Traveler: Danielle Gervalis
When: May 2015
Overall Experience: The sunniest island in Croatia is the perfect destination to take in the Adriatic Sea. The hilly, rocky island has a little bit of everything; relaxing beaches, crazy night life, wineries and aromatic lavender fields. This is place you’ll want to come back to every year.
First we took a bus from Dubrovnik to Split which takes about 5 hours, costs 60kn ($9) and passes through Bosnia & Herzegovina, so keep your passport handy. The trip is pleasant and comfortable, it’s an air conditioned coach bus driving through the scenic countryside. It’s an easy and incredibly cheap way to get from point A to B. Once we reached Split, we grabbed the Jadrolinija ferry from Split to Hvar. There are a few small food places serving pizza and sandwiches if you need to kill time in between. About an hour before departure, people begin to line up in the concrete ferry parking lot to board the massive boat. Bring a hat or umbrella because there is no shade to be found. I went to Croatia during shoulder season so there was ample room to find a seat. I was told during the summer it’s completely packed and some people end up standing the entire way. It’s just over an hour long trip and you can buy tickets for 40kn (around $6) at the ferry station, but obviously purchase in advance during the high season.
The ferry stops in Hvar Town or Stari Grad. If you are in Stari Grad, you can take a readily available cab or bus from either to get to your hotel/final destination. There are a limited amount of cars allowed in the old town area of Hvar so you may need to walk a ways from the harbor to get a ride.
Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort : Like it says in the name this is a Grand Resort. It’s a sprawling complex a brief 10 minute walk from the town center along the water. This place has everything. Fancy pools, a swim up bar, lounge area, beautiful grounds and multiple restaurants. The rooms are updated with comfortable beds and modern finishes. I was celebrating my 30th birthday in Hvar so I was looking for a place that was on the more luxurious side, this hotel checks every box. I enjoyed festive cocktails, lounging by the pool and taking advantage of their water slide.
The service at this hotel is above and beyond. We came back to the room to a decadent chocolate birthday cake and a sweet card from the hotel. I’m not ashamed to say I ate all of it in one sitting. Additionally, like all resorts, they will help set up excursions for you throughout the island. We took advantage of the wine tour and sailing adventure. We initially attempted to do the “green and blue caves tour” which was raved about by a friend who had been to Hvar a few years prior, but unfortunately the seas were too rough, so it would’ve been too dangerous to attempt to enter the caves, thus we did the sailing tour instead.
Hike to the Hvar Fortress (Fortica Hvar) – A brisk 20-30 minute uphill walk on switchback from downtown, this fort has tremendous views of Hvar town and the Adriatic. It’s a well signed trail so you shouldn’t have any issues finding it or staying on it. Once you reach the top, you can tour the 13th century fort for 25 kuna which has an interesting history. In the 1500s, it was used by Hvar residents for safety from the invading Ottomans. However, a few years later lightning struck a gunpowder storage room (seriously, what are the odds?) and destroyed the building. It was restored by Austrians in the 1800s and today it serves as a tourist attraction! If you are in Hvar for a few days, it’s definitely something you should put on your list to do. If you have to draw yourself away from the beach cabana, it’s a good way to spend a few hours, get some exercise and experience the town views.
Downtown – The downtown area is not as sprawling as Dubrovnik but still musters tremendous character. The main building set in the center is the Cathedral of St. Stephen, which has grand bronze doors that you can view without buying a ticket to tour the Cathedral. To the right of the Cathedral is the Arsenal building, which dates back to the 16th century and was used to repair and supply ships back when Hvar was a major player in more nautical centric times. Past the main square, there is a Benedictine Convent which is run by a dozen or so nuns who make lace from the agave plant. It does have a museum you can tour for 10 kuna where you can see or purchase samples of the lace.
In addition to the historical sites, the area has a multitude of vendors and shops selling lavender products, which is grown in abundance on the island and souvenir trinkets. In regards to shopping, there was a boutique jewelry store I came across called Antika which had a beautiful selection and reasonable prices and made perfect gifts for friends.
Wine Tour – We signed up for the half day wine tour which takes you to two different wineries and gives you a mini tour of the island for 70 Euros. I would say this is a little on the pricey side, especially when you can do wine tours in Virginia for $10 a tasting. However, it was a great way to explore the island, sample some tasty wines, and meet fun people. We got paired with another young couple from the states with a passion for traveling. The tour itself is pretty free flowing with the wine too. It takes you through some of the world famous lavender fields, which we learned are nowhere near the production of their former glory due to several devastating wild fires. If you come to the island during June or July, you’ll want to check out some of these fragrant fields when they are in full bloom. Additionally, you’ll pass through a mostly abandoned town on the hillside which overlooks the sea. The majority of the population of Hvar has left the island to find more prosperous careers on the continent but things are changing rapidly in Hvar and now it seems there is a resurgence of hometown pride and industry. These renowned wineries are helping to change that narrative and shape Hvar’s future economy.
