Croatia, famed for its stunning natural beauty, stone-fronted city walls, glorious promenades, and fascinating history, had unsurprisingly enticed me back once again.
With a friend in tow, this summer’s locations within this Eastern European gem were Split, our initial base for two nights, followed by the blissful island of Hvar for seven.
With rave reviews that weren’t wrong, we booked the modest yet delightful Apartment Grašo, (£75pp for two nights) located in the heart of Split. It came with traditional high ceilings, cool stone walls, cosy features and ocean views.
We spent the first day getting acquainted with the history and architecture of the Diocletian Palace, commissioned for the Roman Emperor at the turn of the 4th century AD.
It is here that the world’s second oldest (still in use) Sephardic synagogue is tucked away inside the Palace’s western wall. Built in the 16th century, it is situated inside the second floor of two converted medieval houses.
This important site is included in the privately-organised Jewish Heritage Tour of Split City, lasting approximately three hours.
The afternoon took a more adventurous turn as we scaled the dizzying heights of the Belfry- an instantly recognisable symbol of the city.
At just 20 kuna per person (around £2.50) you can access a snap-happy range of scenes over the rooftops, all the way up, with the best vantage point of the city.
The second day was spent exploring the shoreline, under expert advice from our accommodation host. Despite Split being Croatia’s second largest city, and the country not being famed for soft sandy beaches, we found several to meet most people’s needs, within walking distance of the apartment.
The more sedate of the two was Kastelet beach, approximately 25 minutes’ walk from the city centre – and the journey was stunning – via a sea-fronted path and dramatic rock formations. It appears popular with locals, who lay out on the pebbles, as well as families enjoying the shallow waters and shaded restaurant on-site.
The second, Bacvice, is said to be Split’s most popular beach, located 1km from the city centre past the ferry port. Locals and foreigners alike can be found here playing picigin. This sporting activity, which is famed for originating in the city during the First World War, was adapted by swimmers’ failed attempts at playing water polo in the shallow waters.
If that all sounds far too energetic, you’ll also find glorious deckchairs (in our experience, sunbathing on stones has a 20 minutes’ expiration point) and devouring the ice cream from one of the many colourful stands dotted along the seafront.
On day three, we departed by Jadrolinija ferry to Hvar, taking just over an hour-and-a-half to reach our destination. Docking in the famous port of Hvar Old Town, we were greeted with a stunning vista of swaying yachts in turquoise waters, contrasted by a hillside dominated by orange rooftops, winding cobbled streets and lush woodland beyond.
We were staying a 10-minute walk from Hvar Old Town. Navigating 50kg worth of luggage up a steep hillside and into our apartment was challenging, but arriving at sunset, stepping out onto our balcony overlooking the sea and islands beyond drenched in a golden glow, made our exertion worth it.
Being savvy with our budget, I had booked a private one-bedroom apartment belonging to Earther’s hostel, but located away from the main building. It was a steal at around £160pp for seven nights, including free pancakes at breakfast.
Hvar offered an almost overwhelming array of things to do. The one-day Krka waterfalls tour provided the opportunity to swim in arguably Croatia’s all-time greatest national parks.
Taking to the waves, you could kayak from island to island, or speedboat over to the blue caves.
Another favourite activity of mine was meandering the streets of the Old Town, finding shade in the alleys, snacking on local fish and tapas, and exploring the ancient history of the city inside the castle walls.
My all-time travel goal of recent years was achieved when we sailed to the island next door, Brac. Our destination was Zlatni Rat, a spit of land famed for its white pebbled beach jutting out into the sea.
Upon reaching Bol Harbour, we embarked on a 30-minute pine tree-lined amble, via a quaint fruit and veg market, picking up a ginormous watermelon en route (which was not such a good idea for the 2km long walk).
Unlike most beaches where I’d lie down and close my eyes for the day, I didn’t want to shut them for a second here. The mix of bright green and blue water, contrasting starkly with the white stone, and the flamboyant kite surfers flitting between the luxury yachts floating out at sea, made for an enchanting scene you wished would never end.
But end it did, and back in Hvar Old Town, as two single ladies, our trip wasn’t going to be complete without a day out at Hula Hula, the apparently infamous beach bar.
Playing laid-back tunes and perched on the edge of the shoreline, the location was made for sharing a picturesque sunset with a mojito, among a friendly European crowd. And for those who want to keep the party going, take a boat from Hvar port to Carpe Diem, where you won’t return until sunrise.
Before we knew it, it was time to kiss Hvar goodbye and fly away from an unforgettable holiday, completed on a shoestring budget with memories no money could buy.
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