SPLIT HAS the great­est at­tribute a cruise port can boast — a har­bour right in the cen­tre of the ac­tion, with that ac­tion con­cen­trated in a his­toric and spec­tac­u­lar lo­ca­tion. Wel­come to Dio­cle­tian’s Palace, a Ro­man em­peror’s sea­side re­tire­ment home, which has evolved into a plea­sure palace for 21st-cen­tury vis­i­tors.

Croa­tia’s Dal­ma­tian jewel, also the coun­try’s sec­ond city, is emerg­ing as one of the world’s great new coastal play­grounds, with a feel that is more Côte d’Azur than eastern Europe. Split’s cen­trally placed cruise ter­mi­nal is a big plus point, not to men­tion the broad, yacht-lined prom with the spec­tac­u­lar Ro­man com­pound, 10 min­utes’ walk from where the cruise lin­ers tie up, at its cen­tre. This is one port where you do not need to book an ex­pen­sive guided ex­cur­sion, since wan­der­ing by your­self is ac­tu­ally the city’s great­est de­light.

While Dio­cle­tian’s Palace is the fo­cus of Split’s lively shop­ping, din­ing and night-life, it is also a beau­ti­fully pre­served hunk of Ro­man ar­chi­tec­ture, fas­ci­nat­ing to ex­plore at ground level, be­fore as­cend­ing into the mod­ern of­fer­ings lin­ing its mar­ble-paved pi­az­zas and the war­rens of nar­row lanes con­nect­ing them.

The lower tier of the palace at prom­e­nade level was cov­ered by wa­ter when the Ro­man em­peror sailed into his new palace, around the turn of the fourth cen­tury. It is worth vis­it­ing this base­ment hall, with its eerie vaulted rooms, just to get a sense of the an­cient at­mos­phere. Then as­cend the steps out­side to en­joy the squares, lanes, shops and cafés, all lent au­then­tic­ity by the fact this is still a liv­ing com­plex, with some 3,000 res­i­dents whose apart­ments are in­side the palace grounds.

While it is un­likely any­one would come­toS­pli­tand­notbedrawn­to­climb Into the fortress from the prom (or walk into it through the beau­ti­ful Golden Gate from the park at the back), Split has so much to of­fer beyond Dio­cle­tian’s mas­ter­work and the su­perb Byzan­tine relics of en­su­ing cen­turies.

The Hun­gar­i­ans, Vene­tians, French and Aus­tri­ans fol­lowed the Greeks who colonised the city, the Ro­mans who founded its civil­i­sa­tion and the Slavs and Croa­t­ian kings who came af­ter t hem, ea c h leav­ing their mark on the ar­chi­tec­ture.

Riva, as the broad prom­e­nade ly­ing be­tween the palace and the sea is known, has a life all its own, re­call­ing the cafél in e d st r i p of St Tropez whi ch bo r - ders a sim­i­lar kind of marin a , pa c k e d with crack­ing yachts.

Head­westof Riva to dis­cover Proku­ra­tive, Split’s an­swer to Venice’s San Marco, a broad 19th-cen­tury square, colon­naded with arches on three sides, home to bars, restau­rants and cul­tural events.

Pjaca, an­other beau­ti­ful city square, is the site of Café Cen­tral, where Split’s in­tel­lec­tu­als have gath­ered for more than a cen­tury, as well as Mor­pugo, one of the world’s old­est book­shops.

Fruit Square, nick­named af­ter the pro­duce mar­ket that once oc­cu­pied it, is no­table for an oc­tag­o­nal Vene­tian tower and a 17th-cen­tury palace with a fab­u­lous baroque façade. It is close to Dio­cle­tian’s Palace, as is colour­ful Pazar, where the lo­cal Dal­ma­tian pro­duce is sold today.

Even if the fish mar­ket does not ap­peal, Mar­mont Street, its lo­ca­tion, is worth vis­it­ing for its hand­some Se­ces­sion build­ings and the Photo Gallery mu­seum.

There is also a Gallery of Fine Art, the Me­stro­vic Gallery and a hand­ful of more con­tem­po­rary at­trac­tions, such as Room Es­cape Split, a live game for small groups tasked with fig­ur­ing out how to es­cape from a locked build­ing. Watery at­trac­tions in­clude an aquar­ium and a semi-sub­mersible which al­lows un­der­wa­ter life to be ob­served while float­ing along the Riva. Na­ture lovers might pre­fer the fr a g r a n t for­est trails of the Mar­jan re­serve, in the hills close to the city. Punc­tua te d wi t h lo o k o u t s and ru­ined chapels, it is linked to the city cen­tre by the at­mo­spheric Varos district.

Where to eat in a city noted for its food but pep­pered, like ev e r y daytrip des­ti­na­tion, with a fair share of tourist traps? Uje, which means oil in Croa­t­ian, is a pop­u­lar hang­out in the old city and its nearby shop a good place to buy lo­cal Brachia ex­tra vir­gin olive oil. Apetit, in an old Vene­tian palace near the Pjaca, is classy and con­tem­po­rary, as you might ex­pect of a Croa­t­ian restau­ra­teur who has spent sev­eral years in Ber­lin; veg­e­tar­i­ans and pasta-lovers are par­tic­u­larly well catered for here. Konoba Mar­jan in the heart of the Varos quar­ter,well worth a visit in its own right, also comes highly rec­om­mended for grilled sar­dines and other su­per-fresh lo­cal fish.

Split’s Sum­mer Fes­ti­val is a huge draw from mid-July to mid-Au­gust, but May and June of­fer a spirit of rev­elry with­out the hor­ren­dous crowds of the school hol­i­days. And if time per­mits, it is easy to hop on the ferry to Brac, the close-by Dal­ma­tian is­land with a fas­ci­nat­ing school of stone­ma­sonry that can be vis­ited by prior ar­range­ment.


Ro­man hol­i­day: Dio­cle­tian’s Palace re­veals Split’s his­tory as an im­pe­rial sea­side re­treat

Tour the palace, then emerge to en­joy mod­ern city life

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