Croatia: Road Trip Leg 6, Makarska Riviera & Hvar
After Leg 5 of our Croatian Road Trip, we were supposed to switch to public transportation. The plan was to drive along the coast and explore Paklinica & Krka National Parks, then return the car at the Split airport beforeÂ taking a bus the rest of the way down the Dalmatian coast to Dubrovnik. That plan changed whenÂ we saw the road wind along the base of the Dinaric Alps as they dropped into theÂ Adriatic SeaÂ whenÂ we left Krk Island.Â How could we pass upÂ the chance to drive the entire length of a coastline like that? We couldn’t.
Because we decided to keep the car all the way to Dubrovnik, the options for where to stayÂ after Å ibenik opened up and I discovered an area called “The Makarska Riviera”. It is 60 kilometer stretch of coastlineÂ in central Dalmatia around the town of Makarska. The slender region is cut off from the rest of the mainland by the Biokovo mountain range (part of the Dinaric Alps) and has only one main access road connecting a long string of small towns with populations of 300-1500 people each. Many of the former fishing villages have developed tourism economies where there are up to 4 beds to every inhabitant. The attraction to the area for tourism is obvious…beaches, dramatic landscapes, and fantastic weather. We were there for a full week at the beginning of June, and the average daily temperature was about 75ËšF. Perfect for lounging on the beach and swimming in the sea.
We chose to stay in the town ofÂ Podgora because we found an amazing seaside apartment. It was within walking distance of several different beaches and any service we needed. I expected we would try out a different beach every day, but we ended up goingÂ to the same one forÂ 3Â out of our 4 beach days. The reason is that itÂ was in a small secluded bay away from the road with a viewÂ of the dramatic coastal landscape and plenty of shade trees.
The only excursion we took from Podgora was a trip to Hvar island via the car ferry from Drvenik to SuÄ‡uraj.Â Once on the island, we drove its entire 82 kilometer length to Hvar city with only a few detours along the way. We parked the car in a paid lot on the outskirts of town and walked through the main square to the port. From what I read before the outing, I expected the city to be lavish and glitzy because this is where the rich and famous came to vacation. On the Friday afternoon we were there, it was just like any other small historic coastal Croatian town with a few extra yachts in its harbor.
After lunch, we began the drive back to SuÄ‡uraj with the hope of finding a nice secluded beach along the way to spend the afternoon. Our first try near ZaraÄ‡e didn’t work out because there was no obvious beach and the road to get there was extremely steep and windy. Our second try took us on a meandering route through the towns of Vrbanj, SvirÄe, Vrisnik, and Pitve before we entered the most bazaar one-way, rough-cut car tunnel there ever was. At the end of the road, we were in the town of Zavala where we parked and walked along a coastal path to the perfect inlet with just enough level beach to spread out two towels. After relaxing in the sun a bit, we took the plunge into the cold water and enjoyed our seclusion. FiveÂ minutes later,Â a family of 5 plopped down to share our tiny beach. I couldn’t blame them. It was perfect.
After about an hour, we were getting tired and we knew the drive back up the hill and through the tunnel wouldn’t be easy, so we packed up, got in the car, and began our return trip to the ferry. Just before we got to the car, it started raining and we were amazed that we timed it perfectly. The steep uphill road was fairly empty, but we did have to play chicken with an oncoming car in the tunnel. That is not an experience I ever want to repeat.
By the time we pulled up to the SuÄ‡uraj ferry port 20 minutes before departure, the sky was dark with storm clouds. I ran up to buyÂ our tickets while Nik waited in the car in line. As I got back into the car, the rain and wind picked up and a perfect rainbow formed an arch over the truck in front of us. We sat and watched the lightning and wondered if the boats would still cross in this weather.Â The answer is yes, but the rain stopped shortly after we boarded and we were able to go up on deck and watch the storm from a distance as the sun set.