Hvar Town is St. Moritz with surf instead of snow. It’s Hollywood meets Nice, Milan sophistication melded with Mediterranean relaxation, and the Las Vegas Strip transported to Tuscany. Hvar Town is a magnet for film stars, royalty, and business tycoons, as well as your average summertime backpacker.
The uniqueness of the place is that everyone looks rich and famous. It’s difficult to recognize even a well-known face because in Hvar Town a pair of Maui Jim sunglasses, designer jeans, and a look of ennui are enough for anyone to blend into the sculpted, perfumed crowd.
Make no mistake, Hvar Town has plenty of culture, much of it in the form of elegant centuries-old architecture. However, it’s really the sun, the sea, and the 21st-century social scene that pull in visitors, who make their entrances on everything from sleek yachts to catamarans packed sardine-style. Even if you’re here for the beach scene, be sure to check out St. Stephen’s Square (Trg Sveti Stjepan). Dating from the 13th century, this square is Hvar Town’s center of activity. It is bookended by St. Stephen’s Cathedral at its east end and by a small harbor to the west. The square’s borders are lined with restaurants, cafés, and galleries. A 16th-century well sits in the center of the paved space, which was redone in the late 18th century. Note that one of the main attractions, the Venetian-era arsenal and the tiny theater above it, are at press time closed for restoration; there is no fixed date for their reopening.
All beaches in Croatia are open to the public by law, giving everyone access to the sea. However, the twist in places like Hvar Town is that some businesses are opening beach bars on the coast, complete with sunbeds and umbrellas for hire at a hefty fee. The Bonj “les bains” beach club at the Hotel Amfora is a prime example. You have to pay to use the club’s stone cabanas and sunbeds, which line a concrete bathing platform affording easy access into the water. In high season, these facilities require booking several days in advance.
From Bonj “les Bains,” a 10-minute walk west along the coast brings you to Hula Hula Beach Bar (www.hulahulahvar.com; mid-May to late-Sept, daily 9am–9pm), a trendy establishment popular with the younger crowd. Sunbeds are packed close together on wooden platforms built over the rocks and a beach bar plays mainstream commercial music till sunset.
For those who like back-to-nature beaches, the best plan is to hop on a taxi-boat and head for the nearby Pakleni Otoci, a cluster of pine-forested, uninhabited islands whose coastlines are alternately rimmed with rocks and little pebble beaches (some of which are clothing-optional). Nowadays even the Pakleni beaches are coming under tight management, however, with venues like Carpe Diem Beach (www.carpe-diem-beach.com) in Stipanksa Bay on Marinkovac, which offers sunbeds for hire in a pebble cove, a bar/restaurant, an outdoor pool, massage, and late-night parties with guest DJs.
Hvar is sometimes known as “Lavender Island” because the graceful plant with silver-green foliage and a hypnotic, soothing fragrance grows in abundance here. Lavandula, as the plant is known in botanical circles, is a native of the dry Mediterranean climate, and is thought to aid peaceful sleep and soothe headaches. On Hvar, lavender is an industry, and you’ll pick up the scent as soon as you arrive because the herb is sold up and down the dock at Hvar Town. Locals sell distilled lavender oil in small bottles and lavender bags (filled with dry lavender, to put in the wardrobe) at wooden stands along the seafront. Several Hvar restaurants now serve homemade lavender ice cream as a dessert. Some of the fancy-schmancy Hvar spas (for example, Hotel Adriana’s, above) use local herbs, including lavender, in their spa treatments.
The Rest of Hvar
The glitzy enclave of Hvar Town has become synonymous with Hvar itself, but the island is also blessed with beautiful rugged landscapes and pretty villages that are perfect for lovers of nature and history.
If you hit Hvar at Stari Grad, resist the impulse to cover the 20km (13 miles) between there and Hvar Town as fast as possible, and take the time to see the land between the two. History is on display at Stari Grad, the island’s main ferry port, as at Tvrdalj, 16th-century poet Petar Hektorović’s romantic summer home, set in a fine garden.
As you leave Stari Grad, look for signs directing you to Jelsa, Hvar’s family resort town. Stroll around Old Town on the harbor, visit the Church of St. Ivan, and stop for gelato at any of the cafés that line the harbor. From Jelsa you can detour to any of the villages that dot the hilly Hvar interior for a look at lavender fields, olive groves, grazing sheep and goats, and abandoned stone dwellings. You’ll arrive at Hvar Town rested and ready to party.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.