After two days in Zagreb and a day trip to Plitvice National Park, part two of my big Croatian honeymoon would bring Noah and I to the Dalmatian Coast — the port city of Split, to be exact.
Hotel: Le Meridien
There were several reasons that I was happy with our decision to stay in the fanciest hotel in Split. For one, Split itself is a little grungy. It’s certainly on it’s way up, but the touristy, congested feel of the city centar makes it slightly overwhelming. And then there was the second, less controllable reason. For maybe 80% of our four-day stay in Split, the weather would not cooperate. In fact, we delt with a whole lot of rain.
Technically, Le Meridien is located in Podstrana, a smaller town about 10 minutes away from Split. Le Meridien itself is a massive complex, complete with an indoor and outdoor pool, private beach front, marina replete with yachts, several smaller cafes, a gym and a spa. The hotel staff were friendly and helpful, the rooms massive, and the amenities just fine.
We didn’t eat at the hotel at all because I have a thing against mass produced meals, but the hotel provided shuttles into Split every few hours for a reasonable price (something like $4), and Noah and I did most of our dining there.
June 13: Split
We arrived in Split on a beautiful, sunny day and immediately threw on our bathing suits and hit the beach. Because we drove from Zagreb to Split (an easy, three-hour journey or so on the immaculate A1 highway), we were pretty much pooped. And so, we passed the time on the pebbly but clean beach, swimming in the still-too-cold sea, drinking poolside rosé, and noshing on fresh fruit. At that moment, life could certainly have been worse.
After showering, napping, and enjoying a cold glass of wine on our balcony, we hopped on the shuttle and made our way into Split to explore the city and food scene.
Paradox Wine and Cheese Bar
First stop, Paradox Wine and Cheese Bar. A little overpriced, yes, but the wine our waiter recommended turned out to be delicious and the cheese just fine. To be honest, we chose the cheapest platter; in hindsight, we should have asked the waiter for his favorite pairing. Either way, it was a cool little spot that looked out on the streets and a great place to people watch and hang out.
No trip to Europe is complete without a quick stop in a local Zara, if you ask me. Leaving Noah outside (he’s not much of a shopper), I quickly scanned the shelves, picked out a few items, tried them on, and spent half my savings. Solid move. Great dress though, no?
Dinner on our first night was Konoba Marjan. We had wanted to check out another very similar spot, Konoba Matejuska, but couldn’t get a reservation for the first night and chose this other one instead. Konoba Marjan is like many of the taverns in Croatia. Small. Intimate. Abundant with fish, served up fresh on a platter. One thing that set apart Marjan from the rest was that our platter came with a heaping pile of sautéed vegetables. The wine was cheap. The fish was flawless. And the night was positively charming.
June 14: A rainy day in Split
Our second morning in Split brought rain. Lots and lots of rain and a few crazy thunderstorms. The bright side was that we were staying at one of the nicest hotel complexes in the area, so there was plenty to keep us occupied for 24 hours — but not much more. Rather than walk around in the rain, we chose to check out the gym (a little small and run down, but it totally did the job), the spa (just the hot tub and other free stuff), and a few of the on-site covered bars.
For dinner, the rain let up, and we took the shuttle in to Split to wander a little more and check out Konoba Matejuska, the restaurant we had made a reservation at the night before.
Konoba Matejuska was delicious, much like Marjan. In Croatian fashion, we were presented with a platter of raw fish from which to choose. To mix it up a bit, we started our meal with a seafood risotto, which we found to be a popular menu item throughout the country. Each one we had was better than the next, both creamy and flavorful and also really good for your thighs.
June 15: Another rainy day in Split
With limited funds, there’s only so much you can do in a luxury spa setting, and so on this second day of rain, we hit the gym (again), napped by the indoor pool (again), and then ventured out for a private cooking lesson. Typically, I’m not into these overly couple-y types of outings, but in the absence of sunshine, it was the perfect alternative. Plus, it turned out to be freaking awesome. Plus plus, it was our honeymoon.
Our trip began with a private driver picking us up — a native of Podstrana who had a ton of information to give us on the 15 minute or so drive to our destination. The kitchen where we’d be cooking was inside a tavern atop the hills of the area called Konoba Argola. Truthfully, I’m not sure how anyone in the area knows of or, if they heard about it, finds this hidden gem without a guide, but if you do find yourself in the area, I suggest you figure out how. I also suggest you call ahead and make a reservation. Their hours are slightly odd.
The staff at Konoba Argola was wonderful. Like most Croatians, our chef was serious but friendly, a little passive but also informative. Everyone we met–not just in Split but throughout all of Croatia–wanted to show us their culture and feed us their olive oil. This was no different. The wine, the olive oil, the vegetables, the meat. It was all harvested from no further than Argola’s very own backyard.
When we arrived, we were greeted with domestic (as in, from their personal vineyards) white wine, a plate of prosciutto, and a private chef who informed us that we’d be making a traditional Croatian dish called Peca — with veal.
“You eat meat, right?”
Tonight, I guess I do.
I’ve always said I’m a sometimes-vegetarian; I eat mostly greens unless faced with meat that’s too good to pass up. This was one of those moments. The prosciutto was by far the best I’d ever had; not a trace of lingering gaminess that typically turns me off.
And then there was the peca. In Croatia, peca can be made with almost anything: fish, octopus, any type of meat. Really, it just means slow cooked and in a very methodical way. While I would have preferred to cook up some octopus, the veal would do just find. The dish itself is made up of vegetables, potatoes, onion, and some meat rubbed down with spices and herbs (rosemary especially, which is one of my favorites). After tossing this with olive oil and white wine, the combined ingredients are placed beneath a metal cover. On top, a wise old man who wasn’t too keen on letting anyone take over then covers the entire dish with hot ashes.
Next to this, we baked the bread. This was also something I had never seen before. The dough was placed on top of a giant leaf, and this leaf was placed directly on the hot surface, covered with a triangular top, and also completely buried.
In between checking on our bread and meat, we drank a lot of wine while roaming the area, chatting with our hosts (they love Croatian athletes and are super proud of their Olympic achievements), and snacking on food here and there.
Dinner itself was astounding. Home cooked and in the company of locals, I felt like I was on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, only without the camera crew and pithy commentary. We left full of wine and veal, in awe of the experience, and excited to bring that memory back home.
June 16: Another rainy day in Split
On the morning of our final day in Split, the clouds cleared for a mere hour. It was 9am, and as soon as I saw sunshine peaking through our shades, I was in a bathing suit, out the door, and sitting by the pool. I knew our time in the sun would be limited (as the weather said 90% chance of rain — again), and so to avoid total misery and another day of clouds, I knew I needed to soak every last drop in.
And then, it rained again.
To entertain ourselves on this last day, we did a couple of things.
1. Took a walk along the water about a mile or two away to explore a small town with nothing really to it.
2. Hit up a local winery, also known as some local dude’s garage (though the wine was much more legit than the establishment itself).
A final stroll around the city of Split (same dress, no shame)…
…a final stop at a bar with massive cocktails…
…and a final dinner, which was fine but too mediocre to look up or write about.
After Split, we’d be on our way (finally) to the islands, which is where the serious Croatian beauty begins.
Split was days 4-7 of 18. Next up, part three of my Croatian honeymoon: Vis, the most wonderful place I’ve ever been.