altEleven kilometres further south of Gradac the industrial port of PLOČE (which, for a brief period in the 1980s, was named Kardeljevo in honour of the bespectacled Slovene ideologist and Tito sidekick Edvard Kardelj) is one of the few genuine eyesores on the Adriatic coast. Developed to provide the cities of the Balkan interior with an outlet to the sea, Ploče lost its raison d'etre with the break-up of Yugoslavia, and the town's ill-planned ensemble of tower blocks and dockside cranes slid into stagnation. It's still of marginal importance as a transport hub, however: rail services to the Bosnian capital Sarajevo have recently been re-established (currently summer only, but check for the latest information locally), and there are also a few daily ferries to Trpanj on the Pelješac peninsula, where you can pick up buses to Orebic. Ploče's bus and train stations are next to each other just off the seafront, about two minutes' walk from the ferry dock.
From Ploce, the Magistrala cuts inland to Opuzen, where the main road to Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia-Hercegovina breaks off to the small east, passing through the town of Metkovi6 before arriving at the border. Meanwhile, the Magistrala ploughs on across the broad, green delta of the Neretva River, once an expanse of marsh and malarial swamp but now - after reclamation - some of the most fertile land in the country. Despite intensive cultivation, significant patches of reedy wetland still survive, providing the perfect habitat for nesting marsh harriers, crakes and bitterns. The area is crisscrossed by streams and irrigation channels, and it's possible to take a boat trip through the waterways, although these have to be booked in advance through one of the travel agencies on the coast (notably Atlas, who have offices in Makarska and Dubrovnik, "Listings") - a day-long trip including lunch will set you back upwards of 330Kn.
South of the delta the Magistrala rejoins the coastline at Klek, a delightful village squatting beside a wonderful crescent of shingle beach. If you fancy a quick swim before resuming your journey southwards, this is the place to take it. Immediately beyond Klek, the road enters the nine-kilometre stretch of coast which is actually part of Bosnia-Hercegovina (keep passports handy). This corridor was awarded to the Republic after 1945 in order to give it access to the sea, although it has no strategic or economic value at present – Bosnia Hercegovina's trade, such as it is, still goes through Ploče The corridor's only real settlement is the ghastly holiday village of Neum. Food and cigarettes here are slightly cheaper than on the Croatian side of the border, and most Croatian intercity buses make a pit-stop here so that passengers can do a spot of shopping. Continuing south, the lumpy mountains of the Pelješac peninsula close in against the coast until the turn-off for Ston, where the mountains join the mainland and the dividing strip of water peters out in a chain of aquamarine salt flats. -Specializing in Cheap Flights F