A Land So Beautiful Even Roman Emperors Retired There

Where to retire when you are coming to the end of your career as a real Roman Emperor?

Let’s go back 1700 years to the dilemma that Emperor Diocletian had. A location close to the sea, with spectacular views and a temperate climate, whose local stone could be used to build a palace fit for his retirement. A home that would not only outlive him, but some 1700 years later be one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Adriatic coast, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Diocletian’s Palace is the heart of tourism in Split, its cobbled streets and alleys holding the secrets of centuries of different inhabitants, and one which today is seeing a resurgence in life due to the tourist boom.

Did we mention UNESCO World Heritage Sites? While the location that Diocletian found was virgin territory at the time, he was about 700 years late if he wanted to claim the founding of the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the region, for it was in 385 BC that the Ancient Greeks sailed in from the island of Paros to a deep bay on what today is known as the island of Hvar, founding the settelement of Faros (Stari Grad today) and an agricultural colony close by which today is the largest cultivated field on the Adriatic, with faming methods almost unchanged from the agricultural colony introduced by the Greeks 2400 years ago.

The Stari Grad Plain became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, one of four to be found in Central Dalmatia (the old town of Trogir and the stecchi stones near Imotski are the others), and these do not include the oldest public theatre in Europe of the fabulous ruins of Ancient Salona.

With a project to open up the Roman roads of the region taking shape there has never been a better time to discover the heritage of the Central Dalmatian region. 

Have You Visited the Region Where Proud European Knights Still Roam?

In centuries gone by, there were to be found all over Europe – proud knights who fought with bravery and honour.

Today they are all but extinct, except for one tiny corner of a small country in south-eastern Europe, where every August the site of proud knights at full gallop, their lances at the ready, can be witnessed in the last knights tournament in Europe.

On the first weekend of August, national attention in Croatia turns to the inland Dalmatian town of Sinj, a sort 30-minute drive north of Split, where the annual Sinj Alka tournament takes place as it has done every year since 1715, when the town’s fighters managed to overcome the much larger Ottoman force in the Siege of Sinj.

The tournament attracts live national television coverage, as well as visits from various Croatian dignitaries including the Croatian President, as they watch the horsemen of Sinj compete to become the Alka champion, as they take turns to gallop aiming to lance a metal circle hanging halfway down a street which is converted to the Alka terrain each year for the tournament.

Piercing the alka ring takes true precision, with the true masters able to pierce the inner circle for maximum points. It is a great honour to become an Alka, an honour only bestowed on men born in the Sinj area.

It is a wonderful time to visit Sinj, which is one of Central Dalmatia’s most historic towns, but if you cannot be there for the event itself, a wonderful interactive Alka Museum was opened in 2015, making the rich history of this 300 year-old tradition available to visitors twelve months a year. 

An Adrenaline Destination So Exciting Volvo Shoots Daredevil Commercials

Thought Central Dalmatia was all about the beach? Think again!

While the region has some of the best beaches in the world (to say nothing of some of the cleanest swimming in the world), it is also a fabulous adventure tourism destination. So much so in fact that Volvo Trucks chose it for the filming of one of their trademark daredevil adrenaline videos a couple of years ago, as a young American highliner crossed from one truck to the other at speed along the new stretch of motorway near Vrgorac, in a stunning stunt – watch the video below.

And while we don’t recommend that you follow in the steps of Faith Dickey, there are plenty of adrenaline options in the adventure playground of Central Dalmatia which do not have to be quite as daring as this remarkable young lady.

At the heart of the region is its heartbeat, the Cetina River, which was named by Lonely Planet in the top 40 experiences in Europe, a river of breathtaking beauty overlooked by historic fortresses on top of the steep gorges above, and a great destination for white-water rafting, canoeing and ziplining. For the more daring, extreme diving into the source of the Cetina, which descends more than 100 metres brings challenges of its own.

Never been rock climbing in a major European city? Head to Marjan hill, the green lungs of Split and climb side by side with historic rock churches, just one of the incredible climbing experiences on offer in the region. Cyclists too can take advantage of some of the most picturesque routes in the world, and with the chance to island hop to Solta, Vis, Brac and Korcula – part of a growing network of 5,000 km of marked biking trails – it is little wonder that Central Dalmatia is becoming one of Croatia’s top cycling regions.

