Croatian reminder of why travel is good for the soul
There are so many things to do in Croatia and both Split and the island of Hvar are amazing places. The easyJet flight was simple enough (and for an Edinburgh resident, it was an added bonus to know that the Holiday Inn at Glasgow Airport has finally transformed the hotel so that stopping and eating is now a real pleasure).
Upon arrival at the sparkling new Split Airport, I was delighted to find that the booking.com transfer had worked and a friendly driver was waiting to take me to the impressive Radisson Blu Hotel. It is the star of the Split hotel scene. It’s on the beach so not in the center, but the 15 min drive is definitely worth it. Ivan – my Uber driver – loves the Scots so much, so he gave me a special price for every ride in Split I needed.
Once at the Radisson Blu, the early morning wake-up call meant much less to me as the amenities began to work. The rooms there are large, incredibly well planned and the food I had on my first night at their Caper Grill Restaurant was just excellent (the best octopus salad). It also has an impressive spa, and it’s a four-star hotel for the price of a three-star – typical of Croatia.
Split has a lot to recommend. Obviously the highlight is the stunning fourth-century Diocletian’s palace dominating the old town. The old cobbled streets are full of individual boutiques, art galleries and cafes, and don’t miss the fish market where local restaurants serve up wonderful seafood and fish.
Taste the best delicacies of this restaurant at Zoi, possibly the best restaurant in Split. Located in Diocletian’s Palace overlooking the water, it offers rich Mediterranean cuisine at its best. Just amazing fresh food.
Now about the subject perspective – about Bond, James Bond is known to the whole world, and few people know about it. According to my knowledgeable guide from the Tourist Board, JB himself was “born” on the island of Hvar. His name was Gian Francesco Biondi or, in Croatian, Ivan Frane Bundiovich. Among other things, he was a spy for His Majesty and wrote the first history of England. According to legend, Ian Fleming created the image of the famous spy – well, read it first here.
A catamaran trip from Split to Hvar on a Saturday morning is not for the faint of heart. The complete lack of signage, information, and the sheer pressure of hustling and jostling crowds reminds you of Ryanair in the days before seats were allocated. However, after an hour, relaxation begins on the ship of Capetan Luka.
Hvar is just amazing. This is Monte Carlo in Croatia (with super yachts and prices to match). It’s also a place for nightlife (Prince Harry favored the Veneranda Club), and yachts are adorned with their designer labels in abundance.
There really is “a lot” on this island. It is supposedly the sunniest island in Europe, and it definitely has beautiful clear turquoise water, breathtaking views, and plenty of pine forests. One caveat – the beaches are mostly rocky, so make sure your hotel has a nice pool.
Hvar has the most historical UNESCO heritage of all the islands. This small island also has the largest town square on the Dalmatian coast and is the epicenter of social life, with a cathedral on one side and a beautiful town hall on the other. If you were to design a Mediterranean island paradise, this is what it would look like.
The Hvar Arsenal Theatre, with its beautiful velvet-covered auditoriums, was built in 1612 and was the first public theater in Renaissance Europe. It’s definitely on the list of attractions. But the thing about Hvar is that, just like Venice, the best way to enjoy it is to simply get lost in the labyrinth of its beautiful old cobbled streets.
Well, if it really bothers you, head up to the hilltop fortress that has been watching over the city for over five centuries (but honestly, it looks a bit like Stonehenge – best seen from afar, as there isn’t much there after all) it’s an effort).
You don’t have to say much while reading this – just trust me, go to Split and Hvar. So, assuming that you might be leaving now, the most helpful thing I can do is tell you where to stay and eat. I have looked at many options and this is my honest assessment.
I have stayed in two contrasting hotels. The first (my favorite) was Adriana Hotel & Spa. The location on the harbor (overlooking the superyachts) is unbeatable. Then there is the fantastic rooftop bar; huge indoor pool and spa; seafront terrace restaurant where you have breakfast – all in all I can’t say enough about this place. And it’s a steal with prices from 174 euros including breakfast.
The second hotel – Amfora – is more like a large resort, with outdoor pools, a family atmosphere and a buffet. Prices there start at 137 euros per night, but I noticed that Jet2 also sells packages there, so maybe that’s a cheaper option. This is a fun and noisy big hotel, but as an “old lady” I would prefer Adriana…
Both hotels are owned by Suncani Hvar. He has a monopoly on Hvar, so almost all good hotels and restaurants are under his umbrella. The absolute jewel in the company’s crown is Palace Elisabeth, and to truly enjoy the food, try the tasting menu at their San Marco terrace restaurant. For 92 euros you get a magical seven course experience and the setting is simply divine – a five-star hotel built in the residential complex of the Ducal Palace on the main city square. The food, service and atmosphere are truly exceptional.
From starched white napkins and a silver service, he moved on the next evening to fine Dalmatian peasant food and a place where you can come in shorts and sandals (and where many superyacht crews hang out). Take a 15-minute speedboat ride to Palmizana on the neighboring island of Sveti Klement.
Thank God I was wearing ballerinas (and brought insect repellant) but after a 10 minute walk I found myself in one of the coldest places I’ve been in years – a million miles from the vast wealth on display in Hvar . This is The Art Resort, owned by the amazingly eccentric Romina Menegello. You can stay at one of her villas or, like me, just eat there. There is art everywhere – from funny fat nudes to slightly more serious works – the place is just explosive. See www.palmizana.com
Another restaurant worth booking in advance is Passarola. It serves Mediterranean cuisine with a focus on risotto, pasta, delicious seafood and meats of all varieties. It has a romantic rooftop setting in the Old Town. The last place to book in advance is Giaxa, a modern restaurant in a 15th-century palace with a focus on local cuisine.
You will need to return to Split to fly back, and since the flight to Glasgow starts early, it makes sense to spend the last night there. Although I didn’t stay there, I ate on my last night at the beautiful Meridien Hotel Lav in nearby Podstrana (15 minutes from Split). If you want a classic big beach resort this is definitely worth considering.
With its own marina, four restaurants, a spa and kids’ clubs, it’s the perfect choice for a luxurious family vacation. The food is accordingly five-star, but at four-star prices. I intend to return at some point with the grandchildren.
But the fact of the matter is that in Croatia you really get great value for money, and with direct flights from Scotland, what’s not to like?
easyJet offers flights from Glasgow-Split from £250 round trip: easyJet.com Hotels in Split Radisson Blu, rooms from £105: radissonhotels.com. Le Merien: marriott.co.uk Hotels in Hvar suncanihvar.com