History and holidays do mix, discovers Lee Karen Stow on a trip into Croatia’s dramatic past.
STRIP the Croatian town of Split down to its core and there is treasure to be found. In and among cobbled alleys of cafes and higgledy-piggedly medieval houses lies the Palace of Diocletian, the greatest Roman ruin in Eastern Europe, dating back almost two millennia.
It's slowly coming alive to me and the group of people I am with. This is mainly because we have expert help - we are part of a group lead by British archaeologist Dr Ffiona Gilmore Eaves.
Archaeology is growing as a hobby but not all amateur historians want to spend every day of their holiday scrabbling around ancient sights.
Which is why a "Bare Bones" programme, with archaeological specialist Andante Travels, is such a great idea. These week-long tours explore ancient worlds from Pompeii to Byzantium, with enough free time for a spot of sunbathing and a lazy lunch or two.
"Archaeology is very accessible because we can work out so much for ourselves just by looking, " says Ffiona. "A lot of it is common sense.
I say come and try it. I have never yet met anyone who didn't enjoy it."
As a group we uncover the history of Dalmatia, a slither of a region squashed between the Adriatic Sea and the Dinaric Alps.
Easy to reach are ruined towns, temples, cemeteries and preserved churches and palaces that cover a span from before Christ, through the Greeks, Romans, early Christians, later invaders, the Venetians and beyond.
There are museums, including Split's own Archaeological Museum, based on the layout of a Roman villa.
Two Unesco World Heritage Sites are also on our list, including Trogir - a walled island town with a maze of medieval streets - and the focus of our tour, the Palace of Diocletian.
Next stop is the nearby city of Salona where Diocletian was born around AD243. We walk the ruins, some still hidden among fig trees and olive groves, to the amphitheatre, now carpeted with clover.
In the largest early Christian cemetery in the world we find a jumble of huge sarcophagi crowding the tombs that held the bodies of martyrs, including St Domnius, the patron saint of Split.
On my day off I am churched-out and so escape to shop for Italian leather shoes and try more ice cream. Strangely I'm soon bored with the new and return again to the heart of Diocletian's Palace to sit and dream beneath the creamy limestone arches.
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£9. An Excellent Light Weight Ruck Sack Ideal For Days Out. Andante Travels (01722 713800/www.andantetravels.co.uk) has a seven-night Bare Bones tour from £975pp (two sharing), including B&B hotel, entry to all sites, archaeologist guide, return flights and transfers.Croatian National Tourist Office:020 8563 7979/www.croatia.hr