The first winery we stopped at was Tomic in Jelsa which is the most famous on the island and perhaps Croatia. The winemaker, Andro Tomic, looks like “the most interesting man in the world” from the Dos Equis ad campaign, perhaps he actually is. The tasting room is positively grand as it’s modeled after ancient Roman dining rooms. We had a table ready for us complete with bread, cheese, olives, meats and a lighted candelabra. The tasting is conducted in English so you will get to learn about what you are drinking. Tomic is most well known for their dessert wine and it’s a sweet ending to this stop.
The next winery owned by Ivo Dubokovic is a dim, candlelit basement with wine barrels surrounding every available space. The tasting is ready for you when you walk down the steps into the cool wine cellar (I would advise bringing a sweater if you get cold). It feels like you walked back in time as you take a seat at the red and white checkered picnic table and get ready to drink some wines you won’t be able to find back in the US. We purchased a few bottles to take home, as well as the homemade chili olive oil. It has the perfect amount of spice to flavor any dish or simply enjoy with a good loaf of bread. If you would like to read more about this particular winery, I’ll refer you to this blog by Mara I stumbled upon who also loved their tasting experience. My favorite wine was the 2718 Plavic. The 2718 represents the hours of sunshine Hvar gets every year. The top is coated in wax and you’re supposed to drink the bottle when the wax recedes. We drank it a little over a year later to celebrate buying our first home. And by home, I mean tiny condo because I live in DC where you need to hand over two gold bricks to buy a house.
Sailing Tour– This outing was the consolation prize to the cancelled cave trip. It turned out to be a fun tour and it was great to be out on the water in an actual SAILING BOAT. Our captain was clearly competent and well versed on the islands we toured. He was a born and raised Croat and was the only local person we met who talked about the war. He was prime young solider age during the early 90s and served in the military. He didn’t elaborate very much on that period, just that it was a terrible time and he was in the military. That’s all we got. The tour is a half day, includes refreshments and snacks and stops at a lagoonish area where you can swim, snorkel or sit on the boat and drink.
Food and Drink:
Please, please go to this restaurant if you are in Hvar! We had such a nice time and delicious dinner here. It’s a small place with mostly outdoor tables in a charming alleyway just off the main square. We waited about 20 minutes for a table which was not bad considering the crowd waiting to be seated. The waiter at this restaurant was the best. Mike and I tell this story all the time, in the most annoying way where one person pauses and the other picks up the story. (I know. We are the worst.) Mike asks the waiter for a recommendation between the steak and another item, and the waiter sets down his notebook, clasps his hands, lowers his voice and says “If I could have just one more meal in my life, (insert dramatic pause here) just one, it would be this steak.” And what do you know if it wasn’t one of the best steaks he ever had! On top of the steak, we had octopus salad with strawberries. It might seem like an odd combination, but it works. I also tried the most perfect entree of gnocchi with shrimp and buttery, soft truffles. On top of that, they gave us brandy and chocolate to relax, and grappa with sage to end our meal. Hands down, a gluttonous, delectable dinner and one of my favorite meals.
Mediterraneo – Set a block off the pier in a brick patio, it’s a great stop for midday wine and appetizers. The service is quick and the menu’s prices are reasonable. They have an extensive wine list. My favorite dish was the monkfish carpaccio.
Konoba Menega – A renowned restaurant for traditional Dalmatian cooking. It’s a small place which has cushions lining the steps outside so you can sit while you wait for a table. We tried their recommended chicken dish and gnocchi. The dishes were phenomenal, enabling you to sample lots of different flavors from Croatia.
Prsuta 3 Wine Bar – This narrow wine bar is hidden in an alley north of the town center. It’s a very cool bar with a huge selection of wine and appetizers. I swear, the bartender looked like Hagrid from Harry Potter. They have stools lining the outside of the bar where you can sit and enjoy your wine and beautiful Croatian evening.
Lungo Mare – Located to the east of downtown Hvar, it’s about a 15 minute walk along on the harbor. This place is a hidden gem tucked in a residential area and a popular local spot. It has a celebratory vibe but a casual setting. We tried the lamb, meatballs, and fried sheep cheese and cleaned up each plate. To top it off, we were served complimentary grappa and toasted the island.