Although we’ve now lived in Croatia (Istria, to be exact) over six years, and we’ve done lots of exploring, we are still yet to discover the hotspots of Split and Dubrovnik and the more southerly islands. It’s not out of lack of interest or for want of trying, but we’re still finding so much to still discover closer to home. And especially now that Croatia has joined the Schengen Zone, living very close to the Slovenian border, we find that heading north or over into Italy, is so easy. But, we’ve not neglected the more southerly parts of Croatia, having visited Zadar two or three times, Murter Island and the beautiful city of Šibenik. About four hours down the Adriatic highway, this is a real gem of a city – especially if you love your history, as it is steeped in it.
It’s the perfect city for wandering, as its centre is compact and you can just lose yourself along the winding, cobbled streets. You’ll never get lost as you can always head back down to the sea to get your bearings, or just keep the imposing UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sibenik Cathedral of St. James, as your marker, as it dominates the skyline of the old town. Built over 105 years (1431-1536) in Gothic and Renaissance styles, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered one of the best examples of medieval architecture. There are a few unique features to this Cathedral such as its walls which were built entirely of stone with no mortar or other binding material. On the outside of the walls are 71 sculpted human heads of some of Sibenik’s residents during the period of the Cathedral’s construction – and this was quite something at the time, as ordinary people were given recognition for an important development in the city.
The town hall is located across from the Cathedral of St James, on the city’s main medieval square, the Square of the Republic of Croatia. It’s a Venetian-styled building, resplendent with elaborate carvings. Although the Town Hall was rebuilt after it was damaged during World War II, it still resembles the original one which was built in the middle of the 16th century. The cafe style restaurant is a perfect vantage point for viewing the Cathedral and doing a spot of people watching.
The Old Town’s streets, paved with now shiny white marble, are filled with beautiful old stone buildings and pretty squares full of small boutiques, souvenir shops, modern cafes, restaurants, laid-back bars, museums, old churches and monasteries. Sibenik is a walking-friendly city because it’s mostly pedestrianised. The lack of cars, whizzing around, is a real bonus, and the city feels tranquil and peaceful as noise is really reduced. The promenade fringes the edges of the Old Town, so it’s very easy to be in the beating heart of the city one minute and sitting by the sea, the next.
We stayed for three nights (all paid, no freebies etc etc) at the absolutely stunning Life Palace Hotel, located right in the centre of the old town, on Ulica Kralja Tomislava. Right outside the 15th-century Marenci Palace, is a beautiful little piazza, which was the perfect place for an evening drink, and breakfast in the morning. With only seventeen rooms, this hotel could really be described as boutique, with its very sympathetic restoration, combining the heritage of the building and some luxurious modern touches, including a little roof top spa.
With a history as rich as Dubrovnik’s, although definitely more tranquil, Šibenik is perfect for a mini city break on its own, or as stopover if you are exploring the nearby Kornati islands. Whatever you do, though, don’t overlook it. You won’t regret it.