Catriona visits the most happening and most beautiful island in all the Adriatic where the sun is certainly shining.
Talk of European island holidays usually conjures up images of Greece or Spain, but Getaway travelled to Croatia in the Adriatic Sea and found some spectacular alternatives. There is an archipelago of 1185 islands sprinkled in the waters, 66 of which are inhabited.
Split, in the heart of Dalmatia, is Croatia's second largest city after the capital, Zagreb. Sheltered by many islands, the old town of Split is built around the harbour on the south side of a high peninsula. The western end is a large, wooded mountain park, with industry, commercial and military matters hidden away. Ferries constantly buzz around to other islands in the Adriatic's blue waters and high coastal mountains provide a striking backdrop.
In 295AD, Roman emperor Diocletian, noted for his persecution of early Christians, built his retirement palace on Split. Roman rulers continued to use the vast stone building after his death and when the colony of Salona was abandoned in the seventh century, many Romanised inhabitants fled there, barricading themselves behind high palace walls. Their descendants still live here.
The Byzantine Empire and then Croatia controlled the area, but between the 12th and 14th centuries, it was fairly autonomous, which favoured its development.
The Venetians conquered Split in 1420, which led to a slow decline. In the 17th century, strong walls were built as a defence against the Turks. The Austrians came between 1797 and 1918, with just a brief interruption during the Napoleonic Wars.
Since 1945, Split has become a major industrial city and a place of large apartment-block housing. Much of the old Split remains though, and along with its exuberant nature, it is a fascinating city.
The palace is the heart of the inner-city of Split. This is where all the most important historical buildings can be found. The palace holds an outstanding place in Mediterranean, European and world heritage. Its plan is an irregular rectangle, with towers projecting from its western, northern and eastern façades.
Its white limestone is from quarries on the island of Brac, tuffa (volcanic rock) from nearby riverbeds and brick made in Salonitan. Egyptian granite was imported for columns and sphinxes and water came from the Jadro River near Salona. Impressive and restored remains of the original aqueduct can still be seen.
The island of Hvar, just a ferry ride from Split, is beautiful, long and thin. It is an island of vineyards, olive groves, palms, myrtle, agaves, lavender, rosemary, Venetian villages and a slower way of life encouraged by its mild Mediterranean climate. Fishing is important to its economy there are three canneries on the island.
Hvar was settled in the fourth century BC by Greeks from Paros, who were well accepted. Between 1420 and 1797 it was ruled by Venice and shipping provided a degree of prosperity. Its first tourists were convalescing Austrians, as early as 1870. A hundred years later, as part of Yugoslavia, large hotel complexes were built just outside the old town centre.
Today, Hvar Town on the southwest coast of Hvar is probably Croatia's most fashionable resort. Old stone houses have been built into the sides of three hills which surround a bay. The highest peak is crowned by a Venetian fortress, dramatically floodlit by night.
The town square has direct access to the harbour and is backed by a 16th-century cathedral. It is the centre of café life, but can be unbearably crowded from July to the end of August. The bar to visit is Carpe Diem, a real favourite. Tennis star Goran Ivanisevic and the Croatian president spend their holidays there, along with plenty of Europe's rich and famous in their floating palaces.
Also in the main square is a renaissance theatre, added to another building in 1612. It was the first theatre in Europe which allowed nobles and commoners to mingle in the same social setting. Now it is a cinema, but its baroque interior is intact.
The bay is protected from the open sea to the south by the scattered Pakleni Otoci, which are covered with thick pine forests and rimmed by rocky shores which provide secluded coves for swimming.
Hotel Palace, in the centre of the old medieval town, was built in 1889 and is surrounded by gothic and renaissance architecture. Once a Venetian palace, it is now a comfortably elegant 73-room hotel, each with private bathroom. There is an indoor warm seawater pool, sauna, massage, terrace for dancing and romancing. It is close to taxi-ferries for visiting other islands. Some excellent private accommodation is also available on Hvar.
Stari Grad is the island's oldest settlement and main ferry port. It is relaxed and easygoing. While there aren't as many beaches or as much cultural interest as in Hvar, it does have charm. Most buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries and there are wonderful examples on Škor, a square enclosed by baroque houses.
It is recommended travellers to Croatia see their doctor at least six weeks before departure. Travellers should be up to date with vaccinations listed on the Australian Immunisation Schedule, including hepatitis A and B and tetanus. Travellers are advised to take care with food and water hygiene.