Croatia: A Weekend on the Dalmation Coast
The Dalmation coast is the Croatia everyone hears about. Yacht parties, beach clubs, great food, good wine, island hopping, small bikinis and bronzed bodies. I found the coast to be a wonderful mix of European charm, clear blue tropical waters, combative history, and lovely people. If you're only on the coast for a quick trip the three most popular cities to truly experience Dalamtia are Split, the island of Hvar, and Dubrovnik. All three are made of limestone that shines so brightly in the strong Croatian Sun and provides a beautiful backdrop for the wild, colorful flowers and green plants growing along the alleyways.
THINGS TO KNOW: When you look for a place to stay in Croatia keep in mind that hostels and hotels aren't necessarily traditional. The managers and owners of these "hotels" and "hostels" have named them in that way, but what you are really booking is you're own apartment in many cases unless you are staying in an international hotel chain. Definitely take a fast ferry from Split to Hvar and Hvar to Dubrovnik. It costs more but it's so much faster and definitely worth it if you're only there for a short period of time.
S P L I T
Where to stay: Hostel Split is located just outside of the old city center, it's easily walkable to the main sites. You can book a true hostel, private rooms or full apartments.
Where to stroll: The Riva, a waterside promenade that has been redone, is an amazing place to stroll along in the morning when it's still quiet. Sit and have a cappuccino at any of the cute cafes as you watch the local boats come and go and feel the blanket of morning peeled away as the city becomes alive for the new day. Although all restaurants on the Riva will be more expensive, Brasserie 7 has good food and a comprehensive selection of seafood dishes.
What sites to visit: Obviously the main attraction in Split is Diocletian's Palace. When we first arrived, the palace was our first stop, although we had trouble finding it. We asked some locals and they explained that the city of split has been built around and within the famous palace walls, so when you are wandering around the old limestone city, you are within the palace without even really knowing when you entered. I would recommend entering the palace by the bronze gate, where the sea once lapped up against the ancient walls. When entering you will go underground into the Prodrum, where locals sell jewelry and handmade crafts worth exploring. Exiting the Podrum you come up a flight of stairs into the Peristil, the palace's main courtyard. It is flanked by the Cathedral of St. Domnius with buildings facing the cathedral and framing the entire bottom of the square.
Meg's Gem: There are a few cafes that will serve food and wine to you on the stairs of the main courtyard and most nights there are locals playing music. The stairs are surrounded by tall corinthian columns from when the palace was a living, breathing space. I highly recommend snagging a spot on the stairs at night and having a glass of wine while listening to local music under the dimmed city lights. The ambience among the ruins is truly unique and a moment to revel in as you experience the meaning of living in the moment.
Where to Swim: Bacvice Beach is a place to be seen, swim and play in the beautiful Adriatic waters. It's about a 30 minute walk from the Riva so you get to break a sweat on the way there before jumping into the cool water.
H V A R
Where to stay: Villa Milton Hvar is located on a hill above the docks of Hvar Town. Milton, the owner of the grouping of apartments is a wonderful man who greets guests with a glass of Croatian wine. He definitely knew how to win me over. The apartments have air conditioning, a wine fridge, and he provides bottles water. He was more than accommodating and willing to help out with directions and recommendations. As you walk down to the main square from the Villa, you pass bougainvillea lined stairways of limestone, as you dip in and out of shadows until you come out to a walkway by the sea.
Where to lay in the sun: Hula Hula Beach Bar is a quirky waterside establishment with great cocktails, wine and beer and they also serve food. It's about a 25 minute walk from the main Hvar Town square. You can rent a chair, or use one of their chairs and bring your own booze, there are really no rules that apply. Have beer, take a swim, get your tan on. What more could you want? Oh, a DJ, they have music too.
Where to people watch: St. Stephen's square or a restaurant along the Riva are both great options to watch the glitzy European Hvar regulars wander. The square is bustling with tourists who continue drinking after a long day of swimming. There's many rich and some famous that come to the island, just take a look at all the beautiful yachts pulled up along the Riva. Enjoy a stroll along the water and admire the parked yachts. There are also restaurants lining the Riva if you feel the impulse to sit for a while and have dinner or a nightcap.
Where to work up a sweat: Hike up to the Tvrdva Fortica. It won't take you more than 30 minutes to get up there but it's a nice activity to save for good weather. If you're ambitious you can rent bike from anywhere along the main square and take on the challenging undulating landscape of Hvar. On the other hand you can just jump into the Adriatic whenever you see a place that looks perfect for swimming, and trust me there's many.
D U B R O V N I K
Where to stay: Apartments Minerva. We had a beautiful two story apartment along one of the steep stairway streets. Walking up with luggage was difficult but you're distracted by the pots of plants and beautiful green vines lining the outdoor staircase. The apartment had air conditioning, television, a full kitchen, and gorgeous bathroom. It was extremely clean and convenient to walk down to the Stradum, or Placa, the main pedestrian street in Dubrovnik. There are no cars allowed into the old town, so everything is very peaceful and quiet.
Where to have a beer: Buza Bar. It's hard to find, you have to search for a small doorway in the surrounding city wall and rely on locals to direct you to it, somewhat like a scavenger hunt to get to. There's no sign. Once you walk through the doorway you enter this surreal make-shift bar located compromisingly between the city walls and the Adriatic. There's levels of rock, the highest with chairs and hut you can grab drinks from. The lower rocks are riddled with sun bathers and swimmers. It's a great place to spend the afternoon sipping on Ozujsko (Croatia's most popular beer) swimming in the crystal blue water and meeting other travelers.
Where to swim: Bellevue Beach. It's a bit of a trek once you get off the bus at the top of the cliff. You have to find your way around the resort, through an alleyway by some gorgeous cliffside homes and then down a stone staircase that spits you out right next to the water on a makeshift pool deck. The cove is quite secluded, with the concrete deck on one side and a raw cliff with caves on the opposite. You can rent jet skis, snorkel, or grab a bite at the beach cafe associated with the resort on the cliff above.