With a population of 200,000 Split is the second biggest city in Croatia next to the capital Zagreb, the principle city of the Dalmatian coast, major port for ferries to Italy and the starting point for most people on the sailing tours. It's the soul of Dalmatia... it's where the locals live, work and party, wedged between the Biokovo mountains and the palm lined Adriatic coast and framed by the luxurious ancient palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian. Welcome to Split!
If your tour finishes here you can enjoy a guided walk around the Palace with your Busabout Guide before dinner and drinks in the old town. If you start in Split be sure to check in at the waterfront before midday – there'll be plenty of Katarina Line reps wandering around to help you in the right direction!
The 'Pearl of the Adriatic' is for many people the highlight of Croatia. Ravaged by war in 1991 it's a remarkable feat that very little noticeable damage has scared this stunning medieval city with its limestone and marble streets and squares and the most complete set of medieval fortified walls in the world. The history of the city goes back to a Slavic settlement on the cliffs back in the 7th Century AD, but it was between the 13th and 15th Centuries, after Dalmatia was liberated from Venetian rule, that the complex system of fortresses, guard towers, bastions, ramparts, gates and turrets were constructed to enclose and defend the old town from further would-be invaders. Almost 2000m around, offering stunning views over the Adriatic and the traditional red roof tops, this is deservedly, a UNESCO World Heritage city. Not even a huge earthquake in 1667, which levelled most buildings, could shake the walls. They don't build them like they used to!
We dock up around lunchtime at 'Gruž' or the New Port, but after lunch we can jump on a bus for 5 minutes (don't forget your camera) to the Pile gate where the adventure begins as we check out the old town. Have a wander down the broad medieval paved Stradun high street and begin our walk around the top of the walls over the St. John fortress for great views out to Lokrum Island, over the Ploče gate to the Minčeta tower, the highest point on the walls and the place for that postcard shot of Dubrovnik. Maybe a visit to 'Buža' bar this afternoon could be on the cards if you can find the hole in the Dubrovnik Walls that leads you onto the rocks. Grab a chilled beer, a suntan and maybe a swim and then enjoy some free time checking out the sights of the old town...
With a population of around 4000, Korčula town is the highlight of the island of Korčula and its cute little medieval walled town is reminiscent of a mini Dubrovnik. Famed for its expert stone masonry, jewellery making, shipbuilding and its most famous ex-resident, Venetian traveller Marco Polo, the island has over 5000 years of history. Polo, who was supposedly born in Korčula (when under Venetian rule) was one of the first Europeans to travel out to China and Mongolia back in the 13th Century way before Columbus, Tasman and Cook ventured out East. He was captured by the Genoese in Korčula during a huge naval battle back in 1298 that gets proudly re-enacted every summer in the town with big celebrations. During his imprisonment in Genoa he wrote one of the most famous travel books of all time about his journeys 'Il Milione' (Columbus kept and annotated his own copy hundreds of years later for his own travels, so it really was the original Lonely Planet!)
At about 80km long the island of Hvar is the longest in the Dalmatian coast and second in total size only to neighbouring Brač. It's also the sunniest place in Croatia with an average of 2724 hours of sun per year. Lush vineyards amongst the rugged mountains, rolling fields of lavender, tiny inlets and secluded coves, not to mention the luscious boutiques and pumping nightlife of the medieval streets of Hvar town make it a must see. As our boats pass the Pakleni islands we get a great view of the town port and Spanola fortress up on the hill as we come into dock about 5pm.
One of the most famous and beautiful national parks in Croatia is found in Mljet. The salt-water lakes of Mljet on the northwest part of the island are amazing. Make sure you check out Veliko Jezero (Big Lake) and Malo Jezero (Small Lake) which are only a short walk from the town of Pomena in the middle of the island. Sheltered and surrounded by pine forests, the nature here is stunning! Formed 10,000 years ago by rising sea levels they were originally freshwater lakes until the Benedictine Monks came here back in the 12th Century and dug out a channel to the sea – you can still find their peaceful medieval monastery on the island of St. Mary in the big lake (yes – an island in a lake on an island!).
Once you've bought your National Park Entrance you can jump on the free boats out to St. Mary's, grab an ice cream, have a swim (the lakes are even a few degrees warmer than the sea) and imagine how the monks would have chilled out here in solitude 700 years ago, nature all around. It's not an active monastery any more (Napoleon brought an end to that 200 years ago), but became a hotel back in the 1960s until the early 90s.
On the mainland between Split and Makarska is the famous pirate town of Omiš, visited on all our Split-to-Split tours and most of the One-Way Sails. Between the 13th and 15th Centuries the local sea Captains weren't too happy about paying out taxes to some rich Venetian Duke so they took it upon themselves to 'supervise' navigation of all the Venetian trading vessels. When Omiš was under the rule of the powerful pirate Dukes of Kacic it enjoyed considerable prosperity and was well known to be a dangerous nest of pirates from the Mediterranean Saracens to the Tatars of the Black Sea. Omiš was a thorn in the side of Venice's medieval naval supremacy, and between the rocky rapids of the river Cetina, the Mirabel Pirate fortress in the old town, and the watchful eye of the Stari Grad Fortress up in the mountains, the pirates had this place pretty well protected!
South of Split on the mainland lies the stunning coastline of the Makarska Riviera, dotted with cute seaside villages, resorts and white pebble beaches framed by the lofty heights of the Biokovo mountains stretching up straight from the sea. Makarska is the principle town of the 30km Riviera and with its massive beach, palmed fringed promenade and many water sports, is always popular with the locals from Split to get away from the big city. All of the Split-to-Split tours go here, with some of the One Ways as well.
The island of Brač is the largest island on the Dalmatian coast at almost 400km rising to 778m (Mt. Vid, the highest mountain on the Croatian Islands) with the main towns being visited by our One Way sailing tours. The main stops are either Bol or Milna. Bol is a small resort town of 1,500 people on the south of the Island most famous for the nearby Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn) pebble beach. The most photographed beach in Croatia is quite unique considering it comes out at right angles to the shoreline like a horn, rather than running along the coast. Strong currents give the beach its continually changing shape, and as the tides turn the tip of the horn will point in a different direction! From Bol town, walk around to the left along the markets and pine – fringed promenade for about 15 minutes and you arrive at the famous beach, popular with tourists on one day trips from Split and water sports fanatics alike. Aside from the beach, the town itself has a beautiful promenade, heaps of great seafood restaurants, bars and even a 100-year old traditional winery you can visit.