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

Beef in red wine, top-notch fish stew and chilli-infused tequila are the best of the bunch, says tour guide Robyn Vulinovich

Food

One of my favourite restaurants is Villa Spiza, which is on an alleyway a few minutes’ walk from Unesco-listed Diocletian’s Palace in the old town. It’s small and busy – locals love it! The menu is handwritten every morning to reflect whatever is in season. Depending on the day, you might find traditional Croatian dishes including pašticada (slow-cooked beef in red wine with gnocchi) or brujet (fish stew) – the grilled fish and shellfish dishes are always delicious.

For fine dining, there’s Dvor, a 20-minute walk east of the old town. The chef is one of the best in Croatia. There’s an outdoor terrace that overlooks Firule beach, where you can sometimes spot people in the sea playing picigin (a sport unique to Split that involves a team keeping a small ball out of the water).

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

Inspiration

Split’s Ethnographic Museum and cathedral
Past lives … Split’s Ethnographic Museum and cathedral. Photograph: imageBROKER/Alamy

We have wonderful museums in the city. One of my favourites is the Ethnographic Museum, full of displays showing how the people of Split lived in the past, with everything from jewellery to pots. There are stunning views from its roof of the Peristil – the central square of the palace complex built for Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century.

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

Neighbourhood

I live in Meje, a quiet part of Split, 20 minutes’ walk west of the old town. It’s close to the Ivan Meštrović promenade, named after Croatia’s most prolific sculptor, and is one of my favourite walkways. It traces the western 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. Photograph: Alamy

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

Just outside Split, there are walking trails in the Mosor mountains, known as the “Split Alps”. It can get too hot to hike in the summer, but it’s a popular place in autumn and winter, with wonderful views.

In 2021, the new 87-mile Via Brattia walking trail opened on Brač, a 50-minute crossing by ferry from Split. This round-island track, dubbed the Croatian camino, connects 12 historic and religious sites and points of natural beauty.

Nightlife

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

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

Where to stay

Views across the rooftops of the Old Town
Views across the rooftops of the Old Town. Photograph: Stefano Politi Markovina/Alamy

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

Robyn Vulinovich runs My Hidden Croatia, organising food, wine, sailing, hiking and cultural tours for small groups in Split and wider Dalmatia

Interview by Sarah Holt

The GuardianTramp

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