On the morning we left Dubrovnik, we made it to the port before the sun crested over the hills and set out on a boat onto the waters of the Adriatic. Our destination was Split and our vessel was a massive ferry which prowled along a series of ports along the coast and islands, each destination more beautiful than the last.
The trip had no shortage of deeply clear aqua blue water, yachts drifting by or anchored near shore, and desert hillsides where trees, bushes, and dry grasses cling to life despite the climate’s lack of precipitation.
Each stop gave us the opportunity to observe another tourist island; hordes of young groups were flocking to Hvar and Bol en mass, waiting in the sweltering heat for our boat to show up.
By 2pm we made it to Split and set off for the beach. Another long walk along the ocean meant much of the same sights and smells as the day before. Cicadas were ceaseless in the chirping, fresh pine came straight through my nostrils, and gorgeous swimming opportunities opened up every few minutes.
We ended up at a long stretch of beach within a national park. By swimming out into the deeper waters, we could take in a striking ridgeline behind us.
After a refreshing dip, we decided to set off for a hike along the hills in hopes of capturing a gorgeous afternoon view of the coastline. The path wasn’t too steep but it was unyielding in its incline. Switchback after switchback punished our calves and poured sweat down our backs, yet I was too occupied with the view to feel the pain. Instead, I just found myself gazing in wonder at the spoils of this natural paradise.
The trail yielded a few ancient Croatian curiosities. Castles of unknown origin were built directly into the hillside at dizzying heights within sheer vertical inclines, leaving us gaping in wonder as to what may have compelled people to live at such extremes.
By the time we made it to the top the sun was angling across the horizon, its light shimmering on the surface of the sea. To our left lay the old city and its tremendous port, the center of transit and commerce for Croatia’s second largest city. Directly ahead of us a wide swath of the Adriatic opened up, with sailboat and yachts drawing wide wakes behind them. The water’s backdrop was the island of Bol, leaving our eyes to rest on plenty of greenery.
We enjoyed the view until our legs were refreshed enough to continue onwards. The way down was a steady descending trail, engulfed on either side with pines, conifers, and thin spindly trees all framed by soft evening light.
Just a few minutes from home we came upon the perfect viewpoint of Split, the old town’s ancient architecture contrasted beautifully against the long stretch of crescent beach.
That evening our friend Tim arrived, making our group of four whole. We set off to explore Split’s historic Diocletian's Palace. Before even arriving, the city’s overwhelming crowds hit us with full force. Walking along the edge of the bay, monstrous yachts gleamed with fresh coats of wax in the moonlight on our right while decrepit soviet era building lay dilapidated on our left.
Straight ahead were throngs of tourists, as Split proved itself to be just as crowded as Dubrovnik in the August high season. Across the bay, the shimmering waters reflected a full moon.
Everywhere we turned, hordes of people crammed onto the marina boardwalk and surrounding alleyways, making even moving in a straight line exceptionally difficult. Yet amongst the restaurants, gelato shops, hotel bars, and pizza places, we began to grasp the undeniable allure of Split.
The city’s main palace is over 1700 years old, and the striking Roman architecture is just as spectacular today. The city morphed with the ruins, creating a scene that was entirely cinematic. We half expected Daniel Craig to come parachuting down onto one of the old roofs, tumble into the main forum, and go running down one of the many damp alleyways, setting off a high speed chase amongst ruins, towers, and cathedrals.
Tim’s arrival also brought with it the beginning of our rental car, so we decided to make the most of our new mode of transportation and head further South along the coast to the tiny town of Omis. Before even arriving we were awestruck by the sights.
The route led us through a valley of scorched earth; a forest fire had laid bare vast swaths of woods and left the farmland black. As we began to descend into Omis, violent rock outcroppings began to jut out just steps from the shoreline, making for a dramatic introduction.
Two canals cut through the valley, one right behind the mountains and another bisecting the town through an incredible natural gate.
We zigged and zagged down a steep hillside and eventually parked next to the river. It was here that we hopped out of the air-conditioned confines of our car and immediately began a punishing climb.
More hiking meant more cicadas, more pine scent, and of course plenty more sweating. The trail was rocky, with tiny stones slipping under our feet as our hamstrings and calves strained with pressure under the challenge of such a steep slope.
Whenever the tree canopy yielded, the sun began beating down on my neck, but the view was constantly improving as a sheer vertical rock face steadily revealed itself behind us.
By the time we reached the top our faces were cherry red and our water bottles nearly empty, but the reward was fully earned. From here we had the ultimate 360 degree viewpoint: stark cliffs, fertile hillsides, and string of beaches chaining along the coast.
With the sun on our backs and the wind at our faces, we took in the cascading set of mountain ranges behind us, which featured trees growing directly out of the vertical rock face.
A fresh breeze whipped up from the sea, offering us with the ultimate feeling of accomplishment. Further along, we climbed the ramparts of a castle, which undoubtedly offered the most compelling views of the trip so far.
The way down was much hotter and much more treacherous. Now fully exposed to the elements, we sweated and stumbled down the front face of the mountain, eventually taking a wrong turn and ending up in an olive grove. Through some rather dicey descents in brambles and thickets, we escaped by trespassing across a few backyards before eventually reuniting with a real road.
Yet these adventures only made our beach time that much sweeter. First we waded into the shallow yet refreshing waters of Omis’ largest and most populated beach, washing off the sweat and cooling down our body temperatures.
Later we explored along the coastline until finding the perfect shady beach bar. Here we had the distinct pleasure of having three creature comforts within reach: shade, cold beer, and salt water to swim in.
As evening came we opted to forego the crowds of Split and head instead for the smaller destination of Trigor. Despite our hopes that this would yield a more manageable tourism situation, we soon discovered that such wishes cannot be fulfilled in August in Croatia.
Packed cobblestone streets featured primarily more of the same: seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, and families on vacation. Tim and I escaped the scene by climbing to the Cathedral’s belfry. From here we took in the town from a bird’s eye view as the evening sun glared into our eyes.
The harbor of Trigor was the most impressive feature: boats of all sizes passed through a narrow strait, sailing out into the open waters of the Adriatic or coming back to dock in Split or smaller towns along the secluded bay.
We capped the day’s extensive activities with an excellent meal on an outdoor patio, taking in the last rays of sunshine and filling up on traditional Croatian fare.
Wednesday morning we arose with the vague goal of arriving somewhere in Slovenia’s soca valley, but with only vague premonitions of how we would make it a reality. Anxious to get on the way, the four of us piled into the car and started heading North.
After about an hour of driving inland we veered towards the coast and were instantly enchanted by the panorama views. A massive sand-colored peninsula protruded from the waters, devoid of any signs of life. The alien landscape had us prophesying what might happen in such a barren place.
We capped our time in Croatia with one last swim and picnic lunch, dangling our feet in the water as we took in the salty sea breeze from a small town’s dock. From here it was onwards and upwards, to Slovenia!