Surrounded by the snow-blanketed Dinaric Alps, Split looks beautiful on a crisp winter day, and it's market stalls, quirky shops and cobbled streets are an enchanting place to go Christmas shopping. Split goes in big at Christmas - here, you'll find wooden-roofed stalls selling festive food-stuffs, seasonal concerts and a diverse programme of activities to jump into. Split's postcard-perfect setting, twinkly lights, and the smell of mulled-wine lingering in the air is enough to warm the cheeks of any Scrooge.
Over an hour and a half, a knowledgeable English-speaking guide takes you on a tour of Split's fish and produce markets, using their local expertise to show you what's on offer, what to look for and what's in season. The tour also takes in Pjaca and the Riva, and culminates in a gourmet lunch at the Diocletian's Wine House.
Leaving behind the burning sun of summer, the dozens of hiking trails that criss-cross Biokovo Nature Park become a pleasant active day out during the winter months. Overlooking the Makarska Riviera south of Split, Biokovo can offer challenging climbs and gentle strolls, according to which course you select and where you start from. Some drive down, park the car, and soon be able to take in the panoramic views as they climb.
With the new wines of the year now widely available, take a tour and test out the city’s main venues for sampling the best Dalmatia has to offer – along with local cheeses and cold cuts.
Croatia’s greatest sculptor spent many years in Split, where his villa and studio have since been converted into two major attractions: the Mestrovic Gallery and Kaštelet. The former shows the range of his works, the latter, his remarkable 28-piece work of wooden reliefs depicting the life of Christ. All is set on a leafy boulevard overlooking the seafront,beneath Marjan hill. Nearer to town, you’ll find the sculptor’s works around the Diocletian Palace: his statue of Grgur Ninski next to the Golden Gate and another of Renaissance writer Marko Marulić at Voćni trg.
Although Split doesn’t have an opera house per se, the eclectic, high-brow agenda at the Croatian National Theatre (‘HNK’) includes opera as well as ballet and local-language theatre over the length of the cultural season between September and June. The building itself is a landmark – the national theatres here and in Zagreb played a vital role in the development and promotion of the Croatian language before the country gained any kind of independence. Thus it is with great pride that citizens attend performances here, dressed accordingly, and so creating a real sense of occasion. The venue is a pleasant stroll along pedestrianised Marmontova, with plenty of spots nearby for a pre-show meal or drink. During the summer, the HNK hosts the Split Summer Festival, which also includes crowd-pleasing opera outdoor performances at Peristil in the Roman Palace.
The spectacular success of the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV series has had a strong impact on Croatian tourism. Though Dubrovnik is identified the King’s Landing, Split has gained its fair share of unexpected fame. Its narrow streets seem tailor-made for the filming of fantasy-city locations. Dark, atmospheric and full of theatrical menace, the alleyways around Dioklecijanova in the Roman Palace were used to represent the streets of post-siege Meereen, where former slaves are seen hunting down their deposed masters. The echoing subterranean halls of Diocletian’s Palace Basement have lent themselves to all kinds of interior shoots. Most significantly they provided the location for Daenerys’s throne room as ruler of Meereen, seen in the latter episodes of season four. A new addition is Kaštel Gomilica, a short drive from Split towards the airport. This doubles as Braavos, the place where Princess Arya Stark found refuge in season five.
Said to be best prepared on Hvar, gregada is a much-loved domestic fish stew, involving potatoes, parsley, olive oil and chunks of fresh fish. Locals reckon that, with the exception of family dining tables, the best place to find this classic Dalmatian dish in Split is at the Konoba Hvaranin. Under the expert guidance of the Radovani family, the gregada here is the house speciality, a healthy, delicious bowl that keeps regulars coming back for more. Plus you’ll be enjoying it in a real family atmosphere, with mum and dad in the kitchen, and the son Vinko running the bar and usually excellent music set list in the background. Hvaranin is not only about food, though. Being a meeting point for Split writers, journalists and artists (whose books fill the restaurant shelves), Hvaranin is also a place to earwig erudite conversation as you slurp down your fish stew.
The Split Gallery of Fine Arts is home to one of the finest collections of modern and contemporary Croatian art in the country. Founded in 1931, the gallery originally comprised some 500 works, 300 of which were on display at its original base on Lovretska. The gallery now holds some 3,500 pieces, including some by Dürer and Venetian Masters from as far back as the 14th century – but it’s the modern, Croatian, works that have made the gallery its name. These range from paintings by Vlaho Bukovac to sculptures by Ivan Meštrović, and then there’s Edo Murtić’s abstract Sky Over New York from the early 1950s. Works in video and new media are also included, lending a contemporary touch and underlining the gallery’s position at the cultural forefront.