Biokovo mountain and nature park is the most dominating presence on the southern Dalmatian coast. Proclaimed a nature park in 1981, this mountain rampart towers a good 1500m over the Makarska Riviera and affords unforgettable views over the sea and outlying islands. It is one of Croatia's most popular destinations for hikers with myriad paths that wind up the hills past olive groves, vineyards and pine forests.
The Biokovo massif that stretches 36km along the coast and nine kilometres inland drops down in a series of craggy limestone rocks and sheer cliffs interspersed with caves, pits and sinkholes. Long ago, before refrigeration, ice from the high caves was brought to the coast on donkeys and horses. The length and height of Biokovo protects the coast from chilly continental winds and is largely responsible for the mild coastal climate.
The most popular hiking and mountaineering destination is Vosac (1421m) which lies only 2.5km from Makarska. To the left and right of Vosac are other, higher peaks. The highest peak is Sv Jure at 1762m, linked by a 28km road. The TV tower on top makes it instantly recognizable.
Because of its relative isolation the nature park hosts many endemic plant species. Look out for the Biokovo bellflower and visit the Kotisina Botanical Garden, just three kilometres from Makarska and accessible by car and walking path.
Parts of the mountain are still cultivated but not to the extent as it was in the past when produce from Biokovo fed the coastal settlements.
Biokovo Nature Park headquarters is at Mala obala 16 in Makarska and it's a good place to pick up maps, brochures and hiking suggestions. There's also a visitor center at Kotisina Botanical Garden as well as other places along the hiking trails. The entrance to the park is at the beginning of Biokovo road and there is an admission fee. There are trails of varying difficulty to the peaks and lookout points ranging from 2 1/2 to seven hours and several educational trails acquaint visitors with the mountain's history and flora.
For a simple nature walk, hike up to Kotisina, a rustic village on the edge of the Botanical Gardens which is more of a rock garden than a plant garden but interesting nonetheless. Behind the Botanical Gardens is a fortress which was used to defend the villagers against the Turks. Notice the stone channels over the windows that were used to pour boiling oil on their enemies. To get to Kotisina, proceed from the promenade to Kacicev trg and the 18th-century Church of St Mark. There's a food market behind the church. Take the steps up to the main road, cross it and take Makra put to Mlinice known for its windmills. Keep walking until you see the signpost for Kotisina. It should take about 40 minutes to reach there from the seaside promenade.
Be aware that there are snakes, ticks and unpredictable weather changes as you get further up into the mountain. Take appropriate precautions.
Biokovo Active Holidays --runs organized excursions by foot, car or minibus
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