After a couple of days exploring Plitvice Lakes National Park we headed to Split, where we would spend a week and a half. It’s a fairly large city and a big tourist destination on the central coast of Croatia. After 3 months in the US hopping between the homes of friends and family, we were excited for a bit of an extended stay in an apartment we could call home.
We dropped off our rental car as the rain was beginning to die down and headed out in search of Galerija Food, a restaurant that looked like it would be a wonderful place to experience our first and, as it turns out, the only meal we ate out in Split. The restaurant was situated in Diocletian’s Palace, a 4th century palace built by the last Roman emperor to persecute Christians. The narrow streets and stone paths and buildings were always a source of interest to us, but they were not very conducive for quickly finding a specific place. After several passes, we finally found the right alley and sat ourselves down to delicious food.
Our first full day in Split was a bit dreary, which gave us a chance to get our bearings and accomplish my top priority – find a great coffee place. And, wow, did we find some great coffee. 4soul Coffee Food is a new (literally) hole in the wall coffee shop out the outside of the palace in Old Town Split. Dado, the owner and barista, grew up in Germany, but is of Croatian descent and moved to Split after years of working in bars and restaurants in Germany. He had gained an appreciation for good beers, wines, and liquors and wanted to bring that same passion to Croatia in the form of coffee. The standard coffee in the places we’ve been, both in South America and Europe, is either instant coffee or descent espresso or drip. It’s rare to find a craft coffee shop that takes the time and care to make a good cup of coffee. Dado has an espresso blend made especially for 4soul that is creamy and rich. It’s the first time I haven’t even felt an urge to add sugar to either a cappuccino or an espresso. He also has beans he uses for the Chemex from Colombia, Ecuador, and the best, Guatamala. My favorite part of the experience, is that, because it’s such a small shop – there are only two stools in front of the counter and not much room for another person to order – he focuses on each cup he is making. Sometimes, we had to wait five minutes for him to finish other orders, but when it came time for ours, we felt special as he turned his focus solely to us. You could easily taste the quality, the passion, and the care that was dedicated to each cup.
After hitting the coffee jackpot, we turned our attention to the next pressing matter – figuring out what the heck was causing our apartment to smell like rotten eggs. It wasn’t strong, but every so often we’d get a whiff and wonder if it was our clothes that needed washing or something else. After a day or so wracking our brains and smelling every nook and cranny of the place, we finally realized we could smell it in other places in the city. After a quick google search (“Why does it smell bad in Split?”), we learned that Split was on top of sulphur vents that frequently release when it rains, which it had on and off for the first couple of days of our stay. With the comfort that it was the city, not us, we could focus on enjoying all the rest of beautiful Split.
On the first sunny day, we headed out from our apartment to the main park in Split. This enormous park reminds me a bit of parks we been to in both San Diego and San Francisco with it’s high water views and tree shaded roads that are great for running. We walked the length of the park, enjoying panoramic views of the Split harbor and the mountains behind the city, several churches and houses, including some built into the tall vertical rock faces, and some good walking to shake off the rainy day blues. We spotted a couple of beaches, one that we took advantage on our way back home and another we walked back to on another sunny day.
Old Town and the Palace
Old Town Split encompasses Diocletian’s Palace and a bit more of the area around the palace, including a beautiful waterfront. In the palace, the streets were very narrow, cobblestone passageways lines with shops, restaurants, and cafes. The buildings were all three stories tall, creating a maze of darkened streets that always left us wondering where exactly the way out was. One of our favorite cafes was Marcvs Marvlvs, the birthplace of a local poet Marko Marulic. The owner Tin, originally from Argentina, had found the location, renovated it, and made a library cafe, where books dominated the scene. Even the check was brought in a book! The selection was to our liking. Danielle enjoyed some of the local herb rakija and I had an Ardbeg 12 year scotch and a pint of Guinness. I loved Tin’s introduction to the cafe from the menu – “I hope you experience the aim of creating a house that makes you feel, once you’ve crossed the door saying goodbye, homesick enough to return.”
Next to old town, there is a large market, where many people bring fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheese, meats, honey, and crafts. We had plenty of opportunity to sample all of these. We had some seriously smoked sausage (smelled and tasted like a campfire). The eggs were large, with hearty whites, and deep orange yolks. Pomegranates and oranges were in abundance, large and flavorful. We made a delicious soup from the local potatoes, zucchini, carrots, onions, and garlic. Danielle, a lover of lavender, which is something Croatians know much about, bought a small canvas bag of dried lavender, that when squeezed will give off the great aroma, freshening up our room and our packs.
I’m only highlighting these, because they have a wonderful variety of baked things – lots of breads, croissants, and pastries. Lots of sandwiches and wraps, usually featuring, prosciutto, mozzarella, or ham. And pizza. It’s close to Italy, so it’s no surprise, but Croatians know how to make pizza. As a cheap snack or meal, it was always easy to find some delicious pizza close by.
Day Trip to Krka National Park, Šibenik, and Trogir
One of the days we were in Split, we rented a car, and headed out to Krka National Park. This was a place that had a bunch of waterfalls, but on a much much smaller scale than Plitivce. We enjoyed a nice walk around the park and enjoyed the views.
The sun came out long enough, that we donned our bathing suits and jumped in for some swimming. It wasn’t the warmest day, so we didn’t stay in long, but it was pretty fun to swim in a small lake, surrounded an amazing view of this waterfall.
After leaving Krka, we headed to the coastal town nearby, Šibenik. All of these old towns are similar in the narrow cobblestone streets, interesting shops and churches, but each is also very unique. We shared a pizza at restaurant on the water, enjoying the warm sun, the water view, and the local boys riding their mopeds up and down the street. One of the main attractions of Šibenik is the Cathedral of St. James. We didn’t go in, but you can see some of the many faces created in the stone facade encircling the building as well as the intricately designed portals around the doors. Šibenik, was heavily damaged during bombings by Yugoslavia in 1991. The dome of church was not spared and has since been repaired, but we could see traces of other damage from buildings that have since been abandoned.
From Šibenik, we headed back towards Split, stopping in Trogir. Rather than taking the main highway, we took the coastal road and, by chance, took a small back road over the hills, that afforded us some pretty amazing views and plenty of olive groves.
Trogir is another old town on an island just off the mainland. This was a much more upscaled spot, so we opted to enjoy some cappuccino and ice cream in a small square in the center of the island, rather than one of the cafes looking over the water with overpriced drinks. After watching the sunset from a quiet point on the island, we headed back to Split, pleased with a day trip full of nature, history, swimming, and some pretty amazing spontaneous views.
We visited three beaches in Split. Bacvice Beach was the only beach with sand and the shallow water was warm to soak in, but it was too crowded and too many smokers for our liking. We only stopped at Ježinac quickly during our walk around Marjan Park. This is a pebbly beach, but they are white and small. The water is clear and a beautiful blue. Nice little cove that sits under the cliffs of Marjan and away from the main Split beaches.
The last beach we visited was Obojana Svjetlost and we enjoyed some reading and swimming here. The lead in to the water is rocky and I wished I had some water shoes, but it was a nice place to enjoy the water. I’m sure all of these are much more crowded in the summer, which would make me even more excited to visit the last two beaches that are bit off the beaten path.
Split was a great place to take almost two weeks in one place. Being mid-October, it was slower tourist-wise, and we were perfectly happy to not have to deal with the throngs that likely pass through this place daily. The weather was a bit hit-or-miss. When it was sunny, it kept you warm, but it wasn’t ideal lay-on-the-beach warm. I wish we had been there early September when it would have likely been mid-80’s and nice beach and sailing weather. But the views and the crystal clear water were amazing regardless!