TRAVEL DIARY: The Hidden Coastal Village of Omiš, Croatia

Just sixteen miles south of Split lies the ancient pirate cove of Omiš, Croatia. Steep towers of limestone encircle the town on three sides, while a wide, deceptively calm river cuts it in two before spilling out into the dazzlingly blue sea. Small boats clog the marina on either side of the single bridge that connects the two halves of town. Despite very modern additions, such as Hotel Damianii, medieval roots are still apparent in smoothly worn narrow limestone walkways that meander through buildings dating back as far as the 6th century. Take a wrong turn here and it’s likely you’ll suddenly find yourself in someone’s blooming garden, a tiny restaurant, or confronted with a rocky cliff face.

Though small, Omiš has plenty to offer. It is a joy to walk the smooth marble and stone streets of the old city, taking in the brightly colored homegrown fruit stands of the open air street markets, friendly shop owners selling homemade raki (the local scotch), and art galleries. Smoke drifts from cafes selling piping hot espressos as small cats slink from alley to alley.

Adventure lovers will find zip-lining, rafting, and canyoning options. Many of the boats and yachts in the marina can be chartered as well. A short but steep climb leads to Fortress Mirabella and provides an intriguing change of perspective. From there, the jagged steep ridges appeared like a serpent’s tail curling over the horizon.

The terrace of Restaurant Knez provides one of the best views of Omiš and nearby islands, and where we watched as the clear day turned into a cloudy pink twilight and sink into darkness. We dined on steak with mushroom sauce, whole Cetina trout, and of course a glass or two of grappa. For lamb peka, an out of this world traditional dish, order a day ahead.

On the advice of our waiter, we checked out the roof, where we were alone except for the coming storm. The wind whirled about us as the lights of Omiš shone bright through the heavy air, reflecting on the river below and bouncing off the stone monoliths. The city looked like a settling snowglobe, with flowers and leaves swirling past and back again. We could hear jubilant singing from a tipsy group of friends battling the gusts that ripped through the streets, their voices rising in defiance even as they stumbled.

The tempest howled through the night, blowing open our windows. I imagined the boats in the harbor must be getting knocked about like toys. In the morning, however, all was calm and the aromas of the fresh bakery below our suite drifted up deliciously, beckoning the start of a new day.

Omiš, I’ll see you again.