Located on the west coast of Croatia, Hvar is known as the Queen of the Dalmatian Islands. The strategic nautical position helped Hvar become an important maritime trading center of the Adriatic Sea since medieval times, with a heroic history and a rich cultural heritage. Today, the island is considered a multifaceted holiday destination, where the luxury goes harmoniously with the rustic simplicity.
Hvar is famous for the glamour of expensive yachts, luxurious hotels, elegant restaurants with 5-star services and all-night parties in legendary beach bars. However, it fascinated me by its “make-up free” natural beauty. On a cute scooter, we rode around the island of Hvar, enjoyed sliding on the winding green hilly roads around dreamy & pristine Mediterranean beaches, explored the monochrome of Hvar’s old town with its endless stone staircases, felt fascinated by unique upside-down L-shaped doorways in Stari Grad, or accidentally stopped at the forgotten village of Brusje.
Our boat docked at Hvar on a sunny afternoon, after a 3-hour voyage from Dubrovnik. The pier seemed quiet with glamorous yachts moored near the shore. The pedestrian street was sparse, while the restaurants along the pathway were full of laughter.
Through a such peaceful landscape, we experienced different shades of unexpected emotions, from being jittery to excited, from bewitched to shiver. But above all, Hvar left us a truly serene feeling.
The first was the sense of dismay when we realized that I had booked the hotel on the wrong day, or more precisely, on the right day but in the wrong month! Then came the thrill of driving a scooter for the first time in Europe while traversing the steep, winding roads of Hvar Island, despite being used to ride scooters back home. Then the enchantment of turquoise blue Mediterranean beaches was quickly replaced by the shudder when we jumped in their cold water. Only when we were wandering on the elegant alleys of Hvar’s ancient town and little villages on the island, we could only bellow out in excitement: “Serenity is here!”
The old town of Hvar seemed not fully awake in the weekend morning. The largest main square of Dalmatian region quietly welcomed the early sunshine. The cathedral of St. Stephen and its ancient bell tower reflected their silhouette on the shining old stone paved square. The surrounding coffee shops began to serve their first guests.
The morning ambience was so quiet that you could hear your footsteps echoing through the empty alleys. The stone stairs are uneven, stretching endlessly, winding around the old town. They are combined with old walls and domes made of unpainted stones, creating a rustic and monochrome landscape.
Seamless green vines and pomegranate trees with their ripe fruits added fresh colors here and there. When the light gently glowed through the alleys, a street corner turned golden bright and enchanting.
Spanjola Fortress, built in the 13th century, is the most iconic building in Hvar. Perched on a high hill, the fortress offers spectacular panoramic views of Hvar harbor and the nearby lush Pakleni island. Instead of joining a long queue to visit the fortress, I walked along the city walls and discovered a different pathway to go up which was less crowded and completely free of charge.
It started from an entrance of a park (which I don’t remember the name) close to the city wall. Walking on a gentle sloping pathway under the large trees was somewhat more comfortable than climbing countless staircases inside the fortress. The benches along the trail marked the stops for sightseeing. After 20 minutes, I reached the top of the hill, found a quiet corner to admire the spectacular panoramic view of the green Hvar from above.
In addition to historical and cultural sites, Hvar is also famous for many luxurious restaurants located along the harbor and in small alleys. They bring modern air into the old town with elegant decorative pieces, such as soft sofas, flowers and trees, or simply a bicycle leaning on the rocky wall. The cafes with rows of chairs along the steps look chic and stylish. At night, the old town was bustling when the bars lighted up.
The best experience on Hvar Island is driving a scooter around the island. The hilly winding and undulating roads lead us through the majestic natural scenery of mountains, white clouds and blue sea. Being a Vietnamese, of course everyone can drive motorbike, but we were really excited to do it in Europe for the first time.
The procedure of renting a scooter was quite simple as the owner just took a photo of my license (actually it was my car license) and asked about our driving experience, then provided a quick instruction about the scooter and gave us the address of the only gas station on the island. The road along the coast was windy and narrow but quite deserted. Most of the time we were the only ones on the road. The chilly atmosphere and majestic natural landscape made our first experience go far beyond our expectation.
Brusje village located on the north of Hvar Island, about 7km from the center of the old town, was a surprising and interesting discovery. We drove by and stopped in front of an fruitful fig tree. It was delightful when the owner signaled us to freely pick the fruits, I was able to enjoy the fresh figs in my life, which were sweet and melting in my mouth. Then the locked houses with messy vines led us into the village of Brusje.
With no sign of people, the whole village exuded a strange quiet with locked stone houses and abandoned houses without doors. The mossy stairs are covered with grass, it seems that no one has been walking for so long. Seamless wild flowers appear to swallow the old car lying on the porch. Rough stone fences twist around the village, separating one house from another.
The accidental conversation with an elderly lady helped us to understand a little bit more about this neglected village. The architecture of huddled stone houses and tiled roofs here is considered to preserve the authentic, traditional Mediterranean feel, which is so rare and so valuable. In the 18th century, this place used to be a rich farming and cattle breeding area. After World War I, the epidemic decimated grapevine fields which endangered the livelihood of the people, causing a great many of them move out of their homeland. Today there are only a few dozen families left, but majority no longer live there regularly.
“Stari Grad” means ancient town in the Croatia language. For this reason, you can encounter this word in any old Croatian town, like the word “chau thanh” (meaning “the capital” in Vietnamese) in the southwestern provinces of Vietnam. The difference is that only one Stari Grad on Hvar Island is the original and is the only place with “Stari Grad” as its proper name.
With a simple green color on a rough tawny-brown stone wall background, the old town of Stari Grad is quiet but not monotonous. The various features that gently highlight each angle made us fall in love with this neighborhood right at first sight. This town is full of delicate hand-painted signs, flowers that flutter along window sills and lianas hanging down from the roofs.
A man sat down at an alley café in formal clothes, with a white hat and red shoes. Next to him, a pair of sunglasses lay spontaneously on the ground. The sales girls at the two opposite shops in the small alley took advantage of their free time to gossip, gently smiling as we slipped passed them.
St. Stephen’s parvis was awfully still on a fading sunny afternoon. The upside-down “L-shaped” wooden door frames seem to be the most unique feature of Stari Grad. The main door and windows are connected together and their colors appear faded by time. They look as if they were chasing each other through the streets, sometimes in green, sometimes in brown, looking very fun.
The pier is Stari Grad’s main hub of activity, where restaurants and cafés are adjacently located. There are no luxury yachts, but small canoes of local people. We decided to stop at a restaurant in a small alley with the faint scent of white flowers under the yellow lights. Sipping a little wine, we enjoyed the quaint atmosphere in a chilly night of Stari Grad.
One of the “makeup-free” beauty of Hvar is its clear blue beaches, listed among the most beautiful ones in Croatia. They nestle in the amazing bays of the island, sometimes surrounded by green pine forests, sometimes located at the bottom of a mountain. Perhaps because of that, they still retain the wild features and inherent natural beauty.
Wandering on the scooter along the coast, we couldn’t stop admiring the magical stretching blue. From a distance, Dubovica beach stands out in the heart of a white bay at the foot of the hill. Parked on the sidewalk, we excitedly walked down to the sea, then surprisingly discovered that the bay is covered by pebbles, not sand. Although the stones are round and lovely like eggs, they do not bring the familiar comfortable feeling as the white sand beaches that I used to know.
In return, the sea water here is uniquely clear, with no moss or dirt. Tiny schools of fish swam around and clearly visible in the water. A dog running back and forth on the beach invited us to swim. Without hesitation, I jumped into the water and suddenly shuddered because of the cold water, even though the temperature on the shore was quite hot. Although it didn’t take long for me to get used to the cold, I could not take a long soak in this crystal clear water like I did in tropical beaches.
The high slope path through lush vineyards leads us to Malo Zarace – the most famous beach Hvar island. The breathtaking natural scenery seemed to be just for us since the beach was empty on that day. The color of sea water ranges from light blue to dark blue stretching to the horizon. The beach is nestled between 2 rocky banks covered with green trees. Waves of white foam erupted onto the pebble beach.
Pokonji Dol – the largest pebble beach on Hvar Island – is probably the busiest as it is located near the old town of Hvar. You can reach it by car or on foot (about 2km). The walking path along the coast under the tall trees is impressive. There are also many restaurants, services and amenities, such as folding chairs or parasols. The small island and its old house in a distance becomes the perfect background to welcome the sunset.
After spending a day wandering around the beaches on Hvar Island, I realized that the Mediterranean beaches are breathtakingly beautiful thanks to their dreamy blue water, but they do not bring a satisfying experience since they don’t have smooth sand and warm water all year round like tropical beaches.