the glove box before you set off on your Ireland road trip.

Safety first

Whilst Ireland's roads are improving all the time, N and R routes can still be thin and bumpy, prone to ice in winter, and may not have hard shoulders.  For many drivers, of course, that's all part of the charm.  But it's wise to adapt your speed to the circumstances.

The tractor factor

No matter how meticulous your plans, the chance of chugging along at 20mph behind a tractor, or being held to a standstill by a herd of sheep or cattle, is always there.  It's nothing to worry about (it may even make your trip), just be aware that it may occur!  Remember to only pass when the road ahead is fully clear.

Park smart

You'll rarely have to pay to park in the Irish countryside, but pay-and-display charges are commonplace in towns and cities.  Keep some coins handy for the meters, and remember to check the signs indicating times during which on-street parking is charged.  If you ignore the parking regulations expect to be clamped - that is, you'll return to find your car with a boot on one of the wheels and this can only be released upon payment of a hefty fine.  Your car might even be towed!

park and display

Car rental tips

Most rental cars in Ireland are manual transmission, so if you prefer to drive automatic, stipulate this when booking.  Rental companies provide numbers to call if you need breakdown assistance, and fuel tanks should be returned as full as you receive them.  We recommend renting the smallest possible car to meet your needs.  Our preferred rental car companies include Avis, Hertz, Budget/Sixt and Europcar.  We do not recommend Dan Dooley Rent-A-Car.  It is always advisable to take out full insurance with a zero-deductible.

Don't forget

When driving in Ireland, you need to carry a valid licence as well as insurance and vehicle registration documentation.  It's also illegal to hold a mobile phone when driving, so keep those calls, tweets, texts and Facebook updates for when you're safely pulled in!

Fill up

There are very few online services on Irish motorways, and petrol stations can be irregular between towns.  Keep your tank topped up!  Be sure to check what type of fuel your rental car requires; most of the smallest cars take petrol (gas) while frequently you may be assigned a car with a diesel engine.  At the gas station you can identify easily which pump is which: yellow/black is diesel while green/black is petrol (gasoline).


Around Dublin you will very likely drive on the notorious M50 ring road from which you can access all roads heading north, south, east and west.  There is an electronic toll on this road which must be paid within 48 hours.  It can be paid at most gas stations and news agents.  You simply notify the assistant of your registration number (e.g. 172-D-12345) and pay the toll for however many trips you have taken.  Other toll roads exist around the country but these can be paid on the roads themselves.

Need to know

In case of accident or emergency, call 999 or 112.

Croatia: A Taste Of Island Hopping

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.

Split: Diocletian Palace

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.

diocletian palace

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.

Diocletian bust

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

San Sebastian - Bike tour: Hotels & Restaurants

San Sebastian


San Sebastian, also called Donostia in Basque, is a city located in the north of Spain but also the capital of the province Guipuzcoa belonging to the Basque Country. The city was an important military and naval base during the Middle Ages. Nowadays San Sebastian is a lively university town and a major economical pole.

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San Sebastian counts 3 of the 7 Restaurants in Spain that hold the highest distinction in the gastronomy world , which is to say the coveted Michelin 3 stars. This is a true testimony and proof of the know-how of the culinary artists of San Sebastian.



- Akelare - Pedro Subijana:

This Michelin 3 star restaurant is located 7km west from the train station so you will need a car to reach it . If you have never been there, you may legitimately wonder why the restaurant is decentralised. Once you have seen this breathtaking location, you can understand all the magic of this place which is overlooking the Bay of Biscay. The famous chef Pedro Subijana is an emblematic figure of the gastronomy world and his numerous awards speak for themselves. He has been working and improving a base of three menus that will help you to discover his culinary world. You will explore a variety of new tastes in an incomparable setting.


- Restaurante Martín Berasategui:

As for our previous recommendation, this other Michelin 3 star restaurant is not centrally located, it is a 20 minutes car ride away from the centre which is totally worth the detour. In 2016, Tripadvisor has ranked his restaurant the best in the world for the second year in a row; not only for the unquestionable quality of his food but also his work ethic and philosophy.


