Attracting the same chic crowds as Monte Carlo and Portofino, the island of Hvar, Croatia has become a major destination for the yachting set in recent years. Of course, in the summer months, the warm Mediterranean climate, bustling nightlife, and serene beaches draw people from all walks of life to the usually sleepy island as well.
Located off the Dalmatian coast of Croatia in the Adriatic Sea, Hvar is teeming with spectacular old-world charm and striking natural beauty. Its steep, rocky hillsides are covered in pine forests and the central region boasts vineyards, olive groves, and miles of wild lavender fields. Hvar’s coastline is punctuated with secluded, pebbly beaches, tiny inlets, and crystal-clear turquoise water that’s so clean it has to be seen to be believed.
Accessible to mainland Croatia via regular catamaran service, Hvar Town (Hvar Grad) is located on the sun-drenched southwestern coast of the island. It’s tucked away in a cove that acts like a natural harbor, perfect for boating enthusiasts. Rough-hewn limestone walls and terracotta-tiled roofs are the common denominator to a city that was built over hundreds of years. Its architecture is a veritable hodgepodge of styles; many buildings still display Venetian flourishes, remnants of a time when Hvar was an outpost of that vast empire.
Leading from the waterfront to the 16th century St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Sv. Stjepan), is the heart of Hvar Grad—its town square. Known by locals as Pjaca, people have gathered here for centuries, in what’s the largest public square in all of Dalmatia. Narrow cobblestone streets zigzag up the hillside behind Pjaca, lined with homes, shops, and restaurants, their walls draped in grape vines and bougainvillea.
Perched high atop the hill, acting like a sentry guarding the town nestled below, is the medieval fortress, Tvrđava Fortica (Španjola). From the top, just as you’d expect, are spectacular views of the Adriatic Sea stretching all the way to the horizon. Directly ahead are the Pakleni islands, great for a relaxing day trip, and to the southeast you can just see the neighboring isle of Korčula (where Marco Polo was purportedly born), also only a ferry ride away.
Stroll along Hvar’s palm-fringed seaside promenade to one of its many restaurants and dine on authentic Croatian cuisine. You can enjoy locally caught seafood or even lamb roasted on a spit, right in front of you. Then, after spending the day wandering around streets polished smooth by centuries of foot traffic, you can sit at the harbor, grab a cappuccino, and watch the sun slowly dip into the sea. You’ll need to save your energy for later, when both tourists and locals alike head out to Hvar Town’s infamous nightclub, Carpe Diem.
Although there are several lovely and luxurious hotels in Hvar, I recommend renting a guest apartment from a local. The place I stayed in had a private patio, kitchenette, and the most beautiful, unobstructed view of the Adriatic Sea imaginable. Plus, you get that extra, added benefit of Croatian hospitality.
Hvar is a place that I’d never even heard of before this year, but I have a feeling that as its popularity grows with Europeans, more and more Americans will be considering it for their vacation plans as well. Known as the sunniest place in all of Croatia, it’s no wonder people are flocking there.