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!
As you can guess from its name, the fine old town of Makarska is the administrative and cultural heart of the Makarska Riviera. Harmonious stone buildings cluster around a busy waterfront lined with cafés and restaurants. Sailors and fishermen potter about their business; tourists stroll lazily in the heat. The whole scene is framed by the formidable Biokovo mountains above.
There's a luminous quality to the light thanks to the sunshine reflecting from the white stone of the cliffs, the houses, the flagstones and the clear azure sea. With the coastline fringed by white shingle beaches and swept by refreshing breezes, it's not hard to see why tourists started to arrive at the turn of the 20th century.
The first hotel was built in 1914, and many more in the period following the Second World War. Sometimes large but still pleasant, the hotels were built amid the pine forests, preserving the beauty of the natural landscape and the character of the town. The riviera started to attract a healthy slice of the tourists arriving to these lands for their holidays.
Today in high summer the beaches and hotels are packed to capacity, and the nights are alive with people enjoying the balmy air and buzzing around the restaurants, bars and clubs. But escapists can still find tranquil corners and experiences off the mass tourist radar.
There is much more to Makarska than sun, sea and fun. The city's roots reach back to the 4th century BC, when it is thought to have been used as a trading post by the Cretans. The Illyrians were the first tribes to truly leave their mark here, naming the settlement Muccurum. The Romans first wrested control over these lands in 228 AD. The Ostrogoths chased out the Romans in 548, and the Slavs settled here in the 7th century. They made Muccurum (now called Mokra) the centre of their principality, which was famous for its invincible pirates. Then followed long centuries when the Turks, the Venetians, the French and the Austro-Hungarians battled for dominion over the territory. Each left their mark, resulting in the pleasing mix of historic buildings you see today.
Perhaps the most important historic building in the town is the Franciscan monastery, five centuries old. It has a Malacological Museum (or Museum of Shells, it has some spectacular specimens), a picture gallery and a library. The Institute of the Mountains and Sea is also based there. The town's main square, Kačićev trg, has the Church of St. Mark, an art gallery, library and music school. On the waterfront you'll find the town museum and the Church of St. Philip. The church of St. Peter resides on a green headland in a delightful park. Our What to See pages tell you more about the sights.
What's more, it's well worth exploring the mountainside villages such as Baškovići, Kotišina, Makar, Puharići and Veliko Brdo. This is where the local people sheltered for centuries from invaders approaching from the sea. You’ll come across fortresses, chapels, stone shelters used by shepherds, terraces and even a botanical garden at Kotišina. It was founded by Father Jure Radić, the Franciscan monk from Makarska who also founded the Museum of Shells. Father Radić also created a nature trail on Biokovo which is just one option for a spectacular hike.
Although largely depopulated following a strong earthquake in 1962, in recent years efforts have been made to renovate and revive the original customs and culture of the upland villages. With amazing views over the coast and islands, these are wonderful places to enjoy some peaceful moments and unique cultural experiences.