- Casama Cámara:
The restaurant is situated in the east part of the city and is found inside a seventeenth century house at the entrance of the Pasajes harbour. Casama Cámara was founded in 1884 and has always belonged to the Cámara family. The perfect geographical location has allowed the restaurant to develop a strong reputation for its catering which is exclusively composed of fresh fish and sea food. Even if the restaurant does not have any Michelin star, the authentic and traditional setting combined to products of quality will leave you a lasting memory.



- Hotel Arrizul Center:
The Hotel Arrizul Center is located in front of the Kuursaal Congress Center. The traditional style of its exterior façade gives a charming first impression and is just a few steps away from the city centre. There are 12 beautiful well-groomed rooms available. During the Film Festival of San Sebastian you will see the artists come to present their films or as you have a direct access to the centre you can also enjoy the tapas bars and shopping centres at the local rhythm.



- Hotel Niza:

This 3 star hotel offers a wonderful view of La Concha beach as well as its surroundings. You will enjoy a panorama of the beach surrounded by hills and beautiful houses with a typical Basque style, overlooking a passage through which the sea flow into the Bay. The central location will allow you to walk everywhere in the city, and the multilingual, attentive staff will advise you of their top tips of the town.


- Hotel Maria Christina:
The Hotel Maria Christina was built in 1912 and is an institution of San Sebastian as it is a magnificent 5 star hotel contributing to the international outreach of the city. This is an exceptional hotel with a customer satisfaction rating of 96%. The hotel is just a few blocks away from La Concha beach. However, what really distinguishes the Hotel Maria Christina is its environmental awareness and, in 2016, it was awarded the gold medal of the project ICARIUS from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

Vienna - Bike tour: Hotels & Restaurants

Vienna is an ideal post-trip destination following our Prague - Vienna Bike Tour - Vienna Bike Tour


Vienna is the capital of Austria and its largest city. Usually regarded as the City of Music, thanks to its music legacy, and as the City of Dreams, because it was the home to the first psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud. Vienna is rich in arts and culture, from theatre to opera and fine arts. Vienna, and especially its historic centre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, has a huge variety of architectural styles which reflects the city’s willingness to be an open, cultural, globalized city. The city is ranked first for its high quality of life and considered to be the most prosperous city in the world.



-The Guesthouse Vienna:

Located right behind the State Opera House and famous Albertina, the 5-star Guesthouse Vienna is a perfect starting point to visit the city and to have a cosy, relaxing vacation. Rooms are elegant and well-equipped with everything you might need, from an espresso machine to a wine fridge where beverages are free of charges. To fully appreciate and enjoy your stay you cannot miss the Brasserie and in-house Bakery where you will find freshly baked goods.

- Hotel Sacher Wien:

The 5-star Hotel Sacher Wien Hotel is right in front of The State Opera House and it is one of the world’s greatest luxury hotels. You will be provided with all the greatest comforts and every modern technology you might need. John F. Kennedy, Grace Kelly and Queen Elizabeth II have stayed here. While enjoying your stay at this hotel you can’t miss the speciality of the house, the Original Sacher Torte, the world-famous chocolate cake with apricot filling.



- Reinthaler’s Beisl:

Reinthaler’s Beisl, situated at the heart of Vienna, is a traditional Austrian restaurant. As the word ‘Beisl’ itself indicates, it is a typical, cosy, traditional Viennese dining establishment.  There's more to life than Schnitzel afterall, but when it's this good...

- Beim Czaak:
Beim Czaak bistro, at the heart of Vienna’s historic centre, will surprise and spoil you with its wide selection of traditional wines and beers fresh from the tap. The menu is mostly comprised of classic local dishes served in a relaxing environment which makes it hard to forget (unless you enjoy too many of those beers!). Last, but absolutely not least, the restaurant has a large garden opening in summer, making this restaurant a perfect place to taste some traditional food and wine while enjoying the Viennese summer breeze.