As stories of record numbers on Croatia’s coast make the headlines throughout the summer, a very simple way to have a fascinating Croatian tourism family day – head inland! TCN heads off into the Dalmatian interior on August 14, 2017, to see what is on offer on a day trip from Split.
The challenge. To come up with an interesting tour for my Albanian lawyer and her friends and family, but something a little different to the crowds and the sea, starting from Split. Four adults, four kids aged between five and eight. In the height of this very hot Dalmatian summer of 2017. An authentic experience, the memories of which would linger long after the holiday.
Keen to avoid the crowds, despite the cooling attractions of the beach, I suggested instead that we head inland to see a slice of Dalmatia that most tourists (and very many locals on the coast) miss altogether. With an air-conditioned minibus to keep the heat at bay, it was a chance to see how inland Dalmatia performed as a family day. It turned out that it performs rather well.
No visit to inland Dalmatia would be complete without a visit to majestic Sinj, officially Croatia’s safest town, and also home to one of its most important cultural traditions, the Sinj Alka knights tournament which took place earlier this month for the 302nd time, celebrating the heroics during the successful overcoming of the Siege of Sinj by the Ottomans in 1715. The opening of the Sinj Alka museum in 2015 has been a fabulous addition to the town’s tourism, and the kids enjoyed the many interactive features, while the adults learned more of the fascinating history, both through the walking tour of the town itself and also the museum itself. A solid start.
One place which I will never tire of visiting, and which is always a hit with tourists, are the delightful mills of the village of Grab, which operate in exactly the same way as they did some 600 years ago. It is an idyllic spot, and while the little ones went off to feed the ducks, we were treated to a display of the milling process which has remained unchanged for centuries. Timeless Croatia at its finest.
The mills in operation today.
The mills of Grab have another increasingly interesting attraction – their guardian, and Iko soon had everyone enthralled with both his amazing sculptures and a MiG fighter.
Inland Dalmatia is full of surprises. For many years I have driven the road from Trilj to Imotski and wondered about the history of this rather bizarre object by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I was even more surprised on my last drive by to notice it had been renovated, but was seemingly not open. My surprise hit fever pitch when I asked the guide about its history. It was a nightclub in a previous era, and after I posted the photo above on my Facebook page, several friends commented that yes, they had indeed been dancing in that very boat as late as the early Nineties. So now I knew.
You can’t afford not to look out of the window when travelling through inland Dalmatia, as there is something to see at every turn. These stecci,for example, UNESCO World Heritage Site number 8 for Croatia last year. Ancient tombstones about which you can learn more here, and I was amused to learn that they had never been stolen because the legend is that it is bad luck to touch them, and if you do, your crops will fail. A significant deterrent in a rural society such as this.
And so to one of the most fascinating towns in Dalmatia, and one which is experiencing a real tourism boom and is being labelled the Croatian Provence (by President Kolinda no less) and the Croatian Tuscany. It certainly has some unusual features, including the town’s football stadium, which was briefly considered as a Game of Thrones filming location,and regularly appears in global lists of the world’s most unusual football stadia.
The Imotski lakes, Red and Blue, are the town’s main attraction. Both are full of legends and mystery, and it was only a couple of months ago that a Frenchman became the first person ever to dive to its bottom. Not to be outdone, some Austrian slackliners crossed the Red Lake from above.
The nearby Blue Lake, right next to that football stadium – so be careful with your shooting, as it is a long way to go to collect the ball – and its water line varies a lot. It was relatively high when I was there a couple of months ago, but decidedly low yesterday. Perhaps we are heading for the most unusual feature about the Blue Lake, which also fittingly has a football theme. Every few years or so, the lake dries out completely, at which point a traditional football match takes place between the Elves and the Werewolves. Surely one of the world’s most unusual football matches. You can catch one of the games in the YouTube video below.
If the football stadium next to the lake features in the world’s top 10 strangest, I wonder where this one fits in…
A view of the town from the air, courtesy of the Imotski Tourist Board, puts the lakes in geographical perspective.
And this is why you should be careful when kicking the ball on the pitch.
After the lakes, wine. Imotski used to have the second largest winery in former Yugoslavia, with the Imota winery knocking out an impressive 20 million litres a year. The emphasis of the Imotski Wine Association these days is on quality, not quantity, and the region is best known from its indigenous light white, Kujundzusa. With the opening of the tunnel to connect Imotski to the coast, the beach is only 30 minutes away, and many day trippers are coming to Imotski for a sample of authentic Dalmatia and its wines.
One of my favourite cellars in Dalmatia, in the middle of Imotski, where the Glavota winery conducts its tastings in a cool cellar of an historic house. They may not have been sampling the wine, but the kids were not bored here either.
One of the more unusual traditions we learned was the drink ‘bikla’, which has a long tradition in Dalmatia. Given both to kids to help them sleep, and conversely also referred to jokingly as ‘Dalmatian viagra’, bikla is a mixture of red wine and goat milk. There is even an annual festival, the Biklajada, in nearby Vrgorac each year, and not everyone adds the milk to the wine glass directly from the goat.
Lunch was at OPG Grabovci, just 7km from Imotski and a world of safe entertainment for the kids. While the adults tucked into the hearty meat peka, the kids ate quickly and then disappeared outside to run wild and make some new friends.
And then a few more friends. Natural Dalmatia. Simple pleasures. Simple enjoyment.
A chance for a post-lunch snooze in our air-conditioned vehicle as we drove for an hour for the final stop of this very varied day – Game of Thrones star, Klis Fortress. My friends were big Game of Thrones fans (I have never seen an episode) and this was an important part of the day for them. But it seems that the majesty of Klis Fortress, overlooking Split and the gateway to inland Dalmatia, attracts visitors for non Game of Thrones reasons – some newlyweds busy taking their wedding photos in the late afternoon sun.
I was curious to see how Klis is developing with its new-found fame, and I have to conclude that the local authorities here are really trying to make the most of this truly magnificent fortress. There has been considerable investment, and some nice touches to add to the memories of the day. There were archery classes for all, and even the little ones all hit the target first time, although my lawyer proved to be as capable an archer as she is a fantastic lawyer – I am glad she is on my side…
One of the highlights for me was the fascinating medieval sword workshop, where we were treated to a very in-depth introduction of the various uses and tactics of the sword, and of course it was not long before the little ones were keen to have a go.
The farewell view from Klis Fortress down to Split, to which we would return at 19:00, having started the day at 08:30. A fun-filled, fulfilling and educational day, where not a single bored childish moment was noticed. And although there were a few tourists at Klis and the lakes, we broadly had each destination almost entirely to ourselves. And they say that peak season Croatia is too crowded.
Many thanks to Sol Travel Croatia for a superbly organised day.