Breathtaking views and outstanding wine: What more could you ask for?
1. Get lost in the small harbor town of Trogir.
Trogir — which comes from the Greek “trogos,” meaning male goat — is located 17 miles west of Split, and has a strange and rich history. Influenced by Hellenistic, Roman, and Venetian rule over the past 2,000 years, the town’s winding medieval alleys, bright blue vistas, and open-air cafés make it a quintessential spot for a day trip. (The Dr. Who-obsessed will appreciate that an episode of the series was filmed here.)
2. Feast on sausages and calamari in Podstrana.
This Split suburb is best known for its pristine, pebbled beaches and world-renowned resort, yet the roadside-seaside sandwich stand, Bili Pivac, is just as good of a reason to visit Podstrana. The stand serves grilled cevapi — essentially Croatian sausage —stuffed inside chewy, charred bread with as many raw vegetables as you can pronounce in Croatian or mime. (But note before you go: English is not spoken.)
3. Skip the tan lines and bathe topless in Bol.
Jutting from the island of Brač like an appendage, Bol offers prime topless sunbathing territory and incomprehensibly blue views of the Adriatic. Hop on a ferry from Split — it’s only 40 minutes off the coast. Take in the pristine beaches before deciding where to set up camp, and get tanning.
4. Stock up on delicious local produce in Split.
From the 7 a.m. to the early afternoon, the market in Split buzzes with the sounds of locals bartering. The vendors, who’ve been schlepping their vegetables, oils, honey, fish, and more from the nearby islands and countrysides for decades, may be difficult for a lone tourist to understand, as their thick, local dialect coats even the basic Croatian you memorized and practiced. No worries, though — because pointing always works, and a satisfying picnic of local produce and cheeses on the seaside Riva promenade is worth the mayhem.
5. Kayak on beautifully serene waters in OmiÅ¡.
Home to the glowing Cetina River Canyon, the mountainous port-town is the ideal spot for picnicking, hiking, kayaking, and stumbling on unusually well-preserved medieval churches. There are several spots for renting kayaks along the water.
6. Brush up on religious history in Zadar.
The ninth century Church of St. Donatus is the largest, best-preserved example of Byzantine architecture in Croatia. It’s built on top of Zadar’s first-century forum — the town’s history spans three millennia! — and offers stunning views of the Adriatic. History nerds can also tour more religious structures from different eras of Zadar, including St. Anastasia’s Cathedral and St. Mary’s Convent.
7. Take in the sights and sounds of Supetar.
Also located on the small island of Brač, like Bol, Supetar is a stunning and historically rich city, though a bit sleepy in the off-season. Tour around and visit the clock tower, mausoleum, churches, or just sit down at one of the cafés on the seaside promenade, order an espresso, and people watch until you’re ready to switch to wine.
8. Drink way too much wine in Hvar.
Referred to by some as “the Island of wine,” Hvar is one of the most popular of Croatia’s hundreds of small islands. The island is home to several indigenous grape varietals, including Bogdanuša, which produces dry, distinctive whites. Hvar’s small towns are full of wineries, wine shops, and kadobas (restaurants featuring wine), so you can avoid planning and simply plan on stumbling into one.
9. Explore the biking trails in Vis.
The rolling hills of Vis, a peaceful island hideaway 30 miles off the mainland, make for dream biking territory, which is fortunate, because that’s the most efficient way to get around here. Allegedly, the ancient Greeks planted the first wine grape in Dalmatia on a Vis field around 3,000 years ago. Whether or not this is true, the local wine is exceptional, and should be enjoyed with fresh seafood, of which there is no shortage on the island.
10. Mountainclimb in Makarska.
The mountains in Makarska, a stunning coastal town, are the highest in Dalmatia. Mount Biokovo, at 1,762 metres high, offers sweeping views of the Makarska Riviera. For first time climbers, try any number of the guided tours offered by the park.
11. Visit the world’s smallest cathedral in Nin.
Connected to the mainland by two 16th century bridges that are definitely (probably) safe, Nin is a small island town with a very small cathedral: Church of the Holy Cross, a petite, pre-Romenesque chapel from the ninth century. History buffs will come for the tiny church, and stay for the crumbling town walls, boat remnants from the 11th century, and the coronation church of St. Nicholas, where Croatian kings were crowned for centuries.
12. Pitch a tent in Zaton.
Hoards of tourists come in and out of Dubrovnik each year, but very few will visit Zaton, a small bay town only 8km north of the city. While Zaton has fewer historic sites and essentially no club scene compared to its better known neighbor, the town has been a favorite camping spot among Croatians for hundreds of years.
13. Channel your inner Daenerys Targaryen at Klis.
The town of Klis wraps around a crumbling medieval fortress and sprawls down the mountain. The fortress, which offers the best views of Split and the surrounding countryside, was built by an ancient tribe and served as a home to many kings throughout Croatia’s confusing yet fascinating history. (Several scenes from the fourth season of Game of Thrones were filmed here, too, so channel Daenerys Targaryen, braid your hair and slip into your most Grecian cut-out dress before you visit.)
Maria Yagoda is a New York-based freelance food and travel writer — and sporadic blogger — who lived on the Dalmatian Coast in fall 2013.