Despite the tough competition, Hvar might very well be the best island to visit in Croatia. Admittedly, our own choice might not have been based on extensive research, but rather based on the fact that we had a rental car, and therefore our ferry options were more limited. But we loved the couple of days we spent on this island, it packs such an incredible range of experiences.
The 2-hour ferry from Split dropped us off near Stari Grad, on the northern side of the island. Stari Grad is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the oldest towns in all of Europe, originally named Faros by the Greek. It’s a tiny town, easily visited on foot in an hour, but one we would very much recommend checking out. Colorful buildings line up the waterfront, while the center of the town is made of the classic white rock, with bougainvillea adding drops of color to the narrow streets. The 16th century Tvrdalj Palace is beautiful, definitely worth a visit.
Vrboska & Jelsa
Vrboska is an even tinnier town about 10 min east of Stari Grad. It is nestled in a deep, narrow bay, and has a few bridges, all of which has earned it the moniker “Little Venice”. This is definitely an over-exaggeration, and it felt like the most nonessential of the stops. 10 min further east, we reached Jelsa. Jelsa is another charming town, with more white rock buildings, Renaissance squares and churches, and a fantastic waterfront packed with little boats. It made for the perfect lunch plus ice cream spot.
Lavender around Grablje
Until a few decades ago, Hvar used to be a major producer of lavender (~8% of all global output), and you still find souvenirs all over the island. On our way to Hvar town, we wanted to find some lavender fields, and we read that the best ones were around Grablje. So we took the old road, which turned out to be a very narrow, super winding mountain road (there is a reason why the built a highway and a long tunnel between Stari Grad and Hvar). We did not find more than a couple of lavender bushes, because production has massively declined, and because the harvest had apparently just happened. But it was still a fun, albeit stressful drive, and cool to see the unique village perched in the untouched mountains.
Hvar town & Spanjola Fortress
Based on all the places we had seen in the trip thus far, the bar was very high… and yet Hvar still managed to blow us away: the perfect harbor, the giant central plaza, the arsenal, the Venetian loggia, the imposing fortress and surrounding walls, and all the white-stone alleyways and building teeming with history. The experience of wandering aimlessly around Hvar’s old town is unforgettable. And despite it being a tourist hub, it has managed to preserve the charm, and in fact, many restaurants and shops are so cute that they enhance rather than detract from the experience.
In the couple of days we spent there, we strolled on as many cobblestone streets as possible, ate delicious food in gorgeous settings (Pizzeria Mizarola was outstanding on both fronts, while Restaurant Park was so idyllic the food couldn’t live up to the expectations), walked up and down the waterfront while enjoying some ice cream, and eventually drove up to the 16th century fort (it felt to hot to hike up) for a bird’s-eye view of the town, and the islands against the deep blue Adriatic.
Our plan had been to spend only a couple of days in Hvar, focusing the second one on a tour of the nearby islands. But unfortunately, the weather forecast was too rough for any boat tours to run the following day, so we had some time to kill. We drove to the most famous beach on the island, Dubovica, about 15 min to the east. After parking on the side of the road, we walked down on a rocky trail (kind of wishing we were wearing sneakers instead of flipflops) to reach the pebble beach. The water looked turquoise and super inviting, and we immediately jumped in. That swim, looking at the traditional villa that occupies the cove, covered in azaleas and surrounded by rocky mountains (and I swear, playing classical music), was incredible. Outside of the water, though, Croatian beaches are not comfortable, so we decided to spend the rest of our day at the Beach Club Hvar, where we enjoyed some ridiculously expensive food and pina coladas on plushy lounge chairs.
Vis & Pakleni Islands
The storm passed, and we were able to join an island tour the next day. We chose Kabina Boats because they had great reviews, and the two female captains had been very straightforward with the whole weather situation. In fact, they told us we would likely not be able to visit the famous Blue and Green Cave, because they close when the weather is choppy. We still enjoyed the day quite a bit, swimming in the Blue Lagoon, Stiniva Cove (which unfortunately has become overly touristy since they filmed Mamma Mia 2 there), and especially in a much lesser-known narrow cove with insane emerald waters. And I had a blast playing with the giant inflatable lama we picked up in the ocean (apparently they fly away from yachts all the time). The last stop was in Palmižana beach in the Pakleni Islands, where the water had a stunning aquamarine hue. We only had time for a quick dip before asking the crew to take us back to Hvar, because we needed to catch the ferry from Sucuraj to the mainland and drive to Dubrovnik that day.