Croatia Photo Journal, Part 1- Emperors and Oysters

Ancient ruins, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, postcard-perfect landscapes, and bounty pulled from the bluest water you’ve ever seen – they’re just a few of the experiences I enjoyed while travelling with a group from Insight Vacations last year as we cruised the Dalmatian Riviera.

In part one of our trip, we visit the historic retirement residence of Roman Emperor Diocletian, dine on oysters straight from the fabled Bay of Mali Ston and take in some of the most beautiful landscapes Europe has to offer.

Scroll through the pages that follow for all of the pictures from this first leg of our trip.

EDIT1) Split06Welcome to Split

What a sight to behold after a long afternoon of driving – a pristine boardwalk nestled along the crystalline Adriatic Sea, bordered by rows of palm trees and patios bustling with travellers from around the world. This is the ancient Croatian city of Split, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and jewel of the Dalmatian Riviera that blends the blue skies and tropical atmosphere of an island paradise and the historical legacy worthy of a Roman emperor.

It’s the latter we’re interested in while we exit the Insight coach, the afternoon sun warming our skin as we set eyes on one of the greatest remnants of the Roman Empire standing anywhere in the world – Diocletian’s Palace.

Upon retiring from the helm of the most powerful empire in the world in 305 AD, Emperor Diocletian chose to forego the condo and shuffleboard court in Florida and built his own retirement residence, which still stands today. Tucked behind a row of patios and shops, it’s still the most visited site in the city nearly two millennia after Diocletian first put his feet up there.

EDIT2) Split09

EDIT3) Split04A Palace Fit for an Emperor … or the Mother of Dragons

If the ruins of the palace are any indication, Diocletian wasn’t one for interior decorating. The halls are cavernous and the walls stone but the atmosphere is positively grandiose. And there’s one room in the underground complex portion that boasts a particularly majestic aura, bearing the weight of the entire palace on its columns and arches.

Our voices echo as we enter the room, the air of antiquity palpable as we walk in the footsteps of the emperor. But there’s another powerful leader who calls this room home – Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons, for whom the space serves as a throne room on the HBO series Game of Thrones.

It’s also impressive to note that, almost 2,000 years after he built the place, Diocletian’s name still, well, holds “currency” here .

EDIT4) Split01

EDIT5) Split05Outside the Palace

Of course, there’s more to Split than the coolest retirement home ever built. It’s a centre of arts and culture in Croatia and as we peruse the winding streets, alive with shops and restaurants, we find ourselves in a public square at the base of the bell tower of Cathedral of Saint Domnius (above) – the oldest original Catholic cathedral in the world. Our time, however, in Split is short, and we have to return to the coach to head to dinner, then the hotel, before an early morning drive along the Croatian coast.

EDIT6) Split07

EDIT7) Coast (After Split)02The View from the Edge

Breathtaking landscapes. Period. That’s the only way to describe the Makarska Riviera portion of the Dalmatian Coast as we travel from Split toward our next destination. The road winds along the coast and every turn yields a view more incredible than the last. We revel in the warm morning breeze as we disembark at various rest stops and side-of-the-road photo opportunities, the mountainsides dotted with villages that lead down to the crystalline sea.

EDIT9) Coast (After Split)04At one point along the route we stop at a small fruit stand that sells everything from fresh juices to snacks to oils and preserves. Some of my colleagues do a bit of shopping as I step into the road and then walk around the side of the stand to check out the view …

EDIT8) Coast (After Split)03… And this is What I Saw

In the Neretva Valley below, a patchwork of lemon, orange and almond trees – the place where the very snacks my colleagues are purchasing were grown.

EDIT10) Oysters01Oysters Anyone?

Before lunch we catch a boat ride in Ston, where the massive medieval Walls of Ston dominate the hillside. On this day, however, we’re more concerned with what’s in the water.

After a 10-15 minute boat ride through the Bay of Mali Ston, during which we pass the time by sipping wine, we reach an oyster farm. People have farmed these clear blue waters for oysters since Roman times and today our hosts demonstrate what they do for a living by literally pulling the mollusks out of the bay, breaking them open and affording us a fresh snack with our wine as we sit on the boat, swaying in the pristine waves of the Bay. Oysters don’t get more fresh than this.

EDIT11) Oysters03

EDIT12) Oysters04Bye Bye Bay

As hard as it is to pull ourselves away from this view – and believe me, it’s hard – there’s a lot more to see on this journey …

For more on Mike’s travels along the Dalmatian Coast, see the May 2016 issue of Zoomer magazine, on newsstands now. Part Two of Mike’s Dalmatian Coast photo journal coming soon …

For more on Insight Vacations and their luxury trips to the Dalmatian Coast, visit www.insightvacations.com/ca.