Last summer we were lucky enough to get a guided tour of Omiš from a resident expert in the tourist industry. We’ve kept it to ourselves pending the publication of our report in this year’s Time Out magazine but, with everything that’s happening in Croatia, there’s not always enough space for all the great destinations to get a full airing so below is the unabridged version. In fact we could have written another three pages and perhaps we will in the weeks to come.
Past Split, towards Makarska, the area around Omiš and Dugi Rat has yet to claim Makarska’s riviera status but is working hard on it. Aside from Omiš itself, it is mostly a collection of small villages that developed inland, around the olive groves and vineyards, and then descended towards the sea as tourism and industry gradually took over from agriculture.
Omiš, now probably best known for its annual klapa music festival which continued uninterrupted during the Homeland war, is stunningly photogenic. Craggy mountains rise up directly behind the old stone houses, alleyways and squares that make up its compact centre, and around the mouth of the river Cetina, popular for rafting trips and climbing. Perched on the mountaintops, as the river gorge meets the sea, the remains of medieval defences built by the counts of Kačić and Bribir gave a safe haven for the pirates of Omiš who brought much wealth to the town and managed to resist the Venetians for decades longer than Split but were eventually defeated when the Turks attacked from the other side. Omiš is fiercely proud of its heritage, and still discovering new stories about its pirate history which it celebrates with an annual pirate battle, summer pirate patrols (8pm-10pm, Weds) and three restaurants featuring pirate menus based on the ingredients used at the time (13th & 14th centuries). You can now visit two of the fortresses (10kn each) – Mirabella (Peovica) and Stari Grad (Fortica) and the long trek up pays back in terms of spectacular views – from Mirabella, over the whole of Omiš, and from Stari Grad over Brač, Hvar and Šolta. There’s also plenty of investment to improve the tourism offer – a lift for disabled swimmers for easy entry into the sea, the renovation of the hilltop fortresses for better visitor access, and the development of a series of themed climbing, cycling and trekking routes around Omiš. There are also well formed plans for a new hotel and 160 berth marina on either side of the Cetina river, and a pedestrian bridge to connect them. Meanwhile the old town centre hides many secrets - “the house of a happy man”, the pillar of shame, and a square known as “the hidden square” where the locals go for a little peace and quiet in the summer, and it’s an amazing place to be during the annual klapa festival.
West of Omiš is Dugi Rat with its collection of beaches, cafés, bars and pizzerias. In 2012 or thereabouts, its centrepiece will be Korenat Point, a substantial marina resort development. Around these two centres, along the coast, is a collection of holiday settlements, some with stunning beaches, but many still making the transition from the package tourism of old: large pink-and-white boxy hotels and a plethora of apartment accommodation of various appeal. Inland, the Republic of Poljica (‘Small Fields’) stood from the 11th century to the beginning of the 19th, and was regularly fought over for its important geographical position. Present-day locals of the 20-plus settlements are still uncovering relics from its heyday and villages celebrate their heritage with soparnik festivals, featuring a giant pancake stuffed with vegetables and garlic.
Where To Eat
Omis old town is alive with restaurants bursting out onto the streets around the small squares and alleyways. The best pizzeria is probably Mrma (Vangrad 13, no phone) and for a traditional konoba, Kod našeg Marina (Knezova Kačića 4, Tel 021 861 328) leads the field. Pirate menus (see above) are on offer at Radmanove Mlinice and Kaštil-Slanica (see where to drink) and Konoba-Ćaća on the river waterfront near the bridge.
Lokva Rogoznica/Ruskamen (021 870 193). Open 10am-11pm daily. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V.
After the turn-off to Hotel Ruskamen from Dugi Rat, the coast road invisible from its raised terrace, Kod Mije offers a huge menu of 170 dishes – oysters, omelettes, steaks, roast lamb and fish platters. Popular with the locals and good value for money.
Glavica, Duće (021 735 444). Open 11am-midnight daily. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V.
A stepped terrace off the main road provides a fine setting for summer dining, overlooking pine woods and a secluded pebble beach. Around a dark-wood interior, huge models of traditional sailboats adorn the rafters separating the ground floor from the gallery dining area. The extensive menu has a couple of surprises, such as spiny lobster, house-style. More traditionally, there’s lamb ribs, grilled fish and meat and peka dishes.
Svinišće (021 860 291). Open Summer 5pm-midnight daily. Winter noon-11pm Sat,Sun. No credit cards.
The journey here – 15 minutes up a steep mountain road from Omiš in a Flintstones-themed bus – sets the tone. Owner Alen Bartulin has created a venue (‘Flintstone Tavern’) with his bare hands, under the mountain rocks which form part of the interior walls. The all wood and stone furnishings include a life-size model of the Flintstone car complete with working stone sun visor, engraved stone portraits of Fred, Wilma, Dino and the kids, a stone-age tv and the occasional historic Croatian tool thrown in. The food is good standard local fare, but that’s not the point, really.
Where to drink & nightlife
The four squares in Omiš old town are packed with bars and each attract a different age group when the town roars to life for the annual klapa festival. Trg Stjepana Radica is for 20 somethings and you'll get a stunning view of the church tower, fortress and mountains over a coffee in Caffe Fontana which fights with at least five other cafes for space for its chairs in the small square. For cooling drinks watching the river rafters, try the restaurants on the south bank of the Cetina, Kaštil Slanica, 4km upstream and Radmanove Mlinice another 2km (for both: 021 862 073). For a view, too, the rooftop terrace bar of Villa Dvor is hard to beat. And for after beach fun, La Vida Loca is a favourite cocktail bar, near Konoba Bracera (see where to eat) on the long Duce beach near Dugi Rat.
Where To Stay
Trg kralja Tomislava 6, Omiš (021 755 260/fax 021 755 261/www.hotelplaza.hr). Rates €47-€136 single, €70-€156 double. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V.
Opened in 2007, central Plaža overlooks Omiš’ long, sandy beach. Most of the 36 rooms and five apartments have sea-view balconies. A small spa contains a Finnish sauna and ‘special adventure showers’. In summer, this four-star sells to foreign agencies and individuals should book for a minimum stay of a week. In the quieter winter, the restaurant terrace sometimes becomes a small skating rink.
Mosorska 13, Omiš (021 863 444/fax 021 863 452/www.hotel-villadvor.hr). Rates 560kn-750kn single; 800kn-960kn double. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V.
Spectacularly setting, comfortable inside and reasonably priced, the Villa Dvor is one of the best deals around. [See box].
Local buses run regularly from Split – allow 30 minutes.
Omiš Tourist Office Trg kneza Miroslava bb (021 861 350/www.tz-omis.hr). Open Summer 8am-8pm Mon-Fri; 8am-noon Sat. Winter 8am-3pm Mon-Fri.
Dugi Rat Tourist Office Poljička cesta 133 (021 735 244/www.tz-dugirat.hr). Open Summer 7am-2pm Mon-Fri; 7am-1pm Sat. Winter 7am-2pm Mon-Fri.
Thanks to a comment on this blog, see below, we have discovered another great Croatia blog. Check out Elisa's Croatia blog for some great photos and Elisa’s angle on Croatia from the perspective of a Mexican mum married to a Croatian dad, who grew up in the States. Coincidentally, Elisa has also just published a post on Omiš. Hope the culture shock is now over Elisa and you are getting nothing but family quality time!