PART 10 – HVAR, SPLIT AND STONE: A JOURNEY’S END
Hvar is like the Long Island of Croatia. You can take a small slow ferry from Drvenik, off the Croatian coast, or a large speed ferry from Split, a bit more northerly than Drvenik.
Spreading out westerly into the Adriatic Sea off the Croatian coast, year after year it has been voted one of the most beautiful destinations by Conde Nast Magazine. A few things about Hvar, however, make me believe these editors at Conde Nast never really made it onto the island, and if they did, just weren’t hanging out on the beaches with regular folks like us.
Firstly, I believe the Soviet Yugoslavians did a number on Hvar, as all of Hvar’s beaches have been cemented solid.
Lamenting the lack of powder soft sandy beaches, the Yugoslavian officials seemed to have ordered that cement be poured on all the beaches. Not really sure why they thought pebble beaches were so terrible, they keeps the water crystal clear and are a joy to walk on – nature’s own free foot massage!
The beaches of Hvar now are hard cement: utterly uncomfortable if you want to put down a towel and lie down, slippery and nasty with moss if you want to walk down into the water, and absolutely lacking any charm whatsoever.
In a search to find a sandy beach, we ventured all over Hvar, even to Ivan Dolac, Zavla, and Sveta Nedjelja on the south side where you have to go through a super scary one-lane unlit tunnel to get there. I wouldn’t say it was worth it; it was the same old cemented mossy mess. And we almost drove our Astra Opel into the water going down this cement paving.
Second, regulations are still lax and the yachts don’t have an issue with flushing poop in the water so close to the shore. I can spot floating poop a mile away, and even follow the dissolution of it as it gradually turns into oily brown skim, slowly making its way towards unassuming bathers in the Adriatic. I will say one thing, even during pre-season I spotted poop, so I can only imagine what it’s like during high season.
Thirdly, a local English-language newspaper had on its front page pictures of teenaged naked boobies all lined up on a catamaran. No issue with the naked boobies, as they were fine looking boobies, but not sure that we (let alone the Conde Nast editors) were really the target marketing group for Hvar. Again, I let out a sigh of relief for getting there pre-season, and feared for high season.
Despite the very important points I list above, Hvar had a few very redeeming factors:
Me and Mrs. Jones run by Jurica and Josipa Skarpa in the town of Jelsa is a real treat. The owners are absolutely adorable, every single food course is fantastic, and while in a gorgeous and romantic spot, somehow there is nothing touristy about the place. We ended up there every single night, the last night just for some coffee and dessert.
Villa Volga was great with wifi, kitchenette, and a broad terrace, conveniently owned and recommended by a gentleman that runs the main tourist information center in Jelsa. Since it was pre-season we let slide the obvious conflict of interest.
Vrboska is a beautiful, more upscale boating town with a row of lovely restaurants along the waterfront. Any of the restaurants provide and view and ambiance, as well as good food. Some were more touristy looking than others, but here you could almost forget you were in the former Yugoslavia and imagine the Mediterranean life – like the Italian coast of the Adriatic or the French Riviera.
Sveta Nedjelja, the beach town we found on the south side in our quest to find a pebble beach, has a lovely restaurant on the water, Zlatan Otok, owned by Mr. Plenkovic, who produces the most expensive and highly regarded wine in Croatia, directly on the island of Hvar. The cheese and charcuterie platter with a bit of wine pairing is truly lovely here, and you can buy Plenkovic wine at wholesale prices.
Starigrad on the island is also very pretty, with cafes and wine bars in old stone structures.
Lesson here – Don’t slum it, enjoy it on a yacht. And find a yacht with a swimming pool, as I don’t think you want to swim around the yacht either.
Split is one of those underestimated harbor towns that get a bad rap and not the positive attention they deserve. A bit like Napoli, Split is a real town living its life and not just catering to tourists, which is likely why they are both under-appreciated.
Commerce was vibrant – back alleys, cafes, and shopping were probably the best we had seen in all of Croatia, with a lot of unique local up-and-coming designers.
Hotel Adriana was a 3-star hotel right on the water in an old harbor building with beautiful white shuttered windows and one of those Jetsons’ showers built for a spaceship.
Perhaps the lesson here is to always leave extra time for harbor towns that usually have a drab and sleazy reputation.
There is Big Ston and Little Ston. Little Ston – Mali Ston – is so tiny that we circled around a bit and decided to just stop, as we couldn’t tell if we were actually in a little town or in front of a few sleepy storefronts. We only knew we were in the right place because we found Kapetanova Kuca, a restaurant that is a part of a hotel, both run by the Kralj family.
This was a continuation of the recommendations provided by the Croatian living abroad, and we were intent not to miss it. It probably had the best squid ink pasta I’ve ever had in my life and will ever have.
I cannot praise this place enough, and the only lesson to be learned is to go there and eat the squid ink pasta. Or maybe, don’t skip the little towns.
ROAD TRIP: CROATIA, MONTENEGRO & BOSNIA – A 10-PART SERIES
PART 10 – HVAR, SPLIT AND STONE: A JOURNEY’S END
Lead-In Image (Mali Ston) Courtesy of OPIS Zagreb / Shutterstock.com