City Secrets | Croatia
Making your way along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia is an exercise in living in the moment. From Dubrovnik to Split, Hvar to Korcula, the biggest pleasures of spending time in this beautiful country are the simplest ones. Steep cliffs drop into the clear, aqua waters of the Adriatic Sea, ancient Venetian and Roman architecture fills the old towns, and the leisurely pace of lazy people-watching permeates through a joie de vivre Mediterranean café culture.
Especially in the early mornings when the city is empty of the flocks of midday visitors deposited regularly by cruise boats, the stunning beauty of Dubrovnik can take your breath away. As a wealthy maritime trade center that at one point rivaled the grandeur of Venice, Dubrovnik has an incredibly rich past and some of the most stunning architecture in Europe. From Renaissance to Gothic and Baroque, Dubrovnik’s churches, houses, and glistening cobblestone streets are manifestations of it tumultuous and fascinating history. Make sure not to miss the monasteries and the panoramic views from the ancient city walls that used to protect Dubrovnik from invaders.
Hvar, an island located about seven hours north of Dubrovnik by boat, has historically served as a central trading base on the Adriatic’s main sailing routes and today those waterways have stayed busy with the comings and goings of Europe’s more low-key jetset. A less self-conscious version of Nice or Monaco, Hvar nonetheless attracts bright young things that keep the island partying late into the night during summer’s high season. The most popular bar on Hvar is Carpe Diem, which organizes nightly boat taxis to a separate island nearby where its club proper is located and revelers can continue their fun past the call for lights out on the mainland. Like most of Croatia’s coastline, Hvar’s beaches are rocky and narrow, but the pristine blue waters more than make up for the lack of sand. In the daytime there is little too do on this island except swim, watch people go by, and enjoy the wine and fresh seafood—an ideal set of options if there ever was one.
Make your way still farther north from Hvar on a private boat or one of the superbly run national ferries and in an hour you’ll arrive in Split, one of Croatia’s most interesting cities. Chosen as a retirement local by the Roman emperor Diocletian in 293 AD, Split was built and grew around the imposing and vastly beautiful palace. Today you can thoroughly explore Diocletian’s ancient stomping grounds (while having a coffee at one of the numerous stylish cafes perched along the palace walls) and the city that began growing around them over 1,500 years ago.
Croatia is known for its ubiquitous lavender fields and in any given town or city along the coast you’ll easily spot local grandmothers selling small, white cotton sachets–often beautifully embroidered by hand–filled with the aromatic flower.
No less prevalent is Croatia’s coral. From magnificent bright reds, to rusty peaches and pale pinks, coral jewelry is sold all over the country and for the most part the smaller back alley stores offer more unique pieces at better prices.