I didn’t spot Prince Harry or Kate Moss but there was still a whiff of glamour about Hvar Town at the very tail end of the season. This iconic island in the Adriatic has a reputation for glamour and now having visited I can see why. Sunny skies, clear waters, ancient towns and visiting yachts add up to a place that is often included in the list of the top 10 islands in the world.
On the south coast of the island, Hvar Town is the main settlement and a good base for exploring with the biggest selection of accommodation and eating/drinking options. It has seen Greek, Roman, Slav and Venetian settlers and most have left their mark.
The Venetian Empire put its stamp on the architecture after it was invited in 1278 to take over fortification of the town and harbour, although Hvar town remained an independent commune within the empire.
The ‘Spanjola’ fortress that dominates the hillside above the town (so named because Spanish craftsmen were brought in to build it) was commissioned by the Venetians as they worked to establish a safe base for their fleet. Public buildings, town walls and new coastal villages spread with the prosperity brought by this security. Hvar became a medieval centre for trade and culture in the Adriatic.
The waterfront Arsenal became a Venetian theatre in 1612 (one of the oldest surviving theatres in Europe). There is a Hvar Heritage Museum with a collection of art and archaeological artefacts. In the 16th century attacks from the Ottomans culminated in the town being sacked by the Turkish fleet in 1571. Many of the public buildings date from the rebuild.
Wandering through the Groda or old town that climbs the hill between the Pjaca (piazza) and the fortress is very atmospheric and much as it has been for centuries. Make sure you head up to the fortress to watch the sun go down behind the Pakleni archipelago.
Past the Groda the path zigzags in broad sweeps across the hillside so allow time to wander up slowly, enjoying the views through the huge agaves and visiting the chapel on the way. There is a pleasant bar in the fortress offering a range of beverages and seating.
Massive protective walls plunge down from the fortress to the town. I didn’t go up to the other, higher fortress to the northeast of the town – this was built in 1811 during the a brief rule by the Napoleonic Empire.
In the piazza there are glamorous pavement cafes and restaurants hug the shore path right around the harbour. Also worth a look are the elegant Venetian town loggia and clock tower, remnants of the Governor’s Palace. Look out for the Venetian lion relief.
St Stephen’s Cathedral and its bell tower dominate the eastern end of the piazza. The Renaissance-baroque building was constructed during the 16th and 17th centuries but the interior is 18th century.
Following the ‘Riva’ or waterfront promenade past the theatre, the Jadrolinja ferry office and the famous Carpe Diem bar you reach a little bay and then the Franciscan Monastery with its peaceful cloister.
We tried a number of eateries and they all offered good, fresh food, and professional service, although I wouldn’t recommend any one in particular as being outstanding. The seafood is always a good bet. The best meal I had was at a little family-run place around the southern arm of the harbour.
And what else is there to do on Hvar?
- Visit the Pakleni Islands
- Explore the island’s beaches
- Drive through the interior
- Get lost in Stari Grad
And that’s just for a start!
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you been to Hvar? What else would you recommend?
Visiting Hvar is easy. We flew into Split airport and jumped on a bus straight to the waterfront where the ferry terminal is right across the road. There is plenty of information on the Croatia Ferries site. It was not possible to buy ferry tickets more than a day ahead of sailing. There are dedicated airport buses (cost 30 Kuna each) and public buses that are half the price. The no. 37 bus is useful, especially if you want to visit Trogir.
In Hvar Town there is a cycle/car/boat hire place just across from the supermarket and the bus station. It cost us about 40 GBP to hire a boat for the day, likewise for a day hire of a car. There are good bus services that ply between Hvar Town and Jelsa/Vrboska/Stari Grad, stopping at some beaches along the coast. A few services also cross to Stari Grad via the old road. In summer water taxis ferry people to various beaches.