I was looking strange. Not to Témi, the long-suffering better half of Singing Holidays. She’d mapped out my ‘delightful’ little quirks years ago, to the extent that nothing much surprised her. No, I looked strange to the multitude of passers-by who were deftly sidestepping my static interest with some last-second ninja avoidance.
I was standing in a narrow side street just off the Narodni Trg (People’s Square) in Split, transfixed by the pavement. “My God, that’s clean and shiny!” I thought to myself. Sun-drenched flagstones gleamed up at me, looking as if they’d been ten rounds with a pair of Marigolds and lost. Their iridescent shimmer spoke volumes. To most, they were a beautiful testament to the passage of time — a two-thousand-year-old magic limestone carpet that stretched through the city of Split like the lines of life on an ancient hand.
Being a neat and tidy home-maker (Témi has a slightly less positive slant on my thoroughly modern-man demeanour), I’d predictably gone all Aggie MacKenzie. Dusting over the historical importance of this time-worn highway, my attention focused solely on its sparkly luminescence. ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ I asked one of the street ninjas. ‘Shiny streets, that’s what!’. Témi gave me a sideways, ‘He’s finally lost it’ pitiful glare.
If you don’t know Split, then you’re in for a visual and historical treat. The old centre is to all intents and purposes a Roman palace — a vast retirement home built by the very interesting rags-to-riches emperor, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus (or Diocles to his mum). Born into a lower-class Dalmation family, Diocles rose through the ranks of the military to become Roman cavalry commander to Emperor Carus. On the Emperor’s death (and after a battle or two), young Diocles or Diocletian as he came to be known, claimed the top job and decided to build the home of his dreams.
It’s the usual Grand Designs storyline: Man finds the perfect location on the coast; Man builds a small dwelling over seven acres with two-metre thick, seventy-two-metre high walls; Man likes towers; Man builds towers — sixteen of them; Man fills new home with a small army, a few slaves and the odd servant; Man leans back with goblet of wine in hand and a bunch of grapes (probably in someone else’s hand) to admire his work and those all-important Neptunian views. In your face, Kevin McCloud!
As well as the incredible history and Game of Thrones-style architecture (the hit TV show has been filmed there on numerous occasions), Split remains a real town. Notwithstanding the tourism, which between the months of June and September is close to overwhelming, this is a city with a beating heart and a strong community.
Music and food are central to the Dalmatian way of life and, as always on a Singing Holidays’ event, we’ll be taking full advantage of all the riches Split has to offer. Whether it’s a seafood risotto in a tiny side-street Konoba washed down with a delicious crispy Croatian white, or listening to the astounding a cappella of a local Klapa group in the Diocletian peristil, Split oozes musical and culinary culture.
On this, our fifth Folk Singing Holiday with the lovely Rachel and Becky (The Unthanks) we’re going to focus on the sea. On the Celtic-influenced Border ballads from Tyneside’s seafaring past, together with the magical, a cappella Klapa singing from the Croatian coast. Two cultures with one commonality. Both tell stories of love and hardship, and both offer a truly magical and historical glimpse into our past, while throwing a spotlight onto the present.
Our five nights in Croatia will run as follows: a full morning Unthanks singing workshop with Rachel and Becky will commence with a vocal warm-up before learning a new style of music or perhaps expanding on a tradition you’ve already encountered. Either way, the singing will be fully inclusive and reading music or knowing the genre is not necessary.
The holiday will culminate in a collaborative performance by you and The Unthanks in a stunning location. A magical atmosphere will be guaranteed as we mix with the locals and sing your way into the night.
Murum Bedroom One
Heritage Antique View
Murum Bedroom Three
Heritage Antique Bedroom One
At Singing Holidays, we like to keep things cosy. We don’t like the mega out of town soulless hotels where you feel utterly removed from the action. Hotel chains with 100 rooms, off-the-peg hotel furniture, identical bedrooms, remote service, plastic breakfasts… Nah, not for us. Yuck!
Our Unthanks holiday in Split is no exception to the usual Singing Holidays high standards. We’ll be staying in two charming boutique hotels that are quite literally in the centre of town and, most conveniently, right next to each other. In fact, we’re going to be so central we’re actually staying in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Diocletian Palace which has dominated the old town for the last 1700 years.
Both our hotels are small, intimate jewels set within gleaming stone streets and secret courtyards. Perfect places to hole up for our five-nights of folk singing and sea shanties.