Summer 2007: Hvar, Croatia Annabelle Thorpe In our new resort report series we look at Hvar, Croatia and get the lowdown on the best places to eat and stay
| Market square in Hvar|
When I first arrived in Hvar Town, I almost wondered if the ferry from Split had taken a wrong turn and I'd ended up in EuroDisney. The small harbourfront town is almost too picturesque to be real; shiny cobbles, a central square dominated by elegant Venetian architecture lined with white-canopied cafes and a village of terracotta-roofed houses and tiny streets clustered up the hill behind.
| Hvar from the air|
It's long been the hippest resort in Croatia - Roman Abramovich likes to cruise into town on his mega-yacht, and local hero Goran Ivanisevic is a regular at the Carpe Diem bar - but moves are afoot to create a glitzy five-star playground to rival the likes of St Tropez.
Most of this is down to one hotel chain, Suncani Hvar
who have recently been taken over and are now investing massively in the nine hotels they own on the island. Gone (or going) are the simple two and three-star accommodations, to be replaced by sleek design hotels with cocktail bars and wi-fi internet access and Ibiza-esque soundtracks on a loop.
Two have opened this summer - the Riva and the Adriana - both members of Small Luxury Hotels of the World
and already changing the profile of what had been a fairly egaliatarian tourist mix. Walking along the harbourfront I heard American backpackers, German families, clusters of mini-skirted Italians. But mostly I heard the sound of money; groups of bronzed young things knocking back Camparis and discussing their day's sailing at the Café Plajca on the harbourfront.
Hvar is an evening town; as with most Croatia resorts, it does suffer from a lack of decent beaches. If you're feeling lazy, you can stroll down, past the Riva and Carpe Diem and on round the harbour to a small shingle beach close to the Dalmacija hotel. But the best plan is to join the crowds of Croatian holidaymakers who hop on the regular boat taxis to the Pakleni islands - about 30 glorious minutes of drifting across a sea with the clarity of cut glass.
As the sun begins to set on Hvar Town, the real action begins. For many, supper is just a pitstop between early even cocktails and late-night drinks, but the vibe is laid-back and there's little in the way of clubbing. The late night action centres around Carpe Diem
which combines an elegant terrace with low, rattan sofas with a cosy lounge bar all housed in a beautiful Venetian mansion. It's definitely worth a visit, but I preferred Zimmer Frei, to the right of the main square, smaller, cosier and offering the chance to lounge on white sofa cushions in the tiny street and sip excellent Caiprinhas away from the hