More mountainous and less developed than the northern regions, Central Dalmatia is home to several of Croatia’s most beautiful medieval coastal towns (and some of its worst hotels). The main cultural and economic pulse is Split. Overlooking the blue waters of the Adriatic and backed by the rugged Dinaric Mountains, Split is one of the most extraordinary towns of the late Roman world. With a busy port and regular ferry and catamaran services, it’s a perfect point of arrival if you’re coming from Italy and a good launching pad if you intend to explore the surrounding islands.
The nearest and probably the least appealing island is Brač. Its best-known resort, Bol, heaves with tourists during July and August, each one eager to find a space on the undeniably stunning Zlatni Rat beach. Outside peak season, however, it’s well worth the trip and can be combined with a hike up to Vidove Gora, the highest peak on all the Adriatic islands.
For many people the most beautiful island is Hvar. Its capital, Hvar Town, now has the unenviable honour of being Croatia’s hippest resort. Built around a small harbour and backed by a hilltop fortress, the old town is made up of winding cobbled streets, which converge on a vast piazza. The rest of the island falls away into a wilderness of lavender fields and vineyards.
Further out to sea, Vis is Croatia’s most distant inhabited island and a place that, for now at least, has been spared commercial tourism. Its two main settlements, Vis Town and Komiža, are popular with yachters and offer a selection of authentic fish restaurants and wine cellars.
Back on the mainland, north of Split, is the little medieval town of Trogir and, further north still, Dalmatia’s second-largest city, Šibenik, with its magnificent 15th-century cathedral. Nearby, Krka National Park conceals a series of dramatic waterfalls and steep wooded slopes. South of Split, the Makarska Rivijera offers a string of decent pebble beaches and is a good starting point for hiking up Mount Biokovo in spring and autumn.