A local’s guide to Split, Croatia: a city that marches on its belly | trip

Food

One of my favorite restaurants is Villa Spiza, down an alley a few minutes’ walk from the UNESCO-listed Diocletian’s Palace in the old town. It’s small and busy – the locals love it! The menu is handwritten each morning to reflect the season. Depending on the day, you can find traditional Croatian dishes, including patty (slow-cooked beef in red wine with gnocchi) or brujet (fish stew) – the grilled fish and shellfish dishes are always tasty.

For good food there is Dvor, 20 minutes walk east of the old town. The chef is one of the best in Croatia. There is an outdoor terrace that overlooks Firule beach where you can sometimes see people playing in the sea icon (a sport unique to Split where a team holds a small ball out of the water).

We also have the wonderful green market of Pazar, selling fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses and olive oil. Some exhibitors have been there for almost 50 years and they are such characters.

Inspiration

The Ethnographic Museum and Split Cathedral
Past lives… The Ethnographic Museum and Split Cathedral. Photo: imageBROKER/Alamy

We have wonderful museums in the city. One of my favorites is the Ethnographic Museum, full of displays showing how the people of Split used to live, with everything from jewelery to pottery. From the roof you have a beautiful view of the Peristil – the central square of the palace complex built for Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the fourth century.

We also have the glorious National Theater, a beautiful neo-baroque building from the late 19th century, one of the oldest surviving theaters in Dalmatia. The ballet, opera and concerts performed here are world class.

Neighbourhood

I live in Meje, a quiet part of Split, 20 minutes walk west of the old town. It is close to the Ivan Meštrović Promenade, named after Croatia’s most prolific sculptor, and is one of my favorite hiking trails. It follows the west coast of Split and gives access to some beautiful pebble beaches – such as Obojena Svjetlost and Kašjuni – where the water is crystal clear.

Green spaces

The pebble beach of Kašjuni.
The pebble beach of Kašjuni. Photo: Alami

On Sundays I like to walk to Marjan Hill, a park we call “the lungs of Split”. The views from the top are breathtaking, extending to the islands of Brač and Šolta and even taking in a slice of Hvar. This is a popular place for cycling, rock climbing and walking, and you can pick up the walking path to get here from the western Riva – the seafront promenade.

Just outside of Split, there are hiking trails in the Mosor Mountains, known as the “Split Alps”. In the summer it can get too hot for walking, but in the fall and winter it is a popular place with beautiful views.

In 2021, the new 140-kilometer Via Brattia hiking trail opened on Brač, a 50-minute ferry crossing from Split. This circular island route, also known as the Croatian camino, connects 12 historical and religious sites and points of natural beauty.

Nightlife

Known as the father of Croatian literature, Marcus Marulus was born in Split, and the Gothic palace where he lived as a child is now Marvlvs Library Jazz Bar. The walls are lined with bookcases and it serves Dalmatian drinks from rakia (fruit brandy) to wines such as position. For cocktails, there’s Noor, which has an inventive menu that includes the Spicy Sunset, made with chilli-infused tequila.

The bar of the Michelin-starred restaurant Kinoteka has an excellent wine list. Order one plavac malione of the most important grapes in Dalmatia, and drink it in the 15th century courtyard.

Where to stay

View over the roofs of the old town
View over the roofs of the old town. Photo: Stefano Politi Markovina/Alamy

Santa Lucia Heritage Hotel (doubles from £90 room only) on Pjaca, the main town square, is housed in a 17th-century building: a recent refurbishment has made it particularly beautiful. The rooftop bar offers great views over the old town.

Robin Vulinovich runs My hidden Croatia, to organizefood, wine, sailing, walking and cultural tours for small groups in Split and wider Dalmatia

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