JELSA, CROATIA – CIRCA AUGUST 2016: beautiful view of the town of Jelsa on the island of Hvar in Croatia circa August 2016 in Jelsa.
@ Nowak Lukasz

Top 10 things to do in Jelsa

Yield to the Jelsa lifestyle

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Written by
Lara Rasin
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Jelsa sits atop a bay on the north coast of Hvar and it’s the only (but little-known) spot on the island with an abundance of sea water, fresh water and rich vegetation. Jelsa isn’t only underrated for its natural beauty. 30 kilometres away from central Hvar’s Pink Champagne and Hula-Hula nightlife scene, the pace and way of life in Jelsa is laganini – relaxed, slow and no-stress.

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Held each summer, this festival is named after Croatian classical composer (and Jelsa native) Antun Dobronić, who in his decades-long career composed eight symphonies, six ballets and 12 cantatas – among many others. The fest includes his and other Croatian creatives’ works of music, theatre, art and literature. Catch them on the 16th-century Square of St. John and in the adjacent Church of the Assumption of Mary.

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Jelsa Wine Fair (Fešta vina) usually takes place each August to honour fine wine and cuisine of Hvar – a lot of which are, unsurprisingly, sea-centric. During this celebratory time, Jelsa hotels and other establishments blast music as a soundtrack for town-wide dancing, group games and snacking at endless food and wine stands, while the squares and local cinema turn their spaces over to musicians, including klape, Dalmatian a cappella groups protected by UNESCO.

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In the middle of Jelsa’s main square (and probably anywhere in Croatia), it’s hard not to succumb to the local coffee culture. Head to always-bustling café Tarantela with an expansive terrace and Dalmatian décor. Here, treat yourself to affordable cocktails, drinks or coffees, with awe-striking views of the Adriatic by your side. Tarantela also doubles as one of the town’s pre-gaming hubs. Prices in Jelsa will be cheaper than in Hvar’s most-visited hotspots.

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Located just four kilometres east of Jelsa’s center is St. Luke’s bay, also known as Crikvica. In the bay, named after the tiny Church of St. Luke nestled within the bay’s cape, you’ll find a peaceful pebble beach. The bay was also once home to Romans – and features ancient ruins which you can still view. Dive into crystal-clear waters and dry off under the shade of Mediterranean pine trees all while ogling views of nearby Brač island.

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To the west of Jelsa, Starigrad Plain is a cultural landscape that has been active since the ancient Greek times (the 4th century B.C., to be exact). As you walk through the UNESCO-protected area, feast your eyes on characteristic chora (dry stone wall boundaries), which demonstrate how the Greeks of antiquity once divided their land and practiced agriculture – in particular, grapes and olives. The crops are still organically and traditionally grown in Jelsa to this day.

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Rent a car or bike to Grapčeva Cave, located about 13 km southeast of Jelsa. The cave contains prehistoric ceramics and the oldest depiction of a boat in Europe which dates to between 5000 and 4000 BC. It’s also one of the oldest archeological sites in the Mediterranean. Grapčeva Cave is sprinkled with thousand-years-old hanging stalactites and grounded stalagmites – making it easier for you to bump your head, but all the more beautiful.

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Municipality Day, celebrating Jelsa’s designation as a Hvar municipality, is celebrated in the town every August 15. This doubles as the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The festivities kick off during the day with a traditional ceremonial procession. Later comes a large-scale banquet followed by evening entertainment (think mini-concerts and shows) and a fireworks display. Prepare to celebrate well past midnight.

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Jelsa’s picture-perfect Perivoj is a public garden created in 1870. Sweet-smelling Mediterranean flora bespeckles the entire park: think poplars, palms and pines, along with acacias and oleanders, and much more greenery and colour. Find a sculpture homage by sculptor Slavomir Drinković to composer Antun Dobronić within the gardens as well as a piece by the renowned Ivan Rendić.

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Located a short five kilometres away from Jelsa, the Luda Koka nightclub (Crazy Chicken, in translation) frequently welcomes both locals and tourists from Jelsa. A fantastic outlet to let loose, the club boasts a spacious and open-air dance floor surrounded by smoothed stone walls. A bonus perk? Luda Koka’s tasty but cheap cocktails won’t break the bank.

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Jelsa’s Rubin farm is a family-owned establishment that eager tourists flock to every summer. The Rubins produce a variety of agricultural goods such as olives, homemade wine, prošek (dessert wine), brandy and figs – but their most treasured product is the locally produced honey. Types of honey on offer include Dalmatian flavours like rosemary, sage and lavender.

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