Imagine if, the next time you travel to the Dalmatian coast, you had an extremely passionate and knowledgeable friend giving you a tour. Someone who knows not only which part of Diocletian’s 3rd-century palace you’re passing through when walking to the old city of Split, but also where to buy the best fig cake on the island of Vis and how the word “carat” is related to a certain, odd-looking tree on the island – and many, many other things.
A Sensible Guide to Split & its Islands, written by Croatian-American Jasmina Knezovic, is that friend. Jasmina has combined her lifelong passion for the region with her training as an Oxford PhD and food and travel editor to make a cultural guidebook that unlocks the secrets of one of the longest-settled regions in Europe.
We caught up with Jasmina to find out more about her and her new book.
Jasmina, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in Chicago, but both my father and my mother are originally from Ljubuški. When my father came to the US in the 70s, he only had twenty dollars in his pocket, but he made sure that he took us to Croatia as soon as he could. As a result, I spent pretty much every summer there, and I still do. Last summer, I got married on Vis.
Writing about the poet and revolutionary Tin Ujević for my thesis in Oxford allowed me to dive deep into the country’s fascinating history. So I’m very happy I can pass on some of what I learned now!
What inspired you to write the guidebook?
Everyone is always asking me for travel tips: friends, family and friends of friends. It’s gotten to the point where people I’ve never met write and ask me for the best place to eat oysters in Ston, or something like that. So I started compiling this huge Google doc with secret tips and lists of what to do and restaurants I like. At some point, the list got so long that I basically already had a book!
How long did it take you to write?
In a way, this book is the result of years of academic research and personal visits, so in a way, it’s been in the making for decades! But I only really started toying with the idea of writing a guide book in 2018, after I spent a long autumn in Split and Dalmatia, and felt like I saw a different side to the city. I officially began writing during the pandemic, this past March, and hope to have it in people’s mailboxes by the holidays.
There are plenty of guidebooks on Croatia, what makes this one different and a must-have?
First of all, the classic tips – where to sleep, eat and buy – are pretty streamlined, it’s really just my favourites. And that gave me a lot more space for the other stuff because even though I love both, I didn’t just want to write about restaurants and sailing – I wanted to impart some of the fascinating culture and history of the Dalmatian coast as well.
So this guide book will also tell you what Sigmund Freud thought about Split when he visited in 1898, and how Picigin (the sport invented on Split beaches) works, and how a plant bug that originally came from North America ultimately ended up triggering one of the biggest waves of emigration Croatian emigration to the United States. Just lots of cool and interesting stuff!
And then one of my favorite parts of the book is the interview section. I interviewed 16 locals who gave me insights into their lives and professions. I got to talk to musicians such as Neno Belan and Sasa Antić, the Olympic sailor Filip Jurišić, film director Marcella Zanki who had her first big break with Gibonni’s music videos, Oliver Roki, the winemaker and cricket promoter on Vis, as well as stonemasons, bakers, fishermen and even a picigin player. So readers get to know some of the best bunch of locals out there.
The essay section is another special part. I imagine it providing reading material on the beach or while waiting for your ferry or flight.
And of course, it’s really my own labour of love: As a travel writer, I saw first-hand how many bloggers and portals write about something even if they haven’t personally tried or verified it. It made me a bit skeptical and disenchanted at a point. My suggestions are genuine, nothing is sponsored.
When will the book be released and where will people be able to purchase it?
The book is currently available for pre-order on Kickstarter. If you back the project now, you can make sure it is brought to life!
After the campaign, the book will be available on the Sensible Guides website in addition to selected stockists next year that I will update on the website in time.
What do you think makes Croatia a special place to visit?
That’s actually quite hard to answer because there are so many things! For one, Croatia is simply stunningly beautiful. I love the shades of blue and green in Dalmatia and the Mediterranean air. I have honestly never found any other coast with water as clean and calm and beautiful as here.
And then, there’s all the history and culture that makes it a special destination. I hope my book will show people who never heard of it that it’s not just a Game of Thrones backdrop – the stuff that happened here is actually a lot more interesting than anyone could come up with.
You have just launched a Kickstarter campaign, can you explain what your goal is?
Basically, I decided to try and publish this book myself. It’s a lot harder – I have to do everything by myself –, but it speeds up the whole publishing process and allows me total control of the product.
So the goal of the campaign is to fund the first print run and spread the word about the book.
Any profits or extra money raised will go towards the next book in the series: Dubrovnik & its islands.
I will also donate 10% of the profits to Društvo Marjan, Split’s oldest environmental society, founded in 1903. They protect the green spaces and beaches, which is really important, especially since there have been illegal building developments in the past years.
My book highlights the good, but also some of the bad sides of tourism and development. I think it’s important not to turn a blind eye to the realities tourism brings. It is picturesque, but not perfect. It is not about offering a pre-packaged image of the city. It is important for people to be conscious travelers.
You can find out more about the Kickstarter campaign and the book on the link here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sensibleguides/a-sensible-guide-to-split-and-its-islands?ref=project_build