From Illyria to Italy, Part 4: The island of Hvar
I’d heard of the island of Hvar before I even knew about Split. With its uniquely mild climate, art treasures, beautiful beaches including many hidden spots on its panoply of little adjacent islands, and fields full of scented lavender, the island is well known to be one of the jewels of the Adriatic. However, as the luxury yachts have gradually started to make themselves at home in its crystal clear waters, the island has slowly become a haven for the well to do, and the island is quickly earning itself the reputation of the St Tropez of Illyria.
The proximity to Split of this rather difficult to pronounce island made it a must-visit destination on our Dalmatian adventure. Taking a catamaran full of enthusiastic backpackers from the sulphur-scented port of Split (somewhat off putting so close to breakfast) we reached Hvar in just over an hour of calm(ish) sea travel. First impressions were very good. The quayside of Hvar Town seemed to exhibit all of the characteristics of a Riviera style cafe-lined promenade, with pristinely pruned and plucked palm trees perfectly lined up alongside carefully maintained Venetian-style palazzos.
Evidently characterised by the influence of its past Venetian rule, when the island was a key stop-over point for Venetian merchants returning from the Orient, Hvar Town bears all of the hallmarks of its cultivated past, including one of the first theatres ever built in Europe, and the splendid little Cathedral of St Stephen perfectly located with a sprawling piazza before it, and a rolling green mountainside behind.
Set around a natural harbour, the town was one of those places whose aspect improved from every angle. Walking around the port, a picture-postcard view could be enjoyed from across cerulean waters peppered with colourful fishing boats, or from small shady gardens set alongside the Renaissance Civic Loggia characterised 15th Century Venetian Gothic windows. Up a steep staircase, past one of the town’s monasteries, the views improved yet further, as appreciated from the heights of the Napoleonic Fort which casts a protective fatherly glance across the town from the steep hills rising up behind it.
We only had a few hours between ferries to enjoy the island, and in reality we kept ourselves limited to the treasures of Hvar Town. And while from there, we may not have run amongst fields of fragrant lavender, nor enjoyed the unspoilt beaches of the island’s craggy coastline, our brief acquaintance with Hvar was nonetheless one of the highlights of our trip to Croatia. Tranquil, elegant and unpretentious despite its natural attractiveness, Hvar Town felt as exclusive as the French Riviera but without the hype. And while the quaint beauty of the Town was evident at all times of the day, I think you would have to go far to beat the town at sunset, as the sun turned a milky honey hue. In that calm meditative light, we were at serious risk of missing our ferry home, as we sat on the quayside slowly contemplating the facade of St Stephen’s turn a rich honeycomb gold, and ancient walls of the Arsenale a warm ginger.
Alas the ferry came, and we returned to the welcoming lights of bustling Split. But oh how I could have stayed in that moment forever.
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