My family and I have been visiting Croatia every summer for the past five years. We focus on the coast of Dalmatia, along the Adriatic Sea. Dalmatia, located directly across from Italy, was the birthplace of several Roman emperors and Marco Polo, was part of the Venetian Empire, and was the only part of the Balkan Peninsula to never be conquered by the Turkish Ottoman Empire (and hence subjected to Islamic conversion). The region is littered with Roman ruins (including one of the world’s largest Roman coliseums), Italian churches, Medieval walled Venetian towns, waterfalls, dramatic mountains, various other natural wonders, and is bordered by a turquoise sea. In spite of the horrid civil war that engulfed the country in the 1990s, it is now a peaceful and beautiful region to visit. The seafood alone will call you back.
When we visit Croatia, we stay near Trogir, an ancient walled town outside the regional capital of Split. Trogir was established originally as a Greek colony, then became an important Roman port, then became part of the Venetian Empire about a thousand years ago—like so many of the walled towns along the Dalmatian coast. Split was established by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who was born nearby in a Roman town called Salona. Diocletian made Split his retirement home—he was one of the few Roman emperors allowed to retire peacefully. The city’s main attraction is the palace Diocletian built. Not only are the ruins still extent, but the walls themselves have been incorporated into the buildings of the modern city. You can have a drink in a café whose walls were built two thousand years ago.
The city of Pula, further north and closer to the Italian border has the best Roman ruins in the region, including the colosseum I mentioned. Korcula, the small island which is the birthplace of the Venetian explorer Marco Polo, is one of many towns along the Adriatic coast that offer incredible architecture and clean vistas of the stunningly blue waters of the surrounding sea.
We will return again and again to Croatia, and never grow tired of it.