When planning our visit to Croatia, we knew we wanted to spend some time in Split. Located in the Dalmatian region of Croatia on the Adriatic Sea, Split is one of the oldest cities and the second largest (~200k people) in a country of roughly 4 million. Its history, coastline, access to many stunning islands and its architecture including a 1700 year old walled city make it an interesting spot. The city is a hot spot for tourists, a hub for ferry traffic within Croatia and to Italy and a stop for the cruise ships. Off-the-chart yachts and charter boats line the harbor. It is teaming with people, and the vibe is very festive.
And yet, it was not that long ago that Croatia was involved in a war for its independence with the former Yugoslavia. In 1991 (along with Slovenia), Croatia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia. During the War of Independence, there were some incidents in Split which resulted in some minor damage; however, Dubrovnik, further south in Croatia, sustained more damage during the war.
Given Split’s proximity to some islands and its coast, we knew Split would be a great base for some cycling. So we booked a cycling trip with Meridien Ten, an active travel company based in Split, to work out 5 days of routes and a cycle hire. (Many US-based companies use Meridien Ten for their Southern Croatia itineraries.) We chose to stay in the city for a week at the lovely Hotel Slavija and did cycle loops back to Split each day. Located within the walls of the Diocletian’s palace, Hotel Slavija is the oldest hotel in Split and a great spot. The hotel was actually built above the western Diocletian baths. Today, the hotel is protected under UNESCO.
In addition to three island rides, we had a chance to experience a few rides on the mainland outside of Split, and one led to two interesting spots to check out in the Split area.
1. Marjan Park which is just a few kms from the old town area of Split set on a hill that provides great views of the Adriatic Sea and the city of Split. If you visit Split, you cannot miss the park as it is a thickly, forested peninsula that is easily visible from the Riva. Originally used as a park by the citizens as early as the 3rd century, today, it is heavily used by locals and tourists alike and offers numerous beaches, jogging trails and bike paths all surrounded by a pine forest and the Adriatic Sea. It is a relatively short 20K out and around but has some climbing and there is enough to see that a couple to few laps will extend your ride and keep things interesting.
2.The Ivan Mestrovic sculpture museum at his former home is another must when visiting Split. Mestrovic was a popular Croatian sculptor who was imprisoned in Zagreb for political reasons until the Vatican assisted with his release. After his release, Mestrovic moved to the US and taught at Syracuse University and Notre Dame. When he died, he left his work to his home country, and it is now on display at his beautiful home outside of Split. It is only a couple kms outside of the city and on the way to the ride above.
For those that are interested in biking vacations, there are many different models to chose from depending on where you are traveling. There is the stationary model like our stay in Split where you can do loop rides from a base. There is, also, the bike trip model cycling from one location to the another like our bike trip from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City. And then, there is also a boat and bike type model which we also tried when we were in Croatia. You can also choose self-guided options which allow you to control your schedule and mileage every day or a guided option which tends to be more social and is also required in harder areas (such as Cambodia and India). But in general, Europe is filled with fantastic bike routes with designated routes and good markings so we think the self- guided model is perfect.
All models are fun and interesting with pros and cons depending on the type of experience you are looking for. More on our Croatia boat and bike experience in a future post as well.