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We had never seen a yacht so big. Docked in the gently swaying port of Hvar Town, the boat towered over its neighbors: a gigantic white structure, somehow still sleek and gleaming despite its uncanny bulk. A staircase descended from the two-story high deck onto the boardwalk. A guard stood, arms crossed, in front of a little carpet, placed so that the yacht’s owners could wipe the plebian dirt from their shoes before ascending back into their marine paradise. A few yards away listed local fishing boats, one-or two-man craft, paint chipping from exposure to the sun.
Blessed with over 300 days of sunshine each year, Hvar is the sort of place that makes most of the rest of the cities and towns touched by the Mediterranean jealous. Hvar offers some of Europe’s standard cultural fare: classic music during the Summer Festival; plays in the old Hvar Theater; and a medieval Spanish fort. But this beautiful island is mostly a place of sun and sea, a destination for the indulgence of summer pleasures.
Activity on the island is centerded in Hvar Town. Cross the French Riveria with a down-home Croatian fishing village, and you’ll get Hvar: a lively, fashionable, yet unpretentious cluster of Venetian stone buildings. Set into the hills around a harbor, the town caters to its many visitors. Al fresco restaurants beckon, umbrellas spread like giant, blooming flowers. Children with wet, salty hair stand in the square, quickly licking their gelato in a race against the afternoon heat. Shops sell everything from local wine to lavender – a specialty crop on Hvar. And presiding over the bustle is the Church of St. Stephen, a small Renaissance cathedral.
But ascend the staircases meandering back up the hill, and the commercial buzz quiets into a timeless domesticity. Dogs duck away around corners, tongues wagging. Vine-smeared verandas, built into the stairway landings, offer sliver views of the harbor. Wash lines sag in the white summer sun.
Day trips from Hvar are a short boat ride away: the famous Bol beach, widely considered one of the best in the Mediterranean, or the Pakleni Islands, which beckon just on the horizon. Fishing boats will often drop tourists on the beach for a small price, and swing back at sunset to retrieve the burnt and happy bathers.
Getting to the island from mainland Croatia is easy: a daily hydrofoil from Split moors directly at the harbor. For the budget-conscious, a car ferry takes only a few hours from Split to Stari Grad, a town on Hvar’s opposite shore.Visitors can then hop a bus to Hvar Town, or linger on the quieter side of the island.
During the day, visitors and locals alike devote themselves to the sea. We walked down an olive tree-lined concrete path, which skirted the water and ducked away back into the shade. Cicadas greeted us, their screechy violins turned on high. A few turns out of view of the harbor, and the boat moorings and tourists melted away. We found ourselves on a quiet, rocky coastline. The black stones shimmered with heat.
At night, Hvar Town puts on its best face. The seafood restaurants along the quay display their day’s catch: squid and shellfish, fresh cuts of fish, and even a tuna, bigger than a woman, splayed on slabs of ice. Everyone steps out in clothes meant to show off the day’s new tan. At narrow tables along the promenade, bars serve expensive cocktails while patrons are serenaded by a 10-piece mariachi band or a roaming guitarist. Most people simply wander, taking in the scene: light climbing the stone of the cathedral, old men smoking on the harbor wall, and the white gleam of the yachts, rocking mysteriously in the dark water.
Written by Caitlin Dwyer and Photos by Matt Bozigar for EuropeUpClose.com