Leaving Split and heading south in the summertime is like leaving a buzzing hive of culture and heading for a great long stretch of pure hedonism.
If you take the scenic route, the coast road hugs white pebble beaches lapped by alluring turquoise waters, attracting sun-worshippers like bees to sugar water. You'll pass through Omiš, once the stronghold of renowned pirates, a delightful old town where the River Cetina plunges through a spectacular canyon into the sea.
Travelling south, you pass a string of villages, some old, some new, all today magnets for tourists. Finally, at Brela a straight stretch of coastline starts, 53km long, under the looming hulk of the Biokovo mountains. This is the Makarska Riviera, and this is where you'll find some of the most photographed, most famous and most prized beach resorts on the Adriatic.
This coastline basks on average in 2750 hours of sunshine per year. The sea is incredibly clear and inviting, with an average year-round temperature of 20˚C reaching summertime peaks of 23-27˚C.
Apart from the sea and the sun, here you can enjoy healthy and appetising Mediterranean food such as fish and seafood, chard, tomatoes and olive oil. In high summer you can enjoy the luxury of ripe figs fresh from the tree; at other times sweets and liqueurs made with carob, grape, citrus fruits and cherries. And of course, there's plenty of local wine.
Most resorts of the Makarska Riviera are not particularly old, although archaeological finds testify to life here since the Neolithic period. The coast spent long centuries under threat of invasion from seafaring invaders, so settlers built their village on high ground under the protective shoulders of the mountains.
After a strong earthquake in 1962 reduced many of these ancient homes to rubble, the villagers descended to start a new life beside the sparkling waters of the sea. The building of hotels started in a big way, and this became one of the most popular and attractive spots for holidaymakers in Europe.
In recent times the realisation has dawned as to what was lost when those villages were abandoned: they are in fact a treasure trove of folk culture. All in stone and in spectacular mountain settings, they have great architectural and ethnological value. The village way of life was synonymous with music and dance, textiles and crafts - not to mention agriculture and food. A number of traditional konobe (taverns) are now open offering great hospitality and authentic Dalmatian cuisine.
As well as the villages in the immediate vicinity of the resorts in this guide, from Makarska it’s an easy ride to some larger places in the Dalmatian hinterland such as Zagvozd, Imotski (with its Red and Blue Lakes) and Vrgorac, famous for its seven towers built during the Ottoman wars, as well as the well-preserved historical village of Kokorići.
Take your pick. Tour the coast and find your perfect slice of heaven: a rocky cove or a stretch of perfect shingle. Take a trip inland and discover the age-old culture of the region. Take a hike to the highest peak of Biokovo and see Brač and Hvar islands lying peacefully at your feet. Hire a bike or indulge in a wealth of watersports. Summertime calls!