"This is Illyria, lady." - William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act I, Scene 2
Dalmatia (Croatian: Dalmacija) is the southern coastal region of Croatia on the Adriatic Sea. It's by far the most popular tourist area in the country, with many seasonal flights, package hotels and visits by cruise ships.
The Dalmatian dog was first recorded hereabouts in the 17th century, but Dalmatia probably means sheep, delmë in Albanian. Its unruly tribes were subdued by the Romans in the 1st century BC and became part of the province of Illyria. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's characters are shipwrecked here, to become embroiled in a farrago of cross-dressing, misguided love affairs, drunken revelry and dangerous pranks: nothing like any modern bunch of tourists. Dalmatia is mentioned in the Bible New Testament (2 Timothy 4:10), where Paul whinges about the many colleagues who've deserted him, such as Titus who's gone to Dalmatia, perhaps in need of a holiday from Paul.
Croatia is divided into 20 županije - counties - four of which are in the Dalmatia region. These match well with travel planning because each has an airport that serves the surrounding resort towns and is the main way to get in. They're listed here from south to north reflecting their popularity as destinations.
The highlight is Dubrovnik, an exclave separated from the rest of its own county and rest of Croatia by a strip of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main islands of this county are Mljet, Korčula and Lastovo.
Makarska is the lively beach resort along the Riveria, hemmed in by mountains. Split is the big attraction and has the airport, with Trogir nearby. The county's main islands are Brač, Hvar and Vis.
|Northern Dalmatia |
This area is the least developed for tourism yet is very scenic; it comprises the counties of Zadar and of Sibenik-Knin. There are many small islands as the coastal mountain range plunges into the Adriatic: two that are close inshore are Murter and Pašman.
Towns and islands
On the mainland south to north are:
- Dubrovnik is separated from the rest of Croatia by Neum in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- 2 Makarska is the main beach resort on the Makarska Riviera.
- 3 Split has a remarkable old centre, built within a Roman palace.
- 4 Trogir is a historic town perched on an island connected by causeway.
- 5 Šibenik has a famous cathedral.
- 6 Zadar is an ancient city with medieval churches and Roman remains.
The main islands south to north are:
- 1 Mljet is mostly forested, with the western part a national park.
- 2 Korčula is the most developed of the islands, with an attractive old town and string of little villages.
- 3 Lastovo is forested, and notable for its 15th & 16th C Venetian buildings.
- 4 Hvar is probably the most attractive island in Croatia, with its charming Stari Grad.
- 5 Brač is a large island, with its main port at Supetar.
- 6 Vis is little developed, as it was long off-limits to the public.
- 7 Murter is a small resort island connected by bridge to the mainland.
- 8 Pašman is a short ferry-ride from the mainland.
By plane: Dubrovnik and Split are the best connected to western Europe, with many package and budget flights in summer. Zadar has fewer international flights but these include London Stansted, Brussels and Dusseldorf. All three airports have daily flights to Zagreb.
By boat: ferries cross the Adriatic from Ancona and Bari in Italy to Split and Dubrovnik. Domestic ferries ply along the coast from Rijeka via all the islands and mainland ports down to Dubrovnik.
By road: the usual approach is along Highway A1 Zagreb-Split-Ravca, which is modern, fast and safe. Buses connect all the main cities especially Zagreb; international routes usually involve changing there.
By train: a bit of an expedition, in ricketty trains that are slow and scenic, with the emphasis on slow. From Zagreb you can reach Zadar, Split and Šibenik. Passenger trains no longer run to Ploče on the coast south of Makarska.
By road: there are frequent buses between the main coastal towns. You need a car to get anywhere else, eg the mountain villages, or around the larger islands. All the airports and resorts have car rental, but note the problem of Neum if you take a car to or from Dubrovnik.
Ferries are an alternative method between Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik, and are the only way to the islands.
There are infrequent flights between Dubrovnik and Split.
- Dubrovnik, but preferably in the evening when the day-tripper hordes have departed.
- Old churches: often Italianate with baroque interiors. Every small town has one (a welcome chance to sit down in the shade), but the grandest of all is Šibenik cathedral. This part of the world is Roman Catholic, so festivities eg Easter follow the western calendar, not the Orthodox calendar which is generally a week later.
- Islands: top choices for a first trip might be Hvar or Korčula.
- Water sports: all the beach resorts have the usual range of water activities, and several have scuba-diving.
- Hiking, mountaineering and rock-climbing: one attractive area is Biokovo national park, accessed from Makarska.
It's probably kebabs again tonight - ćevapi or ćevapčići as they're locally known. Those who enjoy grilled meals and fish will do well; vegetarians, vegans and GF have limited choice and might prefer self-catering. And the area lacks diversity of cuisine, though Split has a Chinese just for a change.
- Lots of decent Croatian draught beer and wine in the many town & beach bars.
- The local distilled spirit is rakija, the best known being šljivovica or plum brandy.
- Standard precautions about road & water safety, sun protection, safeguarding valuables, and avoiding drunks.
- To the north is Kvarner and the peninsula of Istria, well-developed for tourism. Further north is Slovenia, and Trieste in Italy.
- Inland northeast, Zagreb the Croatian capital is a fine old city.
- You're likely to cross Bosnia and Herzegovina accidentally, transiting Neum on the way to Dubrovnik, but please don't judge the country on this basis (imagine Tijuana but with clean toilets). See the place properly: Mostar and Sarajevo are a good start.
- Just south of Dubrovnik you enter Montenegro, with scenic Kotor and touristy Budva; further south is Albania.