Omis where the heart is
The wonderful thing about having an open and changeable plan when traveling is that you never know where you're going to find yourself for a few days. Or twenty. Finding the coastal gem of Omis, Croatia happened by accident. We were making our way from the top of Croatia to Split, and needed a week to land somewhere. Priorities included ocean, crowd-avoidance, and places to hike. As Omis says on their tourist material "Come do it all, or just relax." This is the place were you can do all things active and get your sweat on, or kick back and melt into the Adriatic Sea. In other words, it's just our kind of place.
After the tourist mobs (nothing compared to Split, but nevertheless not ideal) leave in August, Omis becomes a sweet haven for the adventure seeker. There may be slightly less overt opportunities to, say, rent a SUP board right off the beach, but there's still plenty of sweat-inducing action to be had. Note: If you ask around, you can find places to rent fun toys, you just may have to make an appointment for the owner to open shop for you.
Start off your Omis adventure with a mountain bike rental from Mufflon Bicyles. First off, I love this place because they are named after the mufflon, a mystical beast of which I am quite fond of. Additionally, and probably what most people would consider most important is the quality of their bicycles. I've never rented a more beautiful two-wheeled mode of transportation. You won't have to worry about janky gearing, worn breaks, or other common maladies of the rental bicycles. These mountain bikes are sweet rides. The two owners speak English, German and Croatian between them, so they'll be able to help you plan a great ride.
Rolling through the stunning valley road between the River Cetina and the stunning cliff faces of Mosor Mountain is a great ride in and of itself. You have the river to your left most of the way and can stop off at various swimming holes for a plunge in hot weather. The traffic is sparse, and cars are respectful of cyclists.
A worthwhile detour to take is to the cave church, officially known as the Shrine of St. Leopold Bogdan Mandic. This unique church contains an inner vestibule and chamber inside the cave which then opens naturally into an outer area of pews facing the mountain! There is an additional overflow area with benches amongst glorious trees, facing either the river or the mountain. This area is ideal for meditation or contemplation, with gorgeous views of nature. It's a very peaceful spot to rest for a moment. There's also an educational walk in the area if you want to stretch your legs after a bit of time in the saddle.
Did you happen to catch the completely stone rooftops on those houses!? Incredible.
Once inside the cave, the church opens up into a few small rooms. There are tea candles to light on a small alter near the cave's entrance. Omis has seven other churches to explore, if that's of interest. If another long walk sounds good, take the mountain trail out to the cliff-top Our Lady of Snow, which has a worldclass view of the Adriatic (and a perfectly placed bench to view it from). To get there, take the popular uphill trail toward Starigrad Fortress (sometimes just known as Fortica). When you get to the trail junction (you'll see the arrows for Starigrad trail to the left), go right and follow that trail until it hits pavement. Take the road to the right, going downhill toward the ocean. Keep on eye out for a short paved road on your left and take that as it turns into a foot path through a few residential houses out to a stone church (it will be obvious). The first picture below is the village view of Our Lady of Snow. Once you get there, you'll see the cliff that drops off with a stunning view to the Adriatic and Omis beaches below.
Speaking of Starigrad, don't forget this lung-busting hike is available to do nearly everyday (like we did!) as a way to start your morning right. Generally there will be a few people on the trail, but if you are hiking early or in September/October, it is certainly not crowded. The trail is well marked once you get going. The trail starts from a few different spots. Easiest to find is the staircase near the firestation/bus stop/boat dock (less well marked at this point), or the staircase across from the Tommy Market to the left when facing the firestation (very well marked). There is an alternative trail that starts across from River Centina just past the first tunnel going out of town. It is highly advisable to only go up to Starigrad Fortress on this route. Going down this trail, even with good tread, is an annoying mix of loose and slippery rock until the end. If you're starting on the other end of town, going up or down the same trail is fine.
After a good hike, there are plenty of spots to eat in Omis. Recommended are the traditional staples of this area of Dalmatia: fresh fish, seafood, chard/greens cooked with spices, olives, jujube dates (aka jujula), figs, pika style bread or meat cooked pika style (a slow cooking method done in earthenware over fire). If it's fresh, seasonal, and local, get it! There are market stands in Omis that sell delicious figs, jujubes, grapes, and seasonal vegetables. If you can try the traditional liquors made from walnuts, cherry, aronia, or other local fruits, I recommend a taste. If you can get fire grilled fish and homemade wine from your Airbnb hosts (pictured on far right), I highly recommend that too!
For other wanderings around town, there is the Fortress Mirabella built into the hill. This can be reached easily from the center of Omis, but does require a fee if you want to explore the very top (about 3 EUR). Seeing Mirabella & Starigrad lit up at night from the River Cetina is quite a sight!
Omis, Croatia has a long history of being dominated by pirates. At their height of power, they were the most fearsome pirates (corsairs) in the entire Mediterrean Sea. From about 1200 - 1450 AD, pirates dominated the sea and town, requiring heafty taxes for the right to pass. Major countries allied with the corsairs due to their reputation and history of being undefeated, despite arimies being sent to attack them. Omis fell into the hands of the Venetian Republic in 1444, the most powerful naval force at the time, and thus ended the era of the famous Omis pirates.
The Adriatic Sea is unlike any other body of water I've had the pleasure of swimming in. The water is stunningly blue, as well as shades of turqoise and iridescent green in certain depths. Yet for all these colors, it is shocking how clear it is, with a fresh smell that can only be described as ....well...water. The smell is reminiscent of rushing mountain streams in the Spring, mineral notes accented by the chill in the air, flora becoming animate after a long Winter's sleep.
I'll let you in on a little secret: Fortica Beach Bar. It's just a 15 minute walk from the center of Omis. Once you discover Fortica, you never go anywhere else. Except maybe another 10 minutes down the beach to a gorgeous blue lagoon. However, we preferred the cushy lounge chairs of Fortica, and their warm fresh water outdoor showering spot! So did everyone else, we would see the same couples day after day. We should have asked for a frequent buyer discount! The sweetness of Fortica is this: it is a quiet spot with easy access to the ocean, cushy lounge chairs, lovely ambiance with soft music, and a chill staff that leaves you alone. In other words, you can order a coffee and stay all day. You go to them, or otherwise, they'll let you lounge away with no pressure to break the bank to pay for your chair.
Whether with a smoothie or prosecco, Fortica always delivers. But seriously, don't order the smoothie, it's cloyingly sweet. Stick with prosecco, coffee with milk (basically a small cappuccino), or a lemon iced tea if you must have something sweet.
This beautiful Adriatic Sea can be enjoyed late into October, and for some hearty folks, into November. A hike in the morning, with a swim from the afternoon until sunset is a sweet life.
Omis was the perfect mix of ocean and mountains, of sweating and serenity. For the active traveler, Omis is where the heart is.