I'm a London-dwelling northern lass who swapped the East End for Far East on the trip of a lifetime. I blog about food, travel, yoga and spirituality. www.sophiesnotinkansas.com
Published September 27th 2014
an authentic, local experience away from the crowds
Hvar, the sunniest island in Croatia, nestling in the beautiful blue waters of the Adriatic sea, is fast becoming a popular European holiday destination. Home to swanky restaurants, bars and the 'who's who' of the yachting society, it is also a place of stunning natural beauty, abundant in lavender fields and sites of historic interest. There is something for everyone here in this little piece of ancient, Dalmatian paradise. Listed below are five of the best:
1.) Hire a Boat The crystal clear, confectionery blue, calm, still waters of the Adriatic coast are the biggest attraction to this unspoilt part of Croatia where even the most un-seaworthy of second mates can become sailors. Being part of the central Dalmatian archipelago and in close proximity to other islands including Brac, Vis and the Pakleni, Hvar makes a great starting point for sea-faring adventures. Popular with the nautically inclined and a habour for super yachts, inexperienced sailors are also able to hire small motor boats to pootle around the island for the price of 600 Kuna / day (approx £60, which isn't bad if you share between 4 people). Sailing in Hvar really is the only way to travel. Each day we took a boat out and navigated the waves around Pakleni, finding attractive little coves in which to drop our anchor and swim in the unspoilt waters. Top tip is to take a cool bag full of ice, a picnic from the local supermarket and a few Karlovacko's (local beers) to cool then travel the beautiful blue waters under your own steam. Splendid!
Hvar is a popular resort with tourists and a party town and as a result, hotels bump up their prices significantly. Websites such as Housetrip and Air BnB, however, offer a cheaper alternative and the opportunity to have an authentic experience staying in a real Croatian home. We were bowled over by the size, cleanliness and care of our host Tania who owns this property in Hvar town. When we moved to the more peaceful Stari Grad across the island, we were treated to the very generous hospitality of Davor and Josipa, who rent rooms in their home. The apartment was immaculately kept and well kitted out with a bathroom, dining room and a balcony from which to watch the dramatic sunsets. Jospia and Davor were incredibly warm and welcoming, inviting guests to eat and drink with them and offering up local delicacies for us to enjoy as they regaled us with tales of life on the island. Davor even loaned us his car to go to the butchers. As we were leaving, Josipa gave me a gift bag containing a bottle of Prosek (a local wine to which I had become rather partial during my stay with them) and paprenjak biscuits, another Stari Grad specialty. Such kindness and warmth, I would recommend their place to any holidaymakers seeking to soak up a local experience.
3.) Cook on an Outside Oven Cooking and the great outdoors, two of the greatest pleasures in life. And what better than to combine the two? In this part of Croatia, kitchens are simple because the locals prefer to take advantage of the sunny climate and the space to cook al fresco. When we were staying in Stari Grad, our generous hosts allowed us to use their outdoor oven. We went to the market and bought vegetables and steak, then chopped fresh rosemary from the garden. Davor, our host, piled up the wood high and lit the fire, which was well protected in its sturdy brick housing, despite the dramatic storm breaking around us. We cooked the steak, grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes in the fire. It was simple, but stunning and all for the budget price of under £20. We washed it down with a local wine and sat outside on the patio, eating in the quiet night after the storm. Definitely a truly authentic and local experience and one of the highlights of the holiday.
4.) Sample the Cuisine One of the greatest pleasures in Hvar is the local food. You MUST try the Dalmatian ham and cheese plates that grace many of the starter pages of menus. The ham is simply to die for: smoky and flavoursome and the cheese is salty and wondrous. Being an island, there is an abundance of seafood so any fish dish will do, although we really enjoyed many an octopus salad, fresh from the sea. Hvar is renowned for 'gregada', or fish stew. This was rather lovely, although you had to watch the bones. But it's not all surf - the 'turf' or meat dishes were divine, from barbecued meat to steaks, Hvar is a gastronomic paradise for all palates. If you want to go cheaper and simpler then try out any of the pasta places in the main square of Hvar town where pasta and heavenly thin-sliced pizza abound.
5.) Immerse Yourself in Wine Hvar is home to many ancient vineyards which date back as far as 2,234 years and are now protected as a UNESCO world heritage site. For an immersive experience, book yourself onto one of the many wine and gastronomy tours that are on offer. Alternatively, travel to the more remote areas and you will stumble across little restaurants that overlook the vineyard from whose vines the wine you are tasting came from. Plavac Mali is the local grape, typical to the Hvar and Dalmatian region. This wine is quite sweet to the English palate and the way to enjoy it is local-style, by adding water. We enjoyed glasses of fine wine at Babo Wine Studio, in the back streets of Hvar town. Here, the friendly patron spent time to find out our individual tastes and provide us each with a suitable glass of wine. Among many interesting facts that he dispensed, he taught us the different between 'barrique' wines, versus those that had been kept in modern vats of stainless steel. According to him, the barrel aged wine encompasses the rounded, oaken vanilla taste of the wood, whereas the wine that has been kept in steel is a truer representation of the grape. Fascinating stuff. Hic!