Nothing beats a week spent in the jewel of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast
Words Catherine Hales
These days it’s rare to find somewhere that feels untouched without venturing to a far flung island in the Caribbean and yet, when looking out over the terracotta rooftops, cream-coloured buildings and sparkling seas of Hvar, this small island of the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia appears to be just that. In a modern Europe dominated by resorts and tower block hotels, Croatia manages to combine a short haul flight with beaches, nightlife and history without becoming a hellish tourist trap.
As a result, Croatia has been topping lists and featuring in round-ups of the world’s best holiday destinations for roughly five years now and its appeal doesn’t seem to have tarnished at all; it even made Conde Nast Traveler’s annual ‘The Best Places to Travel’ list for the upcoming year. Both Split and Dubrovnik do a roaring tourist trade during the summer months but for a real combination of tranquility and stimulation, the islands off the coast are the place to go.
After a taxi, plane and ferry ride (plus a few glasses of rosé at the port in Split), I stand on a romantic dock looking out at transparent waters filled with sailboats and then up at white buildings encircled by hills. Despite the fact that Hvar has a reputation as the sunniest place in Europe, we had set off in a storm but by the time our ferry pulled into Hvar Town, the rain had subsided and the clouds had been washed away revealing an impossibly blue sky. It was the end of late September, which is the tail-end of Croatia’s high season, so while not exactly sizzling hot the sun was still warm enough to walk around in shorts.
The Luxury Travel Book have properties throughout Europe as well as in Morocco and Sri Lanka and each of them is, without exception, of the highest standard. Our villa was a 10 minute stroll from the port, right in the heart of the historical town of Hvar. Narrow white alleys with steps leading up to different levels of the town crisscross and meander, some leading to picturesque dead ends peppered with elaborate carved wooden doors. It was the end of one of these that we found our villa.
Double doors lead onto a sprawling courtyard with a lemon tree, dining table and sun loungers – not to mention a beautiful glass conservatory with a small pool inside. The villa was built between 1590 and 1612 in Baroque style with heavy Venetian influences and one of its best features is the view from the ornate balcony out onto the harbour.
Despite the winding streets, the layout of Hvar town is intuitive with most of the hustle and bustle centering on the waterfront. Stalls selling fragrant bunches of lavender for which the island is famous line the port with restaurants and cafes facing them a little further inland. Hvar is one of the filming locations for hit HBO series Game of Thrones which and, wandering through the main square, its white paving stones worn smooth with wear, it isn’t hard to see why.
During the day, walks around the island are a discovery. The centre of the town was built in the 15th and 16th century, so once you pass through the Porta di datallo (Gate of Dates) north of the square and start climbing the steps you encounter stunning palaces which eventually lead to fort Fortica or, as the locals call it, Španjola. From there you have a spectacular panoramic view – go at sunset for maximum impact. Although there are no sand beaches in the immediate vicinity, jetties and ladders extend into the sea for swimmers and there are large, smooth rocks to lay out a towel and bask in the sunshine. In the evenings, homebodies can hit the market and carry their spoils back for a slap up meal in the tranquil garden of the villa.
Whether it is the strict conservation of its historical architecture or the laid back, unassuming attitude, Hvar exists as both a tourist hotspot and a sanctuary. Here’s hoping that this marvellous equilibrium will last forever – but go there as soon as possible, just in case.