Often when you have family spread across the globe it can be hard (and costly) to get everyone together in one place. With a Kiwi boyfriend who’s parents are in New Zealand and sister and family are in Holland, the logical solution for a summer holiday was Eastern Europe…in our case, Croatia.
Now fast becoming a hot spot tourist destination for sun-hungry Brits who don’t fancy spending a week with too many other Brits in the Algarve, it has been a popular destination for some time with inter-rail travelers.
Our base was an Air bnb appartment in the centre of Split and we had planned a varied family friendly holiday with enough entertainment and history for the adults, not too much walking, and some fun beach and sea-related activities for the kids (which also included some of the adults).
The first thing to note in Croatia is they have amazing gelato…EVERYWHERE. Now I know gelato seems to be reserved to the Italians in most peoples minds, but you’d be missing out if you don’t try some in Croatia. Second up in terms of food is the freshly fried whitebait and mini octopus they sell in the little market stalls along the sea front.
Second thing to note is that Croatia gives Greece and it’s islands a run for its money when it comes to ancient history…from the Roman ruins of Diocletian’s Palace which make up the heart of Split, to Trogir – a small Medieval walled fortress town to the north of Split, with the majestic Dubrovnik (home to Game of Thrones) and magical Hvar island to name but two more.
We flew to Split via Zagreb and stayed in an Air BNB just outside Diocletian’s Palace. The day was still young so we set about exploring and we were delighted to discover that Split’s market and fish market were only a 5 minute walk from our apartment – Beef-eater tomatoes as big as your hand, the largest courgettes I have ever seen, a fine array of sea fare including picarels, oysters, sprats and even octopus we were in for a treat, and a test, of our own cookery skills. The general food market can be found just off the main road, and the fish market is on the square next to Marmontova Street, under a marquee awning with permanent huge cold white marble, this really is your traditional fish market. It opens every day from about 6.30am if you feel like an early morning wander, and closes about 2pm. For the freshest fish it’s best to head there early, but for the best deals head over around 12 noon as they reduce the prices to almost half on pretty much all of the fish. If you’re lucky (and lazy) you can find a man with a sharp knife just inside the building, who, for 10 Kuna will clean and fillet your fish for you.
With paving stones so worn that when it rains you feel like you’re on an ice rink! Every day at 12.30 Diocletian (an actor, not the real one, obviously) does his rounds through the palace ruins giving people a highly believable time warp.
If you get lost down one of the little side streets you’ll end up on an equally entertaining time warp, with intimate book stores, small leather good stores, and Filigran Split – a family run traditional filigree jewelers now run by it’s fourth generation.
I was lucky enough to visit while the grandfather (2nd generation) was busy in his workshop, and he invited me in to join him making the traditional filigree silver balls. Fluent in Croatian, Italian and German we communicated in my pidgin German. He makes upwards of 40 a day and pairs them into 20 sets of earrings. His workshop is tiny, and he has a bad leg, so his son is also there to help out, and now runs the shop most days of the week. Each filigree ball is complex and intricate, originating as hairs-width strands of 925 sterling silver woven tightly together. These strands are then curled into tight spirals and pressed into ancient molds to give them the crescent curves, the two halves are then tied together with an alloy wire, and then heat treated until they begin to melt and fuse together. This all sounds fairly straight forwards, but considering these balls are not much bigger than your thumbnail, you then start to realise just how much effort goes into these beauties.
Just past the palace and a stone’s throw from the fish market, is Creme de la Creme – undoubtedly Split’s best cafe come tea room with a fine array of cakes both traditional and regional, including their ‘house’ cake which I was delighted to discover was…chocolate.
I couldn’t resist a cheeky slice of Splitska Torta – a traditional dalmatian cake famous in Split – similar to a custard slice, only with the welcome addition of a hint of rum and raisins in the crust. This can make a great mid morning, late afternoon, or really any time of day snack. Or an after dinner treat. Certainly not to be missed if you do a culinary trip of Croatia. I chose to take my Splitska Torta slice at around about mid day, sat in the outside seating of the cafe it was a great spot to watch the world go by.
This wasn’t my only trip to Creme de la Creme, I found myself returning again to try their house chocolate cake which I could just tell would be amazing – multiple layers of chocolate ganache and chocolate sponge, with the added benefit of the chocolate being sugar free!