What comes to mind when you think of Croatia? To tell you the truth, up until a couple of years ago, not very much. Recently, with the immense popularity of the Game Of Thrones (GOT) TV series, Croatia has become a tourist hotspot thanks to the fact that many scenes were shot in Croatia.
However, a lot of those locations are in Dubrovnik, the capital of the country. I am in Split, the second largest city in Croatia, as part of the global media presentation of the brand new Skoda Scala. Yes, there is one touristy GOT filming location in the city centre, but beyond that I'm not quite sure what to expect from this city.
Heading into the downtown area, my first thought is that Split has a hint of the French Riviera, especially with the Adriatic Sea framed by dramatic mountain ranges and fronted by several marinas packed with yachts.
As I sit on the balcony and watch the sun set as we wind down our first day here, I'm also struck by the tranquil serenity of the place. There's a certain romantic appeal about the town that I can certainly appreciate.
However, the sheen of romance and prosperity is punctured the next morning as we head out of the downtown area to test drive the Skoda Scala. Pristine beachside roads lined with palm trees give way to run down houses and deeply industrial factories in a blink of an eye.
As we tumble our way through a valley and back towards the coast, I'm somewhat amazed by the distinct variation in terrain and personality of Croatia. Within the space of a 100km or so, with urban, rural, and mountainous roads, it feels like I have traveled through three countries.
With our drive done, we headed into the old town part of the city the next morning, where the 1,714-year old Diocletian Palace is located. Once more, the conflation of old and new is clear, with modern shops and restaurants nestled in the facade of Roman architecture.
As our tour guide takes us on a walking tour around the palace grounds (or what remains of it), it dawns on me that while we romanticise about the beauty of these old structures, the architecture of the place is bred out of deep necessity and practicality rather than vanity. You can see the various periods of architecture, built atop the previous one, telling the story of the place - a story of change, development and advancement.
It seems a fitting conclusion to my three-day stint in Croatia with the new Scala. With the Scala, Skoda is building on its reputation of delivering smart, practical solutions to its customers, while also looking ahead as it adopts a new and more distinct design language. The car too offers high-tech modern equipment and solutions without compromising the key qualities that customers demand - practicality, ease-of-use and affordability.
Sitting on my balcony watching the sun set across the horizon of the Adriatic Sea, it’s hard not to be struck by the beauty of Croatia. Framed by expensive yachts docked in the harbour immediately in front of me, the 1,714-year old Diocletian Palace to my west, and dramatic mountain ranges at my 6 o’clock, I’m also immediately struck by the surprisingly multi-faceted nature of Split, Croatia.
The Scala feels the same way. While undoubtedly traditional in certain regards, it manages to surprise by taking those traditional elements and putting its own modern spin on it. And so I end my trip glad that I've been pleasantly surprised throughout. Sipping on my (rather lovely) local craft beer, I smile at the thought that Croatia is more than just a GOT filming location. It's got plenty of life and personality all of its own. Na zdravi!