Central Dalmatia is the most action-packed and diverse part of Croatia, with pretty islands, quiet ports, rugged mountains, numerous castles and an emerging culinary scene, as well as three Unesco World Heritage sites: Diocletian’s Palace in Split, the medieval walled town of Trogir and the ancient strip fields of the Stari Grad plain on the island of Hvar. Throughout it all, the rugged 1500m-high Dinaric Range provides a dramatic background.
The Castle District encompasses Castle Hill (Várhegy) – nerve centre of Budapest’s history and packed with many of the capital’s most important museums and other attractions – as well as ground-level Víziváros (Watertown). What the latter lacks in sights it makes up for in excellent restaurants, many of them around Széll Kálmán tér, a major transport hub and the centre of urban Buda.
Garden islands and lagoon aquaculture yield speciality produce and seafood you won’t find elsewhere – all highlighted in inventive Venetian cuisine, with tantalising traces of ancient spice routes. The city knows how to put on a royal spread, as France’s King Henry III once found out when faced with 1200 dishes and 200 bonbons.
While it might lack the world-class cultural institutions of Berlin, Belgrade, at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, offers its own distinctive appeal, with storybook historical districts and venerable fortresses and parks. Better still, this center of Slavic cool just got much easier to reach: Direct flights from North America, via New York City, started in June on Air Serbia. Throw in Belgrade’s cafe scene, low prices, talented young designers, emerging former industrial districts, sausage-filled cuisine and unbridled night life — from D.J. bars to party boats to all-hours nightclubs — and the comparison seems even more compelling.