Croatia’s Dalmatian coast is a frequent favorite with BikeTours.com clients. One of the region’s newest fans? BikeTours.com former tour advisor Matt Lesperance, who recently toured the region and put together this list of his five can’t-miss experiences.
1. Indulge in Dalmatian delicacies and local wines
Dalmatian cuisine is full of the best the traditional Mediterranean diet has to offer: plenty of fresh fish, olive oil, and vegetables. Pair these favorites with one of the region’s wines, and your palette will be sure to thank you.
Croatian fare will vary, depending on the region, but there are usually a few mainstays. Specifically? Bread and cheese, with a side of local meats. Sit down with a local and you’ll surely be greeted with a plate of cheese and Dalmatian prosciutto (some of the most famous of which comes from the Zadar, Sibenik, and Split regions).
Wine has been part of Croatian culture for thousands of years. You can expect to have a glass of wine (or two) with every dinner. Dalmatian wines match the local climate: light and lovely. If you have ever had a glass of White Zinfandel, you’ve already enjoyed one of the Croatian gems. The rosé, locally called“Kaštelanski crljenak,” originated outside of Split in a town called Kaštel. If you happen to spend an evening in the Diocletian’s Palace in Split, be sure to ask for it.
If you’re more into reds, you’ll find plenty to try in Dalmatia. A great place to start is the Plavac Mali from the island of Pelješac or Hvar. The harsh Dalmatian sun and rugged land feeds this grape and creates a light and smooth taste, giving you the option to pair with any dish. I would recommend trying it with the Croatian favorite Peka.
Peka is local delicacy made of a mix of vegetables with meat or seafood (I’d suggest trying it with lamb or octopus!). All the ingredients are covered in a Dutch oven-like pan and cooked over an open fire called a cripnja (“under the bell”).
If you have time, I highly recommend taking a day-long cooking class. The best cooking classes will take you to the local markets and show you exactly what to buy, then back to a local Croatian-style home to talk through the cooking process step-by-step. Of course, you must try what you create!
2. Swim along the beautiful Adriatic Sea
After a full day of biking in the Croatian sun, take a dip the beautiful Adriatic Sea (or “Jadransko,” as the locals call it). Whatever you do, don’t call in an ocean– you’ll be made as a tourist immediately!
The crystal clear water of the Adriatic will provide the perfect tranquil escape to swim with the fishies or simply relax and take in the view. Some cities, like Dubrovnik, have areas to swim just outside of the city walls, allowing you to experience the ancient history from a different perspective. Take advantage of it!
3. Explore the ancient cobblestone alleyways of Split and Dubrovnik
Split and Dubrovnik are more than just Game of Thrones and Star Wars filming locations and fan favorites. Visitors are transported to the Medieval Era, with access to amazing food, culture, and architecture. These beautiful towns, and their unique and storied ambiance, should not be missed.
If you’re in Split, and into photography, make sure to wake up just after sunrise to beat the crowds down to the Peristil (central square) in Diocletian’s Palace. Capture the morning sun bouncing off of the magnificent Bell Tower that hangs over the historical artifacts below. Spend the rest of the morning getting lost in the secret alleyways, until the midday sun hits, when you should make your way to the local favorite, Luka Ice Cream. Pause to enjoy some of the best gelato you will ever have. (I went back many times!)
If you are lucky enough to visit Dubrovnik, take an early morning cable car ride to the top of the Srd Mountain, where you’ll Fort Imperial, and stunning views of the terracotta city down below. Consider making your way back via a 30-minute hike to give you even more magnificent vantage points of Dubrovnik, Lokrum Island, and the stunning Adriatic. These views are unobstructed by trees, which also means you should bring a full bottle of water and some sunblock to protect you from the direct sunlight.
Once down in the Old City, enjoy a midday lunch away from the crowds in one of the many charming back streets. Explore the city and shops before heading to the beautiful island of Lokrum, where you’ll be welcomed by a cast of locals, including wild rabbits and peacocks!
Be sure to make time to walk the great city walls of Dubrovnik, too. The two-mile trek is best taken just before sunset, starting on the east side at the St. John’s fortress entrance. If you time it right, you’ll be able to walk the whole wall and still catch one of the most exquisite sunsets looking out over the Adriatic.
These cities share a true gem of local artisans who painstakingly craft handmade Croatian filigree jewelry. You can support these artists by buying directly from their shops. Find your own favorite, or stop by Viktor Čivljak and his shop in Split.
Viktor has been creating Croatian filigree jewelry for more than 60 years. His son works as his apprentice (hoping to continue the four-generation-long tradition) and Viktor’s wife is the shop manager. His handmade jewelry is all one-of-a-kind, with roots dating back to medieval times. No two pieces are the same, demanding incredible creativity and patience (a pair of silver earrings takes 8-9 hours to make!). Victor and his family’s shop is a stone’s throw from the Iron Gate at Bosanska 4 in Split, Croatia. Stop in and say hello! You’ll thank me later!
4. Breath in the fresh lavender fields of Hvar
Hvar is unlike any island I’ve ever encountered. It’s a place that can only truly be understood once experiences. When you arrive at the harbor city, take a walk down the beautiful village streets with the fortress peering overhead. Take a moment and enjoy a coffee in one of the many cafes before heading out by foot or bike on the island. Depending on the month, after leaving town, you will begin to smell the relaxing lavender that fills the air (a great accompaniment to the amazing views of the Adriatic!).
Spend some time in the small town of Jelsa. If you’re craving more gelato, this is a good place for it. Don’t miss having a cocktail on the rooftop of the Hotel Adriatic, with views looking out over the harbor.
5. Explore Croatia’s National Parks
Much of Croatia’s beauty lies in its natural wonders, many of which can be seen in its array of national parks. The Plitvice Lakes, Krka Falls, Kornati, and Sjeverni Velebit are treasures you do not want to miss.
The breathtaking landscapes of the parks are all spectacular, but if you can only visit two while in Dalmatia, take advantage of Kornati and Krka Falls. Kornati is cut off from the developed world, allowing you to strike a few yoga poses on a dock on the island of Otok Kornat or bike the quiet roads of Dugi Otok with more sweeping views the Adriatic.
Krka Falls is a treat for those looking for the best views and wildlife. Bring your camera and keep an eye out for its diverse community of birds. Some say there are close to 200 different species to see there! If you only have half a day, take the 50-minute serpentine hike around the Falls to get the full effect of the park. When you are done, head over to Skradin for a small town lunch. Note: You can easily get to Krka Falls from Sibenik by car, but if you have the ability to go by boat, do it! The serpentine ride through the “Dragonstonesque” shoreline is wondrous and dreamlike.
If you are lucky enough to spend a night on one of these rustical islands, make sure you bring your sleeping bag and sleep out under the stars. Many of these islands are far enough away from the big city lights that the light pollution is non-existent. Unwind, let go of your worries, and take in the stargazing show above.
It will be the perfect time to reflect on your fabulous trip to Croatia and the Dalmatian Coastline!