With the Dalmatian mountains behind and the islands of the Adriatic in front, the Croatian city of Split is a glorious mix of labyrinthine old town and beautiful vistas.
It is also a bustling, modern city – population 250,000 – and one of the area’s busiest ports.
Towering: St Domnius Cathedral, an octagonal building originally constructed as a mausoleum for pagan emperor Diocletian
Check in to the Radisson Blu Resort & Spa and begin your visit in the old town with the Diocletian’s Palace. The name deceives, as this was never just a palace but a fortified town. Today it’s not only a ruin but a retail and residential quarter, too – about 3,000 people still live in its 220 buildings, and it’s a busy nest of alleyways, courtyards and cellars. Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans, French and Hapsburgs each added their own flourishes to the buildings during their occupations over 1,700 years.
Built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the early 4th Century, the palace is centred on the Peristil, a columned courtyard.
Although ancient, the Peristil is as much a thoroughfare as a museum piece, with residents hanging out their washing around the corner and good shops selling bags of local lavender and bottles of olive oil just yards away.
Adjacent is the Vestibule, a brick circular room with a domed roof that opens to the sky. Once the entrance to the Roman imperial apartments, today its acoustics provide an ideal spot for you to catch a klapa group of six men singing some plaintive Croatian folk harmonies.
Off another side of the Peristil is the cathedral of St Domnius, an octagonal building originally constructed as a mausoleum for pagan emperor Diocletian. Christians later destroyed his sarcophagus and turned the building into a church.
Leaving the palace through the Golden Gate brings you to the gargantuan statue of Bishop Gregory of Nin by Croatia’s celebrated sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. For lunch buy a burek (flaky pastry filled with soft cheese and spinach) from Babic Bakery. Alternatively, make a picnic from the local produce at the Green Market outside the palace walls.
Eighty per cent of Salona still lies unexcavated but you can explore the majestic 2nd Century amphitheatre (pictured) and a basilica built in honour of early Christian martyrs
Escape the bustle of the old town by taking the No 1 bus to Solin (25 minutes away; about £1.20) to explore the ruins of the Roman city of Salona (admission £3.50). Eighty per cent of Salona still lies unexcavated but you can explore the majestic 2nd Century amphitheatre and a basilica built in honour of early Christian martyrs.
Back in the old town, dine at DeListes on Ulica Obrov, a small, friendly restaurant which serves delicious regional food, such as shrimp and barley. Dinner for two and four very tasty glasses of Dalmatian wine came to only £20. For dessert, try homemade ice cream from Luka Ice Cream & Cakes on Ulica Petra Svacica and a glass of travarica (herb schnapps) from Teutina Pizzeria on Ulica Teutina.
Head to the shingle beach at Kasjuni, above, for a dip in the sparkling Adriatic. Take a sundowner at Joe’s Beach Lounge & Bar and catch the bus back into Split
Head past the cafes on the Riva, the 19th Century shoreline promenade, cross Ulica Marmontova – stopping at its market stalls – and take the steps up past houses and gardens to the terrace beside Vidilica Restaurant. From here you have one of the best views of the city. Immediately behind Vidilica is the Old Jewish Cemetery, which marks the beginning of Marjan Forest Park, where you can walk for hours, glimpsing isolated coves.
Descending to the South West, you reach the shingle beach at Kasjuni for a dip in the sparkling Adriatic. Take a sundowner at Joe’s Beach Lounge & Bar and catch the bus back into Split.
Croatia has 1,200 islands along its coastline and Split is an excellent launching-off point to visit some of them. The nearest island – it takes just 50 minutes – is Brac (Jadrolinija ferries run every 90 minutes in summer; £2.50 each way). The ferry docks at Supetar, a pretty fishing town where the harbour is lined with bars and restaurants. Head for Jobova Street to dine at Vinotoka.
Afterwards, hire bicycles from Rent a Roberts (rentaroberts.com) and ride west out of town, tracking the shoreline with outstanding views of the mountains on the mainland. On your return to Supetar, climb the town’s backstreets before catching the return ferry to Split.
Stroll along the coastal path back to the hotel. Enjoy the spa then dine at the Radisson’s Caper Grill overlooking the coast and watch the hills of Brac and the waters of the Adriatic fade into the night.