Outside of Dubrovnik, Hvar is the epicentre of the Dalmatian travel industry. Holidaymakers come to be around the yachts lining the harbour of the island’s namesake capital and among the revellers forking out more than top dollar (in Croatian terms) to party into the night. A massive overhaul of key hotels here, in the Sunčani Hvar chain, has been followed by a slower stage of development as the town comes to terms with its stardom.
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Things to do in Hvar
The Venetians rebuilt the town of Hvar in the early 1600s. It is centrepieced by Pjaca, or Trg sv Stjepana, the rectangular main square lined with shops and restaurants, framed by the harbour and Arsenal at one end, the market and St Stephen’s Church at the other. The church contains a treasury (open summer 10am-noon, 5-7pm daily; winter 10am-noon daily; 10kn) containing two late Renaissance paintings. The Arsenal is used as a contemporary art gallery, as well as hosting sundry cultural and prestigious local events. Above stands the Venetian Citadel (Španjola, 021 741 608; open summer 8am-midnight daily; 25kn), with a display of Greek and Roman finds, and a view from the ramparts. All is a stroll from the terrace cafés on the square. Today the most prominent sight in Stari Grad is the summer retreat of 16th-century poet Petar Hektorović, the Tvrdalj (021 765 068; open June-Sept 10am-1pm, 6-8pm daily, 10kn), known for its inscribed walls, gardens and fishpond. Nearby, a 15th-century Dominican monastery houses a museum (open summer 10am-noon, 4-7.30pm Mon-Sat; 10kn) containing other Hektorović artefacts, Greek gravestones and a Tintoretto, The Mourning of Christ, claimed to feature Hektorović himself. More Greek, Roman and maritime items are on display at the Bianchini Palace (021 766 324, www.stari-grad-museum.net; open May, Jun, Sept 10am-1pm Mon-Sat; July-Aug 10am-noon and 7-9pm Mon-Sat, 7-9pm Sun; 20kn) by the Tvrdalj. Hektorović never saw his Tvrdalj finished. As a pr
For traditional Dalmatian food with a mercurial twist, there are few better places than Giaxa, a relatively new venture from the team responsible for the highly-regarded Luna, a few doors down the same alley. Transforming local dishes with a touch of contemporary invention is Giaxa’s main strength. Creativity runs through the whole menu, and it’s a good idea to come sufficiently hungry to work your way through a full three-course meal. Signature dishes include a grilled octopus salad flavoured with pine nuts and peppercorns; while the pršut-stuffed gnocchi in asparagus sauce represent the perfect marriage between tradition and invention. Mains feature poached sea-bass stuffed with scampi and wild herbs; and lobster in tomato and white wine sauce. The gregada or Hvar fish stew is served the traditional way with juicy bones-and-all hunks of fresh fish. The delectable desserts run from chocolate mousse to the divine, melt-in-the-mouth Split cake made from nuts, sponge cake and dried fruit. In summer, look out for the daily three-course tasting menus, which make best use of what’s fresh and seasonal. Giaxa also bake their own bread. 'It’s good to feel a bit of hard manual labour in the food you eat,' says owner Tomislav Rudan. The setting is as splendid as the food, a fifteenth-century gothic palace that once belonged to the Jakša family – of which Giaxa is a Venetian-dialect rendition. A trio of stone columns run down the centre of the dining room, overlooked by brightly coloure
A lovely dining experience, partly thanks to the starlit roof terrace (accessed via the ‘stairway to heaven’) and the brightly painted dining room with walls adorned with driftwood – and partly thanks to an adventurous and well-priced menzoru. The dumplings in a mushroom and truffle sauce and flat pasta with clams, olive oil, garlic, white wine and parsley, are wonderful. And there’s not a customer – those who can afford it – who hasn’t raved over the Lobster Lunatic: lobster in tomato, white wine and brandy sauce (560kn/kg). The buzzy staff in neat blue uniforms provide patter and a gratis pâté starter with warm toast.
The heart of a growing funky scene in Stari Grad, Antika is part traditional, part laid-back modern. A hodgepodge of dining-room furniture crowds pine floors upstairs and stone tiles below; candlesticks overflow with years of coloured wax under wooden beam ceilings; and plaster walls with framed photos and faded paintings fill a house built in 1566. Outdoor tables line the alley and piazza round the corner. The food veers from grilled fish fare without subjecting you to pizza. Starters include tuna carpaccio and chicken breast salad; mains (45kn-85kn) shark in a sour cream and chives sauce, and made-to-order steak in a garlic, green pepper or stroganoff sauce. Opposite, Antika’s café-bar serves cocktails (25kn-35kn); White Russians are the speciality. Pull up a converted tractor seat downstairs or have the friendly staff pulley up your drink to the breezy terrace as you lounge on the faded orange cushion of a brown wicker couch.
Bars and clubs on Hvar
Tri Pršuta Wine Bar
Pršuta is your sanctuary when Groda is groaning elbow-to-elbow in high season. Affable owner Vidan won’t hesitate to discuss the history and/or the culinary specialities of Croatia. Wooden beamed ceilings and antique furniture surround sofas, pršut hams hangs from above. A glass of top-quality red (30kn-70kn), such as a Zlatan Plavac Grand Cru, matches perfectly with a plate of regional sheeps’ cheese or whatever Vidan decides to bring out that day and share with the room. It is not uncommon for perfect strangers to become friends and sample each other’s tipples. The wine cabinet even contains a ’47 Bourgogne. There is, at any given moment, more than 1,000 euros’ worth of wine open behind the bar – and a guitar sitting in the corner for anyone who feels the inclination.
Where to stay on Hvar
This four-star Sunčani makeover overlooking the yacht harbour is small enough to retain an intimate boutiquey feel but boasts serious amenities: a big spa complex with all the treatments and programmes (including yoga); a rooftop terrace with heated swimming pools indoor and out; and a panoramic bar. Rooms come in shades of lavender-purple in tribute to the island’s most famous herb crop; those with sea views come with excellent views of the old port. The Adriana is one of the Sunčani Hvar hotels earmarked for all-year-round opening.
Unique island retreat a taxi-boat journey from Hvar town, dunked amid the exotic botanical garden of cacti, palms and Central American succulents planted by Eugen Meneghello in the years before World War I. Still run by the Meneghello family, it’s a complex designed for relaxation, with 13 bungalows stuffed with examples of the family’s art collection, art shows on the verandah, and a stellar restaurant. Palmižana beach, just below the Meneghello’s place, can be busy with day-trippers during the day, but in the evenings and early mornings you have the whole of this uniquely calming island to yourself. You can also go diving, sailing or take an art workshop, all in one day. Stays of seven days are preferred in high season. Note also the newly opened Villa Meneghello in Hvar town.