Trails to the top: The empty hills of Gradac
The coast of Croatia is endless, almost like that of California. But even short stretches, if you drive right along the water, are quite long. From Split, the capital of "Game of Thrones," we are on our way to Gradac, a tiny town on the southern coast of Croatia. Gradac is located in a bay on the Makarska Riviera. In the summer, the town, which has a population of around 1,300, is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful beaches, clear waters and mild climate. But now the vacation season is over. Gradac is largely deserted.
And only the more beautiful. The center of Gradac lies on a small headland, with long pebble beaches stretching out on both sides. South of the headland, the town center with its promenade stretches along the bay of Vodice. North of the headland begins the Bosac bay with its promenade. This promenade extends past the Labineca Hotel to the villages of Brist and Podaca.
Everything seems empty, almost abandoned. The beach cafes are closed, as are most of the pubs. Here and there are left behind advertising signs, a few small shops still have bathing slippers and diving goggles on offer.
The climate in Gradac is mild even in autumn, the average temperatures here are 15 degrees Celsius in winter and 25 degrees Celsius in summer. However, the best time to visit Gradac is the low season, that is spring and autumn, when the weather is still warm but the beaches are not too crowded.
But now it is rather time for a quick swim in the water, which seems just a little warmer than the evening air. From the sea the view goes upwards: Gradac lies in a picturesque setting, surrounded by high mountains, densely forested and with steep slopes. The beaches are long and pebbly, but the water is crystal clear.
Gradac, small as it seems, is also home to a number of historical and cultural sights, including the Church of St. Michael and the Franciscan Monastery of St. Mary. All this is built on the ruins of the Roman town of Labineca. A fortress, which was located here about 300 years ago, gave the place its present name: Gradac means "small fortress" because "Grad" is a big one.
Destroyed by the Italiens
However, there was only one battle here. When the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was crushed by the Axis powers during the Second World War, the fascists of the Ustaša took over the municipality and made it a part of the Independent State of Croatia.
There was nothing independent about it: after the German defeat the state fell out, Gradac had already been largely destroyed by Italian troops and had to be rebuilt.
It has become beautiful. The town is a popular destination for swimming, sunbathing, windsurfing and other water sports. There are also a number of restaurants, bars and stores in the city, as well as a number of activities and events that take place throughout the year.
Not right now, it's a little bit too late. But because of the mountains there are also many hikers, it is worthwhile for some restaurants to be open even after the season is over.
But even if a few hikers are on the way: The hiking trails above the village are empty. And excellently signposted. However, they are poorly developed. Everything is full of debris, trees are lying across, it goes really steep up. If you turn around, you can see the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and the sea stretching to the horizon. Three colors dominate: blue are the sky and the water, white the limestone rocks, green the trees.
Up to the top
Everything is deserted, but ruins along the way show that people must have lived here in the past, right up to the top of the mountain. Today the olive groves and narrow fields belong to the residents further down. One of them is Anton Jelacic, who lives halfway up the hill. He is a funny man who presses his own wine and offers it to tired hikers. A whole bottle right away!
However, what looks like hills from the city are real mountains, and not just because of the wine. There are a number of different trails that range from easy to challenging, but if you want to go up to one of the peaks, you can take whatever you want, it always goes up, just different steepness. The trail, goes through a forest and up to a viewpoint overlooking the city and the sea. The view from up there is really breathtaking, you can see for miles in all directions.
Hiking under a burning sun
Difficult is the descent, because the scree really rolls away under the shoes. In addition, the sun is burning. Fortunately, however, Anton is waiting at the side of the path, who quickly pours a few glasses of refreshment. Freshly rebuilt, it goes with a light step still on an extensive Lost Place right on the road: Here lie generations of cars from socialist times,. Gutted and abandoned, rusty and yet just through the graveyard bespeaks of a quiet dignity.
Here are some tips for hiking in the hills above Gradac:
A few more pictures: