Described in recent times as one of ‘the best unsung beach holiday resorts in Europe’, the Dalmatian coast-lying Croat port town of Makarska is situated on a small bay between wooded headlands. Namely the rugged Mount Biokovo (a nature reserve which is home to golden eagles and Balkan chamois no less) to the east of town, and the Sveti Jure summit to the west. With reference to the previous quote, and it’s the so-called Makarska Riviera beaches which have won acclaim for the area and thrust it into the European holidaying spotlight of late, yet the port’s attractive and palm tree-lined seafront promenade, the old town feel of Kačić Square and the vibrant nightlife on offer hasn’t done the emerging town’s reputation as an ideal 2018 summer holiday destination any harm either. What’s more, nearby Brač Island demands tourists to the area pay it more than just a cursory glance, and with ferries connecting it to port, there really is no excuse not to familiarise yourself during a Makarska holiday.
Mediterranean life doesn’t present itself as any more laidback than it does in the Croatian port of Makarska, aided and abetted every step of the way by its palm tree-framed promenade and array of chilled out bars and restaurants which dot this rapidly appreciating holiday destination on the Dalmatian coast. Despite being recognised as a city (note cathedral – box ticked), Makarska’s population totals a mere 14,000, which helps to afford it it’s relaxed atmosphere and unhurried ambience routinely enjoyed by tourists discovering its many delights for the first time; as well as those returning for more of the same. Things to do and see are plentiful, yet in-keeping with the general oasis of calm in these here parts aren’t necessarily high octane pursuits, and would ideally suit those looking for a more leisurely pace when enjoying a Makarska holiday. Like for instance the town/city’s Municipal Museum, which is home to a varied collection of local memorabilia including stones, photographs and nautical relics which both trace and document the port’s history. And the Astronomical Observatory, to name but two options.
A short trip from the coast and to signposted to the lower slopes of Mount Biokovo (and just outside the hamlet of Kotisina) lies the tiny Kotisina Botanical Garden; which displays indigenous rock plants, each marked with its Latin name. Furthermore, it’s at this precise point that you find yourself right on the edge of the stunning and vista-tastic Biokovo Nature Park. Venturing back to Makarska itself though, and those who seek out alternative nightlife experiences while they’re on holiday will be beyond intrigued by a fashionable destination called ‘Deep’. An aptly named centre for nocturnal pleasures, given that this club is located in a cave situated not far from the Hotel Osejava; and which as a unique nightspot attracts the hip set who subsequently sip cocktails long into the night as DJs spin the latest tunes. So, contrary to what we hinted earlier, there is a very upbeat attraction to entice certain types of holidaymaker to Makarska. But finishing on a more convivial note, did we mention that the World Slingshot Championship is held in Makarska each year?
It’s a poorly guarded secret that the best dining tables in Makarska are laid in the city’s harbour area, where those with a keen nose for the culinary will be confronted with a host of chic cafés and welcoming restaurants which line up in front of the boats which nestle within the port. And its hereabouts where local speciality dishes are routinely served up for all comers, throughout the year and come rain or shine. In terms of the Dalmatian diet itself, this typically consists of mostly seasonal vegetables and the area’s award-winning olive oil, presented with just-caught seafood. Also, keep your eyes (and nose) peeled for the salty fish stew called ‘brodetto’, which we have on good authority as being a taste sensation. Anyway, naming names – as is always good to do when offering a rough guide to holiday destinations such as Makarska – and the following eateries are all recommended.
The Konoba Stari Mlin, or old mill as loosely translated into English, occupies an 18th Century Baroque building, with a lovely vine-covered terrace at the back, while Konoba Kalalarga (Konoba meaning tavern, just so you know) is a traditional and therefore informal (not to mention, reasonably priced food establishment) which proves very popular with the locals. Elsewhere and Jeny is a gourmet restaurant which benefits from amazing views down onto the sea beneath (oh, and the food is exquisite by all accounts which is a bonus), while Konoba Ranč is a rustic spot, away from the tourist buzz, and well worth the 10-minute drive southeast to the slopes above Tučepi. Not least because diners can partake in their food on log chairs, perched under olive trees. Meanwhile Grabovac (right on the main square, in front of the church) is an outpost of a famous winery from Imotski (the wine region behind the mountains, right on the Bosnian border), and serves its own wine by the glass. And if sampling alcoholic beveridges with or without food to accompany it is your thing, don’t forget to check out Rockatansky. Which is, essentially, Makarska’s most alternative spot, where a diverse crowd gathers to hear live rock, grunge, metal and jazz on a small stage. So there you go. Pretty much something for all tastes.