Dalmatia is of course intertwined with the fortunes of the sea, and there is plenty of activity for those looking for a break from another lazy beach. There are some great sailing options, with the Pakleni Islands – those emerald jewels in front of Hvar Town particularly recommended, while sea kayaking has emerged as an increasingly popular sporting pasttime. Why not try it yourself – how about kayaking from one UNESCO World Heritage Site to another, for example? The trip from Diocletian’s Palace in Split to the old town of Trogir is guaranteed to be a trip highlight.

Whatever your adrenaline addiction, there will be some corner of Central Dalmatia ready to feed it.

Beaches So Perfect It is a Pity to Lie on Them

Close your eyes and think about a beach in Croatia. What do you see?

Turquoise waters, pristine beaches and endless sun. And if you had to put one specific image in your head of one specific beach, the chances are that it would be the most famous Croatian beach of all – Zlatni Rat in Bol, on the southern shores of the island of Brac, a beach so photogenic that the local tourist board built their slogan around it – SymBOL of the Adriatic.

Central Dalmatia and quality beaches fit together like a hand in glove, and whatever type of beach you are looking for, you will find it here. Choose from the famous Makarska Riviera, one of Europe’s true beach heavens, where you can find packed family beaches and remote romantic spots, almost side by side.

Or head to the islands – Brac, Vis, Hvar and Solta, all of which possess beaches which have been featured in international lists as the best in Europe. Stiniva on Vis, Dubovica on Hvar are but two that come to mind. Or go a little further afield and discover the fabulous Pakleni Islands in front of Hvar, where tourism has been taking place since 1906, and where you can find beach heaven of your choice, from a hidden sandy beach at Perna, CNN’s top naturist beach in the world on Jerolim, and one of the premier beach clubs on the Adriatic at Stipanska.

And let’s not forget Split in all this, a city which is truly blessed with a little of everything, including beaches. Bacvice is probably the top city beach in the country, a place you can enjoy with family in its shallow sandy waters and watch the locals engage in a curious local sport called Picigin, which involves grown men flinging themselves in the air in an attempt to keep a small ball the size of a tennis ball out of the water.

But the true magic of the beaches of Central Dalmatia hidden in the numerous bays and coves of the coast and islands, perfect examples of nature and almost a shame to disturb. Almost.

Which Dalmatian beach will be yours this summer?

Wine So Good It Had Zinfandel Centuries Before the United States

It is one of the most famous red wines in the world, but did you know that the famous American Zinfandel had a much longer history on a totally different continent before it surfaced in California back in the 1930s?

As with much to be found in the United States, some of its best quality wine has a little country in Europe to thank for its famous wine, a country with a wine tradition dating back thousands of years, and one with more than 130 indigenous varieties, including ‘the original Zinfandel’.

It was only after DNA testing at the University of Davis in 2001 that it was proven that a little known grape variety from Kastela near Split called Crljenak Kastelanski was a perfect match not only for Zinfandel but also Primitivo in Italy. Since that discovery, more vines have been planted, more money invested, and today the story of the Original Zin is just one of many reasons why a wine journey to Central Dalmatia is becoming increasingly popular.

It is a region of spectacular beauty to go with its extraordinary wines, where the indigenous grape is king, thereby offering a variety of unique tasting opportunities in an increasingly globalised wine world. Several Dalmatian islands have their own varieties peculiar to that island – Vugava on Vis; Darnekusa, Bogdanusa, Prc, Mekuja on Hvar; Dobricic on Solta, a variety which combined with Crljenak Kastelanski to spawn the most famous red of all – Plavac Mali. And let’s not forget inland Dalmatia and a visit to Imotski, home of the tongue-twisting Kujundzusa white.

The region’s winemakers are getting increasingly more organised, and there are some truly phenomenal tasting experienes to be enjoyed, from an underwater tasting room in the Adriatic to a replica basement of Diocletian’s Palace. One thing is for sure – finding the original Zin will not be your last wine discovery in this fabulous region.