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.
Makarska Tourist Board, Obala kralja Tomislava 16, tel. (+385-21) 61 20 02, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.makarska-info.hr. Open 08:00 - 18:00.