Croatian road trip – a stopover in Split

Day 3

After breakfast from the bakery of a meat-filled burek (delicious, but heavy for breakfast) we picked up the car from the Hertz rental in downtown (walking distance from the Old Town) and set off for Split.

After a few wrong turns we were on the coast road and heading away from Dubrovnik. I was very sad to leave Dubrovnik and will definitely be back- it’s just so beautiful and relaxed. The coast road is stunning, with constant sweeping views of the sea and the red roofed towns below.

We stopped briefly in Bosnia to fill up with petrol (and to say that we also went to Bosnia!)- we had no clue what currency we were paying in or how much it cost. After miles of beautiful coastal scenery we were onto the freeway. There are tolls for the freeways, but we never paid much more than about 80 kn for a leg of our journey.

Spinach and cheese burek on the way to Split

Spinach and cheese burek on the way to Split

All together it took about 4 hours with a stop for lunch (more burek…feeling queasy now) and the small detour at the start. We arrived just after lunch and found that we could park near the ferry terminals at the train station for 10 kn an hour. Luckily our accommodation had a cheaper alternative, but in a bind it’s a good central spot.

Cold Ozujsko beer in the peristyle, Diocletian's Palace, Split

Cold Ozujsko beer in the peristyle, Diocletian’s Palace

We spent the afternoon and evening wandering Split’s narrow streets and seeing the main attractions. We started with a beer (of course!) say in the peristyle of Diocletian’s Palace, a beautifully proportioned square ringed with porphyry Corinthian columns and overseen by the looming cathedral bell tower.

Decorative detail in the peristyle, Split

Decorative detail and porphyry in the peristyle, Diocletian’s Palace, Split

You can buy two different tickets to see various attractions in Split, a red or a blue ticket, depending on what you want to see. We went for the blue ticket which was 25 kn and lets you into the Cathedral, crypt, baptistery and bell tower. The red ticket is 35 kn and also lets you into the treasury (and I think one other). Just make sure you look out for the signs or ask about the tickets, as we did the bell tower first and it wasn’t clear there that a combined ticket was an option.

The cathedral bell tower, Split

The cathedral bell tower looms over Diocletian’s Palace

Climbing the bell tower is a must do experience, giving you great views across the town and harbour below, rivalling views from Dubrovnik’s walls. The walk up is a rather scary, a slightly bouncy, spindly metal path nailed to the bare walls inside the tower. It spirals all the way up and you can see right out of the tower and through and down the walkway itself to the tower below. You feel a bit exposed, like you’re floating above Split, although I rather enjoyed the feeling and it also gives you plenty of opportunities to look out.

View through the open sides of the bell tower, Split

Don’t look down – climbing Split’s bell tower

View through the open sides of the bell tower, Split

View through the open sides of the bell tower, Split

View of Split from the bell tower

View of Split from the bell tower

The other big ticket item with a separate entrance fee is the basement halls of Diocletian’s Palace, which extends below the peristyle, both sides of part of the halls now used as a small souvenir market. It replicates the palace that would have stood above, Diocletian’s retirement home built in the late 3rd century. It’s a huge underground warren of dark, dripping chambers, some huge and cavernous and others smaller, square chambers.

Diocletian's Palace basement halls, Split

Diocletian’s Palace basement halls

The brickwork and mortar is fascinating on its own, an interesting example of Roman domestic building, hard to come across outside of the Versuvian sites, and those are some 300 years older than this.

Brickwork detail in Diocletian's Palace basement halls

Brickwork detail in Diocletian’s Palace basement halls

In Split we finally had a great meal in the tiny Vila Spiza.  Both rough guide and TripAdvisor highly recommended it. It’s a tiny little place with a constant queue outside where the hand-written menu changes daily depending on what’s fresh. We were extremely lucky to turn up around 8pm when a table was leaving and got a table for 4 which we shared with 2 other travellers. We tried both the tuna steak (albacore) and the house pasta, a unique combination of pasta, minced pork, cream, and black truffle (truffle is omnipresent in Croatian cooking due to the abundance of truffle in the Istria region, which we sadly didn’t visit.

Daily menu in Vila Spiza restaurant, Split

Daily menu in the excellent Vila Spiza restaurant

If you’re a foodie, then it’s possibly to join truffle hunting tours in the region. The portions were enormous, the pasta was easily enough for two and the meal, including our beers and wine, was exceptionally good value. It was our favourite meal in Croatia by far…and the cheapest. If you can manage to get a table (they don’t take bookings) then you should definitely eat there. I’d even condone waiting outside for half an hour…I never queue for food.

Peristyle and bell tower at night, Diocletian's Palace, Split

Peristyle and bell tower at night, Diocletian’s Palace, Split

While poking around looking for then restaurant we came across the closed St. Martin’s Church which we made a note to visit the following morning before the drive to Zadar.

Tiny St Martin's Church, Split

Tiny St Martin’s Church

Fascinating St. Martin’s Church is up a small flight of stairs in a passage just to the right after you enter Split’s Golden Gate. It’s 5 kn entry and 2 kn for an information pamphlet- probably the best quid I spent in Croatia. It was turned into a Christian church at the beginning of the 9th century and has a beautiful 11th central choir screen in a space no bigger than a corridor  (in fact it is a corridor inside the walls and just 1.64m by 10m).

Detail of the rood screen, St Martin's Church, Split

Detail of the rood screen, St Martin’s Church, Split

Fabulously rare to see, I was so glad we came back before leaving split.  The carvings on the screen were simple yet beautiful and the whole place had a magical feel about it despite the small size and relative lack of adornment.

Side streets and the bell tower, Split

Side streets and the bell tower, Split

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