Makarska holidays have been given the seal of approval by many travel experts, including Trip Advisor and the Daily Telegraph’s travel section in recent times, and not without good reason(s). One of which is the family-friendly set-ups available at a myriad of hotels situated across the Riviera, a 38 mile long stretch of maritime-focused Croatian coastline which has seen an explosion in interest in the past few years. Among the many USPs highlighted by those in the European family holidaying know, the string of fabulous (and most importantly, safe) beaches which offer a ridiculous amount of choice for families features high up the impressive list. Brela and Tučepi are probably the most popular beach resorts, which boast an array of hotels that provide outdoor pools and entertainment staff to appeal to the younger family contingents, with varied fun and games programmes up and running at most resorts. Some hotels even proffer free bicycle rent and unlimited free use of their tennis courts too, including the all-inclusive Bluesun Hotel Neptun in Tučepi.
As with couples, families and groups of people enjoying a Makarska holiday might like to explore the nearby islands of Hvar and Brac, which are nothing more than a short boat trip away, while hiking and mountain biking is definitely on the cards for those who like their pastimes a little more lung-busting. Especially if they’re taking on the challenge of Mount Biokovo’s trails, which reward the hardy with picturesque ocean views once they ascend the peak and look down upon the full spread of the Makarska Riviera below. If you’re hell bent on leaving the crowds behind, then consider a kayaking foray with various companies who will guide you along this part of the Dalmatian coast (as well as hire the equipment to you in the first place), with regular trips departing from nearby Brela. And depending on quite how you like your ‘adventure’, there’s always the ‘selected’ beach experiences we mentioned earlier, where for those a little more free spirited and liberated, you could check out the more secluded nudist beaches in the vicinity. Please note: You don’t have to be a nudist to go to these beaches and not many people free themselves from the shackles of conformity, truth be told. From a local knowledge perspective, those in the loop tell us that all the nudist beaches seem to be a bit of a hike away, and far from the madding crowd.
Idyllically located between Split and Dubrovnik on Croatia’s sublimely picture postcard Dalmatian Coast, the Makarska Riviera spans some 38 miles in length – from Brela in the north to Gradac in the south, for the geographical pedants among you – and is characterised by inviting pebble beaches, clear blue/green waters and a mountainous backdrop; with Makarska itself being at the heart of everything tourist-y. The beaches in this part of the world really are worth shouting about, with a wealth from which to choose, including the Blue Flag-awarded Punta Rata and the white pebble beach at Nikolina. The picturesque Mount Biokovo protects the resort from cooler inland weather and the islands of Hvac and Brac harbour its tranquil sea, ergo the beaches remain an oasis of calm as a result of their natural settings. It’s fair to say that Makarska’s beguiling coastal fringes offer the perfect Mediterranean combination of warm shores, crystal seas, rugged mountainous terrain and that laidback feel we suggested above. Speaking of an altogether relaxed attitude, please be aware that some beaches on the Makarska Riviera are nudist-friendly, which is something worth bearing in mind (if you’ll excuse the pun) for those easily offended, or indeed, families of course.
Although not a mecca for hardcore ravers and general misbehavers, Makarska isn’t short of an interesting and varied nightlife for those heading out there for a Croatian holiday any time soon. All ages of clubbing fans can still throw some shapes (and themselves into a heady party atmosphere) during the evenings, courtesy of dropping in on a number of clubs which all fulfil their remits of providing an incomparable holiday vibe. Along with the abovementioned Deep Makarska (the nightclub set in a natural cave environment right on the seafront, if you recall?), night owls can also make tracks for the Makarana Bar, Night Club Marineta, Nautica, Coco Loco and the Buba Beach Bar.
With a wide selection of fashionable boutiques, bars and restaurants populating its seafront coupled with an array of pristine pebbled beaches and a breath-takingly beautiful view-affording mountain range looming large in the rear view mirror, the pretty Croatian port of Makarska is like a romantic beacon to those holidaymakers longing for a more personal and intimate break away from it all. The beach at Puharici – a short walk from the more popular Makarska – affords those seeking out some quiet time the perfect escape route, thanks to its more private feel, while if you really wish to make a break for it, then loved-up couples can beat a hasty retreat to the islands of Hvar and Bol on Brac. It’s on these isles, where wooden excursion boats provide one-day trips, that couples can relax and unwind in a little more peace and quiet on the Jelsa and/or Zlatni beaches, respectively. Back on the more familiar terra firma of Makarska, and couples can take a romantic stroll arm-in-arm down the Sveti Petar peninsula, situated close to the city’s port, whereyou can leave a love lock on its fence, à la Pont des Arts in Paris. Here, like in the French capital, couples scribble their names onto a padlock, lock it onto the chain fence that borders the walkway, and throw away the key to symbolise their endless love.
For a touch of Croatia’s historical heritage, the regal Franciscan Monastery (complete with its vibrant open air cafes and market) and the pretty Church of St. Mark in Makarska’s main square are well worth a visit, as is the fascinating Shells Museum (Malakoloski Muzej); which if you’re a fan of shells you should certainly pay a visit to, and where a group of nuns are on hand to inform all and sundry about the history of the collection. Oh, and finally, each summer Makarska comes alive with a celebration of its culture and heritage. Art exhibitions pop up along the coast, vocal harmony groups belt out traditional klapa songs, and theatrical performances take to the floor in the main square.