My journey along the coast of Dalmatia has brought me to Split, Croatia’s second largest city. As I approached I caught a glimpse of the white tower blocks glimmering in the sun, and the uniformity made it look unreal, as if it were the result of a model-maker being asked, ‘make me a city’. I arrived at the main ferry port and walked the short distance to the Roman palace of emperor Diocletian. This building forms the heart of the old town, its narrow alleys and weatherbeaten walls providing the most spectacular urban setting I’ve seen.
The palace is not just a tourist attraction, though: it’s the actual centre of town, bursting with bars, cafés and restaurants, their tables spilling out onto the cobbles. Despite the obvious appeal of the city, it doesn’t seem overwhelmed by tourists, and you can easily rub shoulders with locals.
I’ve been staying at Al’s Place, one of the oldest hostels in town. Al is a fellow Brit, and the most welcoming of hosts. On my first nights I was the only guest, and he invited me to a bohemian bar in the palace building to meet some friends of his. It was a fantastic place to have a few drinks and meet some people.
I learnt a few things about the locals here. Apparently there is a penchant for outward signs of wealth, so people will put a lot of effort into buying fancy clothes, even if they don’t have a lot of money. I felt a bit self-conscious in my scruffy backpacker clothes, but I don’t really care for that sort of thing. Also, Croatia is a conservative country, and quite religious, so it is a shock for the locals when skimpily dressed tourists descend on the centre!
The scenery around Split is breathtaking. The coastline is backed by low rocky mountains and is a beautiful backdrop to the city. The best views are afforded from the bell tower of the cathedral, right at the centre of Diocletian’s palace.