Monday, 16 January 2017

Hvar: island of the senses

Hvar has everything I expected from a Croatian island: it's covered in pine forests, lavender fields and olive groves, it has beautiful secluded pebble beaches and a gorgeous historical centre. Moreover, the ferry from Split took me there in less than a couple of hours.
It has picturesque marble-paved streets full of flowers and trellis, and its main square looks out onto the sea, with countless smaller islands ready to be explored. Woods grow just behind the square, offering a perfect postcard picture. Hvar is one of the most visited islands in Dalmatia, so it's rather busy in the summer months, but it still shows its charm in the backstreets and quiet corners.

The main square in Hvar

Hvar can be easily reached by ferry boat from Split, and this is one more reason to add it to everyone's itinerary of Croatia. The most pleasant thing about island hopping anywhere in the Mediterranean is to simply explore the island on foot. For instance, one of the best experiences in Hvar is to hike to Španjola, the fortress on  top of the hill behind the main town, which is called Hvar like the island. If it's summer try to avoid the hottest hours of the day. You pay a small fee to enter the fortress, which in itself is nothing special, but from the top you have a birdlike view of the town and the harbour, with the terracotta roofs so typical of this region of Croatia. 

View of Hvar from the walls

Hvar is known for its lavender: there are lavender bags and lavender oils for sale everywhere. Unlike other cheap souvenirs that you may find in touristic places, a lavender bag is actually a nice thing to buy, because its perfume will always remind you of this beautiful Mediterranean island.

Lavander seeds for sale

One thing I have to mention in this post is that the light in this part of Europe is special: very bright and full. The sparkle and the colour of the sea also caught my attention. The pebble beaches with clear water are one of the most famous things about Croatia and I was surprised to see that, in spite of  its popularity, in Hvar you can still find some quiet beaches with nobody around, at least in June. Just walk for a while away from Hvar town in any direction until you see less and less people.

Clear blue water
Island hopping in Croatia is extremely easy: you don't need to be an experienced traveller, because the ferries are reliable, frequent and reasonably priced. Moreover, everybody speaks English and will be able to help you with timetables and prices. Just to give you an idea, I paid 90 kunas (about 12€) for my ferry from Hvar to Korčula (another strikingly beautiful island you should think about visiting).

View of Hvar from the fortress

Hvar also has a reputation for snobbish exclusive clubs, expensive resorts and a general pretentious glitz  which is not really my cup of tea. If you want to splurge and hire your own boat to visit the Pakleni islands or the blue cave, then play the "party-minded tourist" with an over-priced cocktail in your hand you certainly can. Just to give you an idea, Prince Harry was in Hvar a few years ago, clubbing and even  plunging into one of the swimming pools of the club. This makes Hvar a sort of two-sided coin: even though tourists abound, it is quiet and charming by day, but it becomes noisy and showy at night.

What about the food? On the long coast of Croatia the food has obvious Italian influences. In Hvar I had lots of fresh fish and I savoured several gelati similar to the Italian ones. Just have a look at this seafood risotto I had at Marinero for 75 kuna (10€). Even though Croatia did not strike me as particularly a interesting culinary destination, it is true that  pasta or risotto with fresh ingredients is easy to find anywhere on the coast.

Seafood risotto in Hvar

Have you been to Hvar? What is your favourite Croatian island?

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