There’s nothing wrong with letting your imagination run wild – especially when you’re on an island as impressive as Hvar.
As I step aboard the bespoke Maslina motorboat that takes me from Split to this fabulous little island – about the size of Malta – I feel the spirit of Jackie Kennedy. She came here with her sister in 1964, almost a year after her husband’s murder shook the world. She used her visit to “reset” her difficult life.
The sunniest Mediterranean island, Hvar has long been known for its transformative power and has attracted all manner of misfits. Although inhabited by humans for more than 6,000 years, it was properly settled by the ancient Greeks with their colony of Pharos on the site of one of Europe’s oldest villages, Stari Grad.
Keep it local: Jo Knowsley explores the Croatian island of Hvar – ‘the sunniest Mediterranean island’. Hvar town is pictured
Then came the Romans, Venetians, Ottoman Turks, the Italians and more recently Communism.
Eventually, after the breakup of Yugoslavia and its vicious civil war, Hvar became part of the new country of Croatia.
None of that turmoil is in the air today as we speed across the water for our hour-long cruise to the new five-star eco-friendly resort of Maslina, which nestles seamlessly into the pine-clad hills. The hotel has 50 rooms, three villas, a spa, and a private beach, and bills itself as a place of “mindful luxury.”
Jo takes a 1-hour boat ride from Split to the new five-star eco-friendly resort Maslina (above) on Hvar
Jo notes that the Maslina Resort pictured above bills itself as a place of “mindful luxury.”
Above is one of 50 rooms at Maslina Resort, which also offers three villas, a spa, and a private beach
According to Jo, Maslina Resort blends seamlessly into the pine-clad hills
Hvar Town, with its hilltop castle and cluster of clubs and bars surrounding the old stone harbor, has something of a reputation as a ‘party hub’.
But away from the harbor there is an air of sleepy relaxation and an overwhelming scent of lavender. (Hvar once produced some of the largest amounts of lavender in the world and is still nicknamed Lavender Island.)
Hvar doesn’t have many long, white sandy beaches – in fact, most of them consist of large rocky coves. The compensation for this is the clearest blue water and a fragrant, green environment. To the north, beyond Stari Grad, Vrboska and Jelsa, you will find private bays overlooking the even quieter island of Brac. There is also the beautiful Pakleni Islands which are only a short boat ride away.
“Hvar town, with its hilltop castle and cluster of clubs and bars surrounding the old stone port, has had something of a reputation as a ‘party hub’,” writes Jo
To the north, beyond the town of Jelsa (pictured), you’ll find private coves overlooking the tranquil island of Brac
The beautiful Pakleni Islands pictured above are just a short boat ride from Hvar
Jo meets Grgo Lucio, a former fisherman who produces most of Hvar’s lavender and sells his wares in a shop near his home in Zastrazisce. Above is the church of Zastrazisce, ‘Crkva sv Nikola’
Hvar once produced some of the largest amounts of lavender in the world and is still nicknamed Lavender Island
One morning I meet 58-year-old Grgo Lucio, a former fisherman who produces most of Hvar’s lavender. He sells his wares in a shop near his home in Zastrazisce, deep in the countryside.
He fought in the Civil War and was shipwrecked on his boat before finding a simpler life on land – if ‘easy’ can be defined, working seven days a week in this lush but mountainous and challenging landscape.
Most locals have left fishing and farming to work in tourism. There are up-and-coming local wines and quirky family-run restaurants like Konoba Maslina (not affiliated with the resort), which sits atop one of the highest hills.
People are lovable, but their nature hints at their past. On St. Stephen’s Square in Hvar town, a treasurer of the Hvar Public Theater – one of the oldest theaters in Europe, built in 1612 – barks: “Cash only. You cannot visit with a card: cash only.’
It was an irony that I encountered again and again. The people are warm and welcoming (the cashier had the face of an angel) but underneath they have spikes of steel. I thought of Napoleon’s famous saying: “If I only had 100,000 Croats (soldiers) I would conquer the whole world.”
Hvar definitely conquered me. I especially lost my heart at Stari Grad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Archaeologists were working on the day of my visit. “We didn’t have to dig very deep before the bones came out,” says archaeologist Sara Popovic, who works near St. John’s Church.
Jo picks up a ticket for the Hvar Public Theater which was built in 1612 and is one of the oldest theaters in Europe
Jo loses her heart to Stari Grad (pictured). On the day of their visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site, archaeologists were working near the city’s St. John’s Church
“The earlier civilizations are all here, in 14 layers, under the stones. We have found buttons from the clothes of buried children from the 13th century.’
A tiny museum houses the island’s oldest artifacts – including small glass bottles that folklore says fishermen’s wives kept their tears in at sea.
There’s a poignant statue of St Rocco, the patron saint of contagious diseases, who claimed to have recovered from the plague because a stray dog brought him food when he was abandoned and starved to death by fearful locals.
Tourists cannot starve here now. Stari Grad is full of restaurants serving seafood. Life pulsates in the streets.
In the main square, the old washhouse is now a wishing well full of coins. The theory goes that inserting a coin will guarantee you return to the island. I didn’t hesitate to throw mine in.