entering the port of Stari Grad
On these cold days, I’m wont to think of sunshine, beaches, ancient Greco-Roman villages, and beer. Which is why I’m back pondering my time on the Sail Croatia tour I had the pleasure of taking last summer, with a strong recommendation for everyone looking for something to do this coming season of heat and sweat.
I previously talking about our trip from the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s palace city of Split, to the pirate capital of the Adriatic Omis, and the easy cave party city of Makarska. The next stop for our boat was Stari Grad, the first real touch of the ancient maritime life of the Greeks and Romans, and where you can still feel the lingering spirit of the ancients even as the tourism pours down onto the Dalmation coast.
the peaceful port
Stari Grad, which simply means “Old Town” in Croatian, is on the largest island of Hvar. It’s one of Hvar’s primary tourism centers. If your idea is to quietly relax in an old town, wandering through an endless labyrinth of cobblestones, and sipping lavender champagne while listening to the waves lap against the wharfs, then Stari Grad is the city to go to and stay.
how about a random 7th cent. church?
Likewise, if you’d prefer the noise and glamour of all night parties, just across the island is the town of Hvar, much better situated for that. However, you can stay in Hvar to party and easily bicycle over to Stari Grad, passing through endless fields of lavender and olives, and fit both in on your itinerary.
a shade of relief
When we arrived in Stari Grad, my excitement peaked. Neither Omis nor Makarska had the real old city feel, but rather both looked a bit like modern tourist towns. Stari Grad was finally the real deal. Originally named Pharos by the Greeks, since it was settled by Greeks from Pharos, it’s been around since 384 BC, making it the oldest town in Croatia. It didn’t become a Slavic town until the 800s, and as the old Slavs didn’t have a letter for “ph”, they used what sounded closest, so Pharos went to Hvaros to Hvar.
stroll through the beautiful alleys
The town of Stari Grad is filled with nicely maintained buildings that stem back to the days before Christ, all the way through their time under the Republic of Venice. At this time, the Venetians decided to base their fleet on the south side of the island, where they built the newer town of Hvar, where the older town on the northern shore then became known as simply the “Old Town”. The Venetians probably had the biggest architectural influence on both cities, as strolling through the town, with its tall stone buildings closed up with wooden shutters, was heavily reminiscent of a quieter, more local version of Venice that maybe was true hundreds of years ago for the canaled mecca. In all, Stari Grad seems like a village frozen in time, in all the senses of the phrase.
the night time's the right time
During the day it’s intensely hot, which is true all throughout the Adriatic. The best thing to do then is to wait out the sunshine hours like the locals—find some shade and have a nap, or go down to the embankment just outside of town and play in the gentle waves. When you’ve gotten tired of the water, head to a shaded café in the old town and try out some lavender ice cream, lavender tea, and lavender champagne. That’s the theme here in Stari Grad, which is what they’re famous for. I’m sure the locals would rather something chocolate, but like I’ve said before, sometimes it’s best to play the tourist. Especially when lavender champagne and ice cream are involved.
"Nothing in the world is saved, not wealth nor glory; death snatches even the renowned."
There’s also the old Tvrdalj Castle, which is more of an old stone villa built around a peaceful goldfish pond with lots of cryptic writing on its walls, and the Stari Grad Museum. The hours of both are pretty lazy, as they go from 10:00am-1:00pm and open again from 7:00pm-9:00pm. But what can you expect in such heat?
the front of the Tvrdalj
The Stari Grad Museum was probably the best history museum on our tour of the islands. It was composed of the remains of a shipwreck on the first floor, and on the second the recreation of a sailing captain’s room, and a large collection of watercolors by one of the past inhabitants of the town.
the best place for all your lavender needs
You can reach Stari Grad by taking a ferry from Split, and by car from Drvenik to Sucuraj, which is also connected by ferry. Both leave 4-7 times during the summer season. More exact ferry times and fares can be found here.