I find that a great way of familiarising yourself with any city is to take a walking tour of it as early into your trip as possible. That is why when Samm from The Inspiration Highway and I visited Split, Croatia recently, I organised our walking tour for our first day in the city. We had agreed to meet our tour guide, Josko, in the Old Town at the Silver Gate of the Palace at 10:00am. Giving ourselves plenty of time to get to the rendezvous point, we set off from our apartment, excited about what we were going to learn about Split. Unfortunately, we got lost in the warren of narrow streets, and even when we did find the way, we got stuck behind large tour groups who would not move out of the way for anyone! Not to worry, I simply gave Josko a call and explained our predicament, and to be honest we were only 5 or so minutes late. Luckily for us we were the only people on his tour that day, so when we finally did arrive we were not greeted with the disapproving stares of fellow tourists.
Josko was very friendly and explained that he was born and bred in Split, and was therefore extremely knowledgeable about his beloved city. He explained the history of the city from the get go, and throughout the walking tour. We started our tour by walking through the farmers market where locals bring their produce to sell on a daily basis – some had loads of produce, while others only had a handful of things to sell, usually from their own gardens. With every fruit, vegetable and flower you could imagine on offer, it is easy to understand why people here buy fresh everyday rather than from supermarkets. I even tried St John’s bread from the carob tree, which can be found in many health stores, sold as energy bars. It was very sweet and chewy, so much so that I couldn’t eat that much of it.
Next stop on our tour was down Split’s main promenade which is lined with bars and restaurants, affectionately known locally as ‘the living room’ – it is a busy and exciting part of town. We followed Josko as he headed through a doorway between two restaurants and into the basement of Diocletian’s Palace, an ancient palace built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the 4th century AD. It has also been inscribed as a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Entrance into the basement cost around €5 each, and it was well worth the fee. Down in the basement Josko explained what would have gone on down there in years gone by. While down there, it felt crazy to think that the city is built right above you. Josko pointed out that only a small section of the basement has been excavated, so as not to make the weight of the city above too heavy for the old foundations of the basement.
The basement had many rooms and as we wandered through them, Josko explained what they would have been used for back in the days of Diocletian himself. We saw the oldest artifact in Split – a (now headless) sphinx which had been liberated from Egypt. We saw the original stone olive oil presses, and even enjoyed a snack of figs and homemade cherry brandy that Josko kindly provided in the dining room, where lavish feasts would have been enjoyed.
Heading back into the sunlight from the dark and cool basement, we were just in time to witness the noon reenactment of the emperor’s decree, held daily. Be sure to get there early to get a good spot. Unfortunately, we didn’t, and had to endure a million and one selfie sticks and iPads blocking our view.
We continued our walking tour through the narrow streets of the city, Josko pointing out places of interest that we may want to return to later in our trip. He also pointed out some restaurants and bars he thought we may like. Josko also included stories from Medieval Times, he came armed with a Book of Law dating back to those times. Some laws were sensible, some would not fly now and some were just crazy! A great addition to the tour. We ended our walking tour at Tavern “Diocletian”, known as “Tri Volta”(Three Vaults) locally – home to best prosciutto in town, where Josko sat with us and explained what happened during the Homeland War in the 1990s and how he had lived for 14 years under the communist regime. He told us what he lived through as a teenager, the jobs he was expected (and honoured) to do, and how Croatia’s independence has benefited the country. He then headed home to enjoy Sunday lunch with his family.
Josko was personable and friendly, and the four hours we were with him flew past in a flash. I genuinely think we wouldn’t have found some of the places he took us to, and it was a great introduction to the city, giving us plenty of ideas of places we could revisit. Josko also limits the number of participants on his tours to 8, meaning that he doesn’t have to shout and you can hear everything he is saying, unlike the large, impersonal tours that block the city streets with no regard for others. Also, because of the small groups, all questions can be asked and answered. Having taken walking tours in many cities around the world, I would rank this up there as one of the best!
- Josko is not on social media, instead relying on business by word of mouth. If you would like to contact him/book a tour, you are able to do this via his website – Walking Tour of Split. Our walking tour was given on a complimentary basis in exchange for review.