Greetings from the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia! 🧡
Dalmatia is the coastal region of Croatia bordering the Adriatic Sea.
While in Dalmatia, I was able to visit the coastal cities of Zadar and Split.
Fun fact: Did you know that the dalmatian dog actually came from Dalmatia? Yes, although it’s spotted and not checkered like the national coat of arms, the dalmatian is Croatian in origin. 😉 Croatians called them Dubrovnik hunters and gave them to the U.S. in the 19th century.
And ironically, although Dalmatia is the birthplace of the dalmatian dog, I found this region to be a “cool cat” (i.e. very hip and trendy). 🐱 = 😎
Now, before I explain why, let me talk a bit more about Dalmatia’s history. Compared to the centrally located capital of Zagreb, Split and Zadar are located near the sea, and were idolized for centuries as strategic centers for trade. 🚢
As such, they were constantly fought over and ruled by various high kingdoms, most notably the Romans.
Evidence of their impact is still seen today through the city’s grid plan layout, massive Roman ruins, and decorative columns. 🔱🏺Also, since these cities were such targets, fortification walls and fortresses were built around them to protect them from attacks by land and sea. 💣
Now, the most impressive ruin in Zadar is the Roman Forum, which began construction in the 1st century BC.It was designed to be the epicenter of public life, and it still serves that function today, as everyone congregates along its gran promenade.
Now, to learn more about this ancient ruin and others in Dalmatia, I took a free walking tour in Zadar. Here, you’ll see my guide standing in front of a decorative column with chains. During the Middle Ages, it was used as a “pillar of shame” to detain and punish criminals. 😲
Walking the streets on this tour really felt like stepping back in time. 😍
For example, during the Middle Ages, the Byzantine Empire brought Christianity to this region, and constructed numerous religious buildings here. ⛪Our guide even gave us one shocking example that if you were born here in 1915 and lived until 1995, you would have had to change your passport FIVE times! During that period, the region transitioned from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Communist Yugoslavia, and finally became the Republic of Croatia. Wow!
She also mentioned that because of its strategic location, the region was heavily bombed during WWII. Many of the historic buildings were destroyed, and unfortunately, they were replaced with rather unattractive, communist-style architecture.
Anyway, what I find most unique about these ancient ruins is that they are not preserved behind glass in a museum. On the contrary, they have been redesigned and re-purposed to serve a new function in this contemporary culture.
Instead of staying stuck in the past, these ancient structures have been transformed into hip and trendy spaces. This is why Dalmatia is such a “cool cat”. Way to keep up with the times! 🤲
I mean, wouldn’t you want to party in a nightclub that was once part of the Roman Palace? 🎉🥂
And what’s a better way to spice up that drab, 9-5 office job than by working in a bank surrounded by historic Roman columns? 💰
Or how about grocery shopping surrounding by Roman ruins? This supermarket has actually been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site! 🛍️🥬🥕
Now, in Split, the best evidence of this trendy transformation is the Diocletian’s Palace complex.Diocletian’s Palace was built in the 4th century as a residence for the Roman Emperor.
Looks like they have also some new palace guards! Hah! 😜
While visiting the palace, I was able to take a coffee at Fig Split. The woman apologized for the wobbly chair stating, “Sorry, for the wobbly chair. These floors are almost 1,700 years old.” 😂
What Else to Do in Dalmatia
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t modern structures to marvel at in Dalmatia. Thanks to the ingenuity of Croatian architect, Nikola Bašić, you can literally be serenaded by the sea. 🎼
The Sea Organ is a natural musical instrument consisting of thirty-five organ pipes built under the concrete and appear as a set of stone stairs that descend into the sea. The pipes are located so that the flow of sea water produces musical sounds. 🎵
Likewise, the same architect in Zadar also created the Greeting to the Sun, a solar installation of 300 glass plates that absorb light during the day, and transform into a colorful light show at night.🎆
I was too busy chatting with this girl from Moldova to take a proper video, so I’ll show you this one I found on YouTube instead. Just dazzling! 😍
Now aside from these attractions, one of the focal points of Dalmatia is the water.
Most activities include the beach, which is perfect for the budget backpacker, since it’s absolutely free!
And if you want to drop some serious change, you can just as easily hire a private yacht to explore the Adriatic Sea too.
Where to Stay: While in Zadar, I stayed at Windward Hostel. It was a bit outside of the city, but the place felt like a local modern apartment. Very clean and cozy!
While in Split, I stayed at Hilltop Split. It was situated in Veli Varoš, one of the most historic and picturesque parts of town.It also felt like a local apartment and although you had quite a booty workout to get there, it offered incredible views of the city center from the balcony.Also, they had a housekeeper that only spoke Croatian, but spent the first day showing me pictures of all her children and a video of her granddaughter playing a tambourine, then gave me some fruit. So sweet! On the flip side though, I also shared the room with five, 21-year-old British dudes. Note the cans of Heineken they stuffed into the lockers. 😂I also almost choked on their Axe body spray as they were getting ready to go to the nightclub.🤮 Thank goodness for that side door. Let’s let in some breeze, please! Hah! 😂
Getting there: While I normally take Flixbus, this time I mistakingly opted for Globtour in order to save a few bucks. What a nightmare! First, you have to pay extra for baggage, then you have to print a physical copy of your ticket, plus the seats were filthy, they had no WiFi, and the operator was like the angry bus driver in Billy Madison. Don’t even think about throwing your sandwich at him! Hah! 😂
What to Eat/Drink: There are endless options for eating and drinking in Dalmatia, but my tour guide highly recommended monkfish, comparable to lobster, from Villa Spiza, and cheese from nearby Pag island. I didn’t go to Pag Island, but there is a local cheese shop in Zadar where you can try samples of their dairy delights. Naturally salty and delicious! 🧀
She also recommended local Maraska liquor made from maraschino cherries. 🍒
Lastly, I noticed olive trees growing everywhere, which is why you’ll find lots of olives and olive oils in many of the local dishes.
What to Buy: Sadly, many of the gifts you’ll find in these touristy cities were actually made in China.🇨🇳Our tour guide in Zadar did recommend that we buy souvenirs from this church in Zadar. All the items there are handmade by locals, including jewelry and lace from Pag island.
Anyway, up next I’ll be enjoying my last venture in Croatia on the island of Hvar. Stay tuned for insights into its natural beauty and Mediterranean cuisine. Until then! 🏝️