ver one thousand seven hundred years ago, the Roman Emperor Diocletian picked a peninsula along the Adriatic coast for his sumptuous retirement complex to be built. And, quite frankly, who wouldn’t? On this wooded parcel of land guarding the entrance to a large and tranquil bay where ships could safely drop anchor, he selected a seaward-facing nook to plan his palatial home, lapped by teal waters and affording generous views towards the islands. Hills undulate behind, rich with vines, olives and pastures for livestock.

The nearby coast is laced with pristine little bays, while further to the south rise impenetrable mountains, sliced through by a river that brings fresh drinking water and abundant marine life.

Grown between and beyond the walls of the palace, modern-day Split retains all these natural glories. What’s more, it adds an effervescent energy that spreads across the whole city from the bars, shops and cafes which have sprouted among the ancient remains.

It may be a Unesco-listed site, but Diocletian’s Palace continuously moved with the times, layered era by era to become a sort of Matryoskha doll of the city’s history. From its al-fresco cafes and seafront promenades lined with palm trees, its beaches humming with joyful activity to its restaurants serving up unforgettable Dalmatian cuisine accompanied by fine local wines, not to mention satellite islands of glorious beaches and undiscovered interiors, Croatia’s second city has everything that makes the country irresistible, flowing out from one radiant core.

An irresistible hidden gem in Croatia

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