I love walking and think it is the best way to explore. A good example is the Makarska Riviera, in the Dalmatian region of Croatia. This beautiful stretch of coastline, lying on the foothills of Mount Biokovo, is the perfect destination for walkers of all abilities. This huge limestone mountain has been fashioned by nature into a series of peaks, valleys and plains criss-crossed by tracks, paths and quiet roads. Small villages nestle in its folds offering rest and refreshment to weary walkers.
Local adventure companies will organise walks and days out for visitors but good signposting means it’s also safe to explore the area without a guide. During my visit I chose to take part in a variety of organised group walks. Each of these walks covered a different area and I learnt about the history and culture of Dalmatia, which is distinct from the rest of Croatia.
My favourite walk started in the village of Kostanje with a pleasant amble through agricultural land. The figs had just been harvested and we stopped to pick some from the branches of a tree overhanging the road. They were deliciously fresh and sweet. It was a lovely walk through the valley of the River Cetina. We stopped in a small settlement for lunch at a local hostelry. Our meal was preceded by a tasting of some homemade liquors and dried figs from their own trees. Lunch was very simple but very tasty, consisting of large platters of local cheese and ham for which the region is famous.
Rested and refreshed we followed a rocky path down into the valley where a small boat was waiting at the river bank to take us downstream to the town of Omis. During the Middle Ages Omis was famous for its “pirates” who ruled the local seas from their refuge in the mouth of the river.
Dalmatia is steeped in history and legend as I discovered when I went on a walk that followed a trail from the village of Brela. This historic walk is punctuated with information boards describing the sites we passed on our way. These included the ruins of a small eighteenth century church and the Vodice Well, the fountain of ‘living water’. The path climbed steadily to another church, the Church of Saint Nicholas, perched on a rock promontory. Built during the fourteenth century it is the oldest church in Brela and is still in use today. As I was enjoying the impressive panorama around me I was thrilled to spot some chamois grazing on the slopes of the valley opposite me.
That day we had a picnic lunch sitting in the shadow of the Bride’s Rock, a formation steeped in legend. As we ate our lunch the guide told us the story of a young girl from the “upper” parts who fell in love with a young man from the “lower” parts. The girl was already betrothed to a young man selected by her family but she was determined to marry her true love. Her mother, who had the power to curse (a common talent in those days) warned her daughter that when she looked at the sea, God would turn her into stone. Nevertheless, the girl went ahead with her marriage and did not mention the curse to anyone. When the happy wedding procession, led by the bride and groom on horseback, emerged on the cliff top they were all turned to stone. ‘Proof’ can be seen in the shape of the rocks that represent a horse with the bride and groom.
The most exciting walk started from the highest peak of Mount Biokovo to the peak of Sveti Jure (Saint George). It is a long steep climb up to this peak, most of which was covered by bus. I was very grateful that the driver was dealing with the narrow, winding road while I enjoyed the spectacular panorama unfolding around me. I left the bus just below the highest point and walked the rest of the way to visit the modern church of Ckrkva Sveti Jure at the top before walking back down.
On my last day I spent some time walking by the sea exploring the two fingers of land, Cape Osejava and the Peninsula of Saint Peter that protect the harbour of Makarska. Easy paths in the cool shade of scented pine trees led me through the stunning Dalmatian landscape. It was the perfect end to an interesting and varied holiday. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Read more from Valery at the Experienced Traveller