Travelers to Split, Croatia, could be forgiven for never leaving the old center, where stylish, contemporary wine bars and restaurants occupy medieval buildings that incorporate ancient Roman architecture. Nevertheless, I recommend that art lovers tour the Meštrović Gallery, situated in a wealthy neighborhood sandwiched between the forested hills of Marjan Park and the sea. The setting alone is reason enough for a visit.
Croatia’s most famous sculptor, Ivan Meštrović, built this grand neoclassical villa in the 1920s and ’30s to serve as his home. He left it during World War II, never to live there again. Its grounds, shaded by cypresses and palms, now serve as a sculpture garden, and the villa itself has become a museum dedicated to the artist. Some of the works, like the 1946 bronze Persephone, have an obvious drama to them, but even ostensibly serene sculptures, like Virgin and Children, have compellingly energetic compositions. The villa’s dining room is furnished more or less as it was when Meštrović lived there. And don’t miss the cycle of wood reliefs in the small Church of the Holy Cross, about five minutes on foot from the museum.
If you don’t have a driver, I recommend taking a taxi to the museum and walking back to downtown. The road passes numerous other villas by the sea, eventually reaching the harbor. Along the water, cafés have inviting outdoor seating with views of the Old City and the marina. I had a refreshing drink at F marine, where I wrote some postcards at a seaside table before returning to central Split for a late lunch.