I can’t stress it enough. The Dalmatian coast is one of the most beautiful in the world, with its steep cliffs, ancient Greek and Italian villages, castles, fields of lavender, and all the secret coves any sailor or beachcomber could desire.
A Little Bit of History
Last time I touched on Croatia, I was talking about the Sail Croatia cruise we were on last year and talked about the oldest city in Croatia, Stari Grad, which is on Hvar Island. This time, I’m still talking about that epic cruise vacation, except now I’m talking about the new port, Hvar. I call Hvar the new port, but it was settled in 800 AD, after the Slavs came in. So it’s old in regards to most cities in the world, but it’s a relatively new development on the island, since Stari Grad comes to us from the Greeks of Paros at around 384 BC.
Hvar and Stari Grad are opposites on many terms, not just in age. Where Stari Grad is a sleepy, romantic town of relaxation, lavender ice cream, and bicycle rides through olive and lavender fields, Hvar is literally a non-stop party.
About the Island
As our boat came creeping towards the harbor, we could already hear the gyrating dance music pounding out its rhythms from some exclusive club at 11 am. One questions whether it was just starting up or just finishing from the night before. The boats were all crowded in, and access to the town was impossible until a special water taxi came up to take us away. In the meantime, we went for a swim in a nearby cove until our taxi time was ready. The boat would then dock much later that night, when the day boats and ferries were gone. That meant, once we were on land, we were staying there.
taking the ferry to Hvar
That turned out to be no problem though. Hvar covers two hills. One hill is the new town, on the outer arm of the natural harbor, small Italian style villas and apartments crowded across it with shuttered windows and flowers spilling from every crack. On the other hill sits the castle and the gardens going down the side, to finally meet the city which sprawls midway up. Within the garden grounds was the old walled city, which has long been gone from fires and pirates and fires caused by pirates, pirates who were probably from Omis.
What to do
That said, there’s chiefly three things to occupy yourself with. Walk around the new town and get the wonderful views of the sea and the castle, or walk around the older quarters and pretend you’re in some sort of sprawling fantasy castle, re-enacting the scenes of Game of Thrones — of course, you’ll get enough of that once you get to Dubrovnik.
When you land with a view like this, you know you're in the right place
We finally got to the island and the club pounding away. People were invited in, but only people wearing all white and willing to drink champagne and dance. It looked as if there was a rule that if you stopped dancing in the 40-degree Celsius sun then out you went. It also appeared that perhaps they were filming a commercial or something, given the stringent requirements of looking like you were having fun. To note, unless you had a lot of drugs or alcohol, it would have been impossible to be having fun in that heat!
St. Stephen's towers over the main pjaca, or plaza
We immediately made our way to the central square, or pjaca (piatsa) and took shelter in the 14th century St. Stephen's Cathedral. It was built on the remains of a 6th century church, and didn't meet its final form until the bell tower was attached in the 17th century.
The hike up the hill from the older quarters through the gardens is not easy, but it’s worth it. Drink lots of water before you go, as it’s hot even into the late night, and you’ll be drenched in sweat by the time you get to the top. As you go up, you get to see the ancient roads, and you start to see the formation of the ancient city as you approach the castle walls. And then there you are, in a massive fortress with a commanding view of the harbor and the sea beyond.
an ancient road and church on the way
at the castle ramparts
The castle has several interesting exhibitions inside, with one history about the history of the town. There’s also a dungeon that you can visit, with steep steps down the stairs of an outer tower and then a row of prison cells with pretty quality views. I was again reminded of a scene of Game of Thrones, when Tyrion was imprisoned in the Eyrie. That’s how steep the way down was!
inside the dungeon
no end to amazing views on the way
Make sure you hit the castle in time for sunset, as there is no other place to be for such an event on Hvar, standing on the ramparts and watching the sun sparkle across the sea, exploding on the horizon.
there are few better places to catch a sunset
Hvar is a party town, as I mentioned. There is no shortage of restaurants, cocktail bars, and restaurants. Start off with some Italian food or pizza – pizza if you’re on budget – and move on to any of your dozens of options in the old part of town. It’s like you’re partying in a medieval castle. Which you kind of are. And that’s really awesome.
How to Get There
Either you can sort out a cruise like we did, or you can take the ferry from Split, Dubrovnik, or other villages.
Places to Stay
We stayed on our boat. But there are also loads of hostels, hotels, and AirBnBs. You can try your usual booking sites, like booking.com or Airbnb.com.
Staying in Hvar is not for everyone though, and that comes with a big warning. If you’re young and want to dance all night or hook up, then it’s most definitely the place to go. If you want a quieter place, I would stay in Stari Grad and rent a bicycle to get to Hvar. Then just ride back after sunset for something romantic in the “Old Town”.