The Dalmatian coastal region from Split to Dubrovnik is the inspiration behind Croatia tourism's "The Mediterranean As It Used To Be" mantra, and with good reason. With the imprint of Greek, Roman, and Venetian cultures on its cities, the bustle of maritime commerce and modern tourism on its shores, and the Dinaric Alps and Adriatic as a backdrop, the skinny strip of land stretching north to south between Bosnia-Herzegovina and the sea is the source of one breathtaking experience after another.
It's almost impossible to zip through lower Dalmatia on a scattershot tour these days, even though driving from Zagreb to Omis (13 miles south of Split) is now a high-speed breeze on the country's new toll road. However, once you run out of divided highway, traffic -- and life -- slow to a languid tempo and visitors to this Mediterranean rat-race-free zone are forced to go with the flow. There's so much to see and process in 436km (260 miles) of old road between Omis and Dubrovnik that at least one pit stop to smell the lavender is necessary if you want to understand the Dalmatian way of life. Split is Croatia's second-largest city and it is home to some of the best-preserved Roman ruins around. Sparsely populated Peljesac boasts some of the country's best vineyards and beaches while Hvar surrounds visitors in a cloud of glamour and herbal fragrance. Brac puts wind in the sails of board bums off its Golden Cape and Korcula draws people in with the white stone of its medieval walls. Farther out on the Adriatic, Vis and nearby Bisevo islet beckon travelers to bask in the blue glow of an underwater cave. In between, multiple towns and islands and their beaches, historic sites, architectural gems, natural wonders, and age-old traditions are the key that unlocks the door to some of the treasures waiting to be explored by anyone savvy enough to meander this stretch of the Dalmatian coast.