Beyond the Myth of the “Party Island”
Hvar is the “official” Mecca for thousands of party goers looking to get cheaply drunk; this island has sadly been renowned for this type of tourism which is detrimental to local inhabitants and deeply disrespectful. Luckily the government introduced strict rules and fines for those who choose to ignore them. This Mediterranean island has much more to offer and luckily not all travellers come here to behave irresponsibly.
Hvar was originally a Greek colony founded in 384 BC after invading the local Illirian and Dalmatian populations. The town was called Pharos (meaning “lighthouse”), it was laid where the present-day Stari Grad is. At the beginning of the 4th century, Romans occupied the island which started to decline.
During the 11th century, Hvar became part of the Croatian kingdom but Venice was the unofficial ruler. Starting from the official Venetian occupation in 1420, the island was renamed Lesina (as it is still known in Italy).
The island started to flourish from an economical point of view and it became the richest of the Dalmatian region despite the Turks attacks. From late 18th century Hvar mainly fell under Austrian predominance: it was briefly held by France (1806 – 1812), then by Italy (1918-1922) before finally been integrated to Yugoslavia.
As part of my island hopping itinerary, we dedicated around 48 hours to discover what’s hidden beyond the stylish party facade. Here is what you can’t miss:
1. St. Stephen’s Square and Cathedral
No matter where you start your Hvar Town exploration, at some point you will stumble upon this white stone square dotted with restaurants (be careful, they are mainly expensive tourists’ traps) and bars on the edges. The imposing Renaissance church of St. Stephen’s is the city’s protagonist hosting important filo-Venetian portraits of artists such as Stefano Celesti, Palma Junior etc.
The Cathedral is dedicated to St. Stephen, a martyr, proclaimed protector of the city of Hvar. This square is considered as the largest in Dalmatia being 1,500 square metres large. Around this spacious square there is a intricate web a small alleys: take your time to explore the narrow cobbled streets of the Old Town dotted with rustic flowery houses and listen to the people’s dishes clatter and chatter at lunch time, smell the great Mediterranean cooking scent coming from restaurants and private kitchens and just enjoy the unexpected quietness just a few metres away from the most touristic places.
2. The Fortica or “Spanjola” Fortress
Looking upwards from the main island square, an imposing stone fort will stand in front of your eyes daring you to start to climb it. After the pleasant path bordered by Mediterranean plants and herbs going constantly uphill, you will finally arrive at the top of the so-called by locals – Spanjola Fortress and be rewarded by fantastic views over the Pakleni Islands in the glimmering Adriatic Sea. This fort was built at the beginning of the 16th century (during the Venetian rule) and then completely refurbished in 1579 following a Turk’s attack in 1571 who set fire to the whole town.
In the early 13th century the town had already asked for protection to the Republic of Venice to get help at facing the Turkish armada. The strategical position was a favorable point to grant Hvar citizens a shelter in case of attack. When the Turks started the siege, citizens were the only survivors thanks to the protection granted by the sturdy walls of the fortress.
3. The Francescan Monastery
Whether you stroll along the promenade studded with yachts and discover by chance this calm place or you have been looking for it knowing already the treasures hidden behind its walls, it is always a good idea to stop by and have a look inside. Visit the remarkable “Last Supper” painting whose author is still unknown or marvel at the 300-year old cypress still thriving in the monastery garden. This holy site holds collections of old objects, coins, amphora and other ancient treasures dating back to Middle Ages.
4.The Venetian Loggia and Clock Tower
This striking example of Venetian Renaissance architecture is a picture perfect location thanks to the Fortica Fortress standing fierce in the background. The loggia was once the governor’s palace in the 1300s, which was lately badly damaged by several Ottoman attacks in the 1500s. The charming clock tower has been a later addition during 1800s to replace the the original destroyed by Turks.
5. Pokinji Dol Beach
If you are looking for a beach where you can still find enough room for your towel, mesmerizing crystal waters, a laid-back feeling without walking for miles under the sun, then Pokinji Dol Beach will do the trick. After a 25 minutes walk going East surrounded by the finest Mediterranean scenery and trees, you will finally arrive to this pebbly beach where you can have a drink at the bar behind you and jump into the transparent sea waters.
6. Walking on the West Coastal Path
As a fan of hiking, I am always trying to look for relaxing walks where I can sink in my thoughts while enjoying natural views. I found an easy walk for families too on the West side of Hvar town, just after the Promenade and Old City. The edges of Hvar Park offer some welcome shady benches to take the time to enjoy the outstanding views over the Fort and the Harbor. The path will pass by Bonj Beach where a private high-end location, “Les bains” beach club, will satisfy the luxury needs of wealthy visitors. The trail finishes eventually at Majerovica beach, another little pebbly cove much more discreet than its neighbour, fringed by maritime pines.
Additional Worthy Day Trips
For those people who dispose of more time to visit the “sunniest island” of Croatia here are some visiting ideas for great day trips:
- Crusing day at Pakleni Islands: a multitude of organised tours take you on a ferry 15 minutes ride to this stunning archipelago perfect for sunbathing, snorkelling and nature lovers. If your budget is higher or you need more independence you can also rent a small wooden propelled boat for the day at the harbour or book a water taxi which will grant you all the freedom you need during your nautical adventure!
- Visit the Blue Cave turquoise waters with a guided tour!
- Visit Stari Grad town or Verboska , Hvar “Little Venice”, hiring a car or a scooter and explore this typical Croatian towns far from crowds, where prices are lower, people are more welcoming and relaxed and you can experience the true country gastronomy and chilled out life pace.
- Explore Hvar’s best pristine beaches such as Malo Zarace or Dubovica beach.
- Smell the scent of lavender fields around the charming town of Brusje during early summer or take a look at the harvesting manual process still practiced in the fields. Have a walk in the old cobblestone streets and rustic homes and join the Lavender Festival in June for the best views! Don’t forget to try lavender ice-creams, a real treat! You don’t need to go to French Provence to see the blossoming purple fields.
- Make a wine tasting tour and experience one of the best Croatian red wines thanks to Hvar favourable mild and sunny climate granted all year long. The best wineries are mainly located close to the famous Stari Grad plain or Jelsa town.
We stayed two nights at Petra Guesthouse and I really feel like recommending it thanks to the lady kindness and her island recommendations: we have been staying at the upper floor of her house located just 20 minutes walking to the city centre. The flat was clean, modern, close to a mini-market and it was the perfect solution to save some money, doing your own shopping and being near all main Hvar Town attractions! Petra even came at the ferry harbour to pick us up by car and show us around a little bit! It was like being home!