There’s no denying Venice, Italy, still casts a spell over travelers with its distinctive architecture, canals and art. However, during the “high season,” spanning late spring through fall, this can mean too much of a good thing — specifically, throngs of visitors pouring in that all but hide the many reasons people visit Venice in the first place.
This is a big reason why Split, Croatia, is currently having a moment, though it doesn’t hurt the walled city center provided a dramatic backdrop for Game of Thrones and other films and television shows. Though Split has its busy times, crowds are a little more dispersed. And should Split become too busy, the surrounding coastal region is dotted with other beautiful cities with sublime art, culture and culinary attractions filling up what could be described as Venice’s lushly landscaped backyard.
Another thing making Dalmatia an excellent multigenerational travel destination is it has historically been one of Europe’s major crossroads. Split was part of the Roman Empire and, later, Venetian territory between 1420 and 1797. Later on in history, Split and Dubrovnik were oceanfront playgrounds for elite travelers. The patchwork of eras, in turn, means anybody visiting the area today can choose their adventure — from a relaxed Italian-tinged seaside family vacation to an action-packed outdoor journey with the help of specialized tour companies to a leisurely winery trek for older family groups. Kraljevski Vinogradi in Petrčane and Stina Winery, accessed by ferry on Brač Island, are among the most visually striking.
While Split’s layout includes a bright waterfront area and several large open-air town squares similar to those in Spanish and Italian medieval towns, it is differentiated by the Diocletian’s Palace’s walls and the labyrinth-style arrangement of streets and lanes. Passing through the interiors of the walls will stir kids’ imaginations with cavernous, dungeon-like passages, as will sphinx statues, churches and a grand old city clock with 24 digits.
Other hidden surprises in Split’s center include former noble families’ coats of arms, an entry to an old Synagogue and a small weekend antiques market on the back end of the palace walls opposite the selfie-inspiring Gregory of Nin statue (a.k.a. the Harry Potter-esque wizard). Luca Ice Cream Split rivals some of Italy’s best gelaterias with its exquisite flavors of ice cream, sorbets and fresh pastries.
Should rain appear, there are plenty of museums rich in historic and cultural artifacts, including the Etnographic Museum and Split City Museum, as well as several art galleries and quirky places such as Froggyland, showcasing stuffed frogs acting out human scenarios.
The 1920s-era Hotel Park, a 10-minute walk from the palace and busy harbor, resembles a stylized Jazz Age travel poster. It was the setting for the first “I Am Tribidrag” conference focused on the indigenous Croatian wine varietal, and the sommelier keeps those wonderful vintages pouring. That said, foodies as well as visitors preferring lodging outside the tourist zone will also appreciate easy access to clean public beaches, beautifully decorated family-style rooms and wallet-friendly nightly rates. Across the street, Konoba MaToni charms with its concise menu and wine cellar setting. Though most dishes change seasonally, its signature buccatini (succulent hollowed pasta with tender morsels of steak in a wine sauce) and more basic Italian classics are superb.
Outside the confines of Diocletian’s Palace, there are other ancient and medieval cities thriving and begging to be explored by foot, Segway or bike. These include Salona, Polača and Zadar. Zadar is home to the Zadar Archaeological Museum, with thousands of relics from the Palaeolithic time to the end of the 11th century; the Zadar City Museum with items from the end of the 13th century to the present day; and The Museum of Ancient Glass. The glass museum, located in the former noble Cosmacendi family home, is noteworthy for its glass blowing demonstrations as well as a fascinating collection of glass kitchen objects, medicine bottles, perfume bottles, funerary objects, jewelry and other curiosities. Speaking of which, Zadar’s waterfront is also sparkling and spectacular.
The Museum of Illusion in Zadar brings you a space suitable both for social and entertaining tours into the world of illusions, which has delighted all generations. It’s a perfect place for new experiences and fun with friends and family and it’s unique in this part of Europe. Not only is it a place for children, but also a place for parents, couples, grandmothers and grandfathers.
The Brown Beach House Croatia, opened in 2017, is walking distance from UNESCO World Heritage-designated Trogir (another town with a lovely waterfront, old palaces and maze-like streets). The 25-room property, decked out with a 1950s Riviera-jet set sensibility, occupies a former Tobacco shipment station (Duhanka) transformed by Amsterdam designer Saar Zafrira. Deluxe and family suites are designed to accommodate family groups with children, while the expansive pool provides those guests a stylish spot to relax and take in the sites from a distance.