As this year’s Croatian Language and Culture Trip to Hvar approaches, our very own Jane Cody recalls some of her favourite memories of the island.
Some readers may know that I spent eight years living in Croatia, returning to the UK in 2009. Although based in Trogir, then Kaštela and Šibenik, I spent much of my time exploring the whole of Croatia – always a pleasure, but primarily for work purposes: first there was our Croatian Cruising Companion, published in 2007, which meant sailing around all the islands and coastline south from Zadar. Then Time Out arrived in Croatia, and I managed to interest Boat International in the nautical side of Croatia’s tourism, so there was plenty of in depth research for them too. Explorations didn’t stop when I moved back to England – I bought myself a campervan and had some memorable trips back with my “go anywhere” dog, Barnie, particularly in 2014 and 2016. I’m hoping that the dog I have now, who doesn’t naturally embrace the world in the same optimistic way that Barnie did, may feel more like campervanning before we both get too old for it!
I must have first landed on Croatian soil in 2001 and this exercise makes me realise just how much has changed. My friends and I were so excited for Croatia when we first discovered it, and of course we wanted the best of both worlds – undiscovered beaches all to ourselves in summer, and good restaurants and modern facilities all year round. Back then however, the short summer season was a massive shock to our otherwise tranquil way of life, when it could take two hours, rather than two minutes, to get back home over the single bridges, after a day at the beach. As for facilities, although Trogir, and other bigger towns, had a handful of restaurants open all year round for those local families celebrating special occasions, we struggled to find hotels and restaurants open at many other places outside the summer season. Nothing much changed for several years and then, all of a sudden, it all started to take off. I’m hoping that, when I do eventually get back there again, I’ll find that some of my old haunts have escaped the pace of change and others have benefitted from it.
Hvar island exemplifies the vast variety of Croatia’s tourism in an easy to handle size – perfect for a week’s visit such as the Croatian Language School’s in June. Hvar town was also one of the leaders of change with many of its old hotels being refurbished to the highest standards, without losing their charm. It’s an island with such a lot to offer and my 10 best memories of Hvar, below, barely scratch the surface – I didn’t even get to mention the beaches and crystal clear water which, I’m sorry to say, you start to take for granted after only a short while in Croatia, and then miss deeply when you contemplate a dip off the English Coast!
1.The Pakleni islands, notably Palmižana and its collection of restaurants in Uvala Vinogradišće, including Palmižana Meneghello with its Art Gallery and more, featuring in this year’s Croatian Culture and Language Trip. ACI marina Palmižana was one of our first stops when we researched our Croatian Cruising Companion and there are few places which combine the contrasts of Croatia better. Simple good fresh food in a rustic restaurant on a beautiful tranquil island and then, a short boat-taxi ride away, the buzzing night life of Hvar Town, complete with A list celebrities and their superyachts.
2. I just love Stari Grad for its traditional feel and, framed by the UNESCO protected Stari Grad Plain, its sense of openness. Here you have stone houses, statues and cobbled squares galore, all set around an enormous town harbour. Whereas Hvar Town exudes opulence and glamour, Stari Grad is more rustic and relaxed.
3. Inland Hvar makes a refreshing change from life on the coast. It was here that the first settlements were built, away from marauding pirates. There are some fabulous restaurants serving hearty dishes made with fresh local produce, and a trip inland is, of course, a chance for the sensory delight of Hvar’s Lavender fields.
4. Vrboska is known as Little Venice on account of a number of small pedestrian bridges striding the channels that surround the town. It’s popular with visiting yachtsmen and has a charm all of its own.
5. Not far from Vrboska, and a lovely walk if you have the energy, is Jelsa with its expansive bay surrounded by restaurants, ice cream parlours, cafes and more.
6. On the western tip of Hvar, Sućuraj is responsible for some of my happiest memories of Hvar island and one of the most photogenic Croatian destinations I know. The short car ferry trip from Drvenik takes you from a not very striking part of the mainland coast, near Makarska, to the very epitome of a small island fishing town – just the right size and pace of life to transition you seamlessly into island life.
7. I found Hvar town a little underwhelming at first, after all I had read about it, and also, like Dubrovnik, quite pricey compared to the rest of Croatia. Our initial visit was by sea and we stayed in the marina on the Pakleni islands (see 1 above). I was glad we did, as the Hvar town harbour always looks very choppy and uncomfortable for boats, no doubt as much down to the busy nautical traffic, as the winds and currents. However, it takes time to get under Hvar’s skin, take in all it has to offer and fully appreciate it. And talking of skin, Hvar’s best kept secret (allegedly) is that the church has a relic said to be the finger of Thomas a Beckett!
8. My last trip to Hvar was in a campervan – arguably competing with sailing as the best way of seeing Croatia and tuning into the liberation and joys of island life. Two campsites stand out, at opposite ends of the island: Camp Mlaska not far from Sućuraj, and Camp Vira near Hvar Town. In the same way as mooring a boat in the peace of the Pakleni islands, with Hvar Town on your doorstep, does it form sailors, Camp Vira gives road travelers the best of both worlds.
10. Local produce, cooked simply and well and of course Hvar’s very special wines
Thanks to Jane for whetting the appetites of our students for the forthcoming Croatian Culture and Language trip. Our students have plenty of time to explore Hvar in between language lessons of three hours a day and, as we do every year, we’ve found the very best local guides to help them make their own special memories of the trip, visiting and experiencing the best of what Hvar has to offer. And plenty of time off to do their own thing too!