By Sandra Scott
Of all the places Emperor Diocletian could have chosen in the vast Roman Empire to build his retirement palace, he selected present-day Split, Croatia. I know why.
Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast and Mediterranean climate cannot be surpassed. Even though it was built in the fourth century, parts of Diocletian’s palace are still in use, making it one of the best-preserved Roman sites. The UNESCO site is the pulsating heart of the city.
My Croatian journey started in Zagreb, which became the capital of the newly formed country of Croatia in 1991, but its history is at least 1,000 years old. From the large square in the Lower Town where people were sipping coffee in the cafes, I walked up through the colorful flower market to the Kaptol Square in Upper Town. After a visit to the Cathedral I continued up to the Museum of the City of Zagreb housed in the Convent of St. Clair. It provided a wonderful overview of Zagreb and Croatian history — just what I needed to set the tone for the rest of my journey.
From Zagreb I headed to the coast, taking the advice from a fellow visitor who had cautioned me not to miss Plitvice Lake National Park. The day started out rainy, windy and cold, but just before I arrived at Plitvice Lake the clouds disappeared, revealing a blue sky that was the perfect backdrop for wandering along the trail past lakes and waterfalls.
In Split, my hotel shuttle delivered me into the city center, where I explored the Palace of Diocletian slowly on foot. Diocletian was noted for his persecution of early Christians, so I wonder what he would think if he knew that the temple that was to be his mausoleum is now the Cathedral of St. Dominus. Not to miss are the Temple of Juniper, guarded by a headless sphinx, and the basement halls that reveal more of the palace’s fourth-century structure.
Split is an ideal base for visiting the ruins of the ancient city of Solin, picturesque islands and small towns. In the nearby town of Omis I took a boat ride on Centina River to the rapids where whitewater rafters were just finishing their run. The river seems to disappear between the towering cliffs, making it easy to understand why it was once the perfect hideaway for pirates.
“The ferry from Split to Dubrovnik is too long. Take the bus,” suggested another traveler, but I was glad I didn’t heed that advice. I would have missed the scenery from the relaxing nine-hour ferry ride as well as the stop at Hvar — Croatia’s most popular and luxurious island — and Korcula, an enchanting walled city.
In Dubrovnik, my hotel’s shuttle dropped me at Pile Gate, the main entrance to the city, which is as far as vehicles can go. Crossing the drawbridge, I recalled reading that in the 1500s the bridge was lifted every night and the large, heavy gates closed and locked, after which the key was handed to the prince.
Each day I wandered the morning market in the large square near Pucic Palace, where the scent of lavender filled the air, had coffee at a cafe, explored the streets, bought freshly made stuffed peppers for my dinner from the deli and people-watched from the steps of St. Blaise Church. Dubrovnik is a living museum — a city where people live, work and play, and have since the seventh century. During the war in the early 1990s, more than half of the buildings were hit and several palaces destroyed. Now they are completely restored , and only the signage at the city gates pinpointing the places hit during the shelling reminds visitors how the city suffered.
My leisurely three-hour stroll atop the impressive city walls, built between the 13th and 16th centuries, afforded me spectacular views.
One day I took the shuttle boat from Dubrovnik to Lokrum Island and wandered through the botanical garden. Like Split, Dubrovnik could be a destination unto itself. There’s plenty to do, including visiting museums, attending concerts, taking boat trips to various islands and sport activities that range from swimming to kayaking. The last night I was there I enjoyed a candlelit string quartet concert in the 16th century St. Saviour Church.
Before I left I told a local resident that I’d love to spend a month in Dubrovnik.
“Watch out,” he told me. “My family came here on vacation in the 1970s, and we are still here.”
IF YOU GO
Planning ahead: Croatian National Tourist Board: www.croatia.hr
Where to stay: In Zagreb I stayed at the newly remodeled Regent Esplanade Hotel, which opened in 1925 for passengers on the Orient Express and exudes the aura of an earlier era. It is located near the train station and only a short walk to the free trolley that took me to the center of the city: www.regenthotels.com
My home in Split was Le Meridien Lav, where I swam, enjoyed the Diocletian Spa and even took a cooking lesson after my days of exploring: www.starwoodhotels.com
The newly opened Radisson Blu Resort and Spa is where I started my stay in Dubrovnik. The panoramic view of the islands and the blue Adriatic from the balcony of my room was mesmerizing. I also made use of their three pools, spa and the bus shuttle to the walled city of Dubrovnik: www.radissonblu.com. From there I moved to the newly remodeled Roko Apartments: www.rokoapartments.com
For ferry service: Jadrolinija ferry: www.jadrolinija.hr
Sandra Scott is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM