As you gaze onto the clear turquoise water scattered with over 1000 lush islands, it seems that you are smack in the middle of an uninhabited paradise. Actually, you are in the southern Dalmatian Islands of Croatia.
For the sake of space, this article will concentrate on a few of the most popular (and populated) of the Dalmatian Islands, beginning in Split.
As Croatia’s second largest city, Spilt is busy and boisterous, a fine starting point for a trip through Dalmatia. Dramatic mountains line the background, sloping into the Adriatic Sea below. Don’t plan to stay here if you are looking for an idyllic island getaway, but the Palace of Diocletian is definitely worth a few hours of your time. A UNESCO world heritage site, the Palace was originally built in the Roman style at the end of the 3rd century. Today, the palace is the very heart of Split, where the city’s most important buildings are found.
Regular ferries run continuously to the islands south of Split, but there is also a faster catamaran “Krilo”, that runs several times daily between Split, Korcula and Hvar.
A 1- hour catamaran ride brings you to the island of Hvar, one of the favorite holiday spots in Croatia. The moment you step ashore, you are likely to detect the odor of fresh lavender, which grows in abundance here. Be sure to buy some-it comes in many forms from sachets to soaps, candles and lotions, making wonderful gifts to take home. Hvar also produces honey, wine and rosemary oil. Make sure to stroll the square and waterfront after a fresh seafood dinner.
Perched high above the town of Hvar, the medieval Spanjol Fortress offers breathtaking panoramic views of Hvar and surrounding islands. If you decide to explore the quaint villages that dot the surrounding hillsides, rent a car or better yet, a motor scooter.
Brac, Croatia’s third largest island is known for its beaches and is a wonderful place for relaxation. It is considerably sleepier than the other islands.
Korkula is one of the Adriatic’s greenest, most forested islands. The town is a typical walled medieval city with red tile-roofed houses and watchtowers. It is rich with art and culture, as well as small, secluded beaches.
Dubrovnik, Croatia’s southernmost island is also the most well known. Long a getaway for celebrities and political figures, the city was heavily bombed during the War of Croatia from 1991-1996. Fortunately, most of the damaged buildings have been restored. The Old Town area is a small rectangular peninsula that embraces the majority of the city’s important landmarks. It is surrounded on all sides by high walls and fortifications, and crowded with the red tile roofs that lend the city its identity.
Upon arrival, enter the Pile Gate, head up the stairs on the left to purchase a ticket to walk the 2 km wall. This is by far the best way to orient yourself and absorb the historically rich and stunning scenery. Standing on this wall, it will become clear why Dubrovnik is known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic.” Note: It gets hot in the summertime afternoons, so plan to explore the wall in the early morning or later in the day.
Inside the city walls, there are many museums and cathedrals to visit. Shops line the various alleyways, selling everything from textiles to fresh produce to wines. Here you will also find a plethora of pubs and restaurants suited for any budget. Accommodations are plentiful, but be aware that it can remain noisy until late hours of the night. There are many good choices for lodging within walking distance of Old Town.
Keep in mind that since the end of the war, Croatia’s Adriatic coast is fast becoming one of Europe’s hottest tourist spots, and, due to its location directly East of Italy, is now the preferred playground of vacationing Europeans. Mid-summer can be very crowded, so consider travel during the shoulder seasons of May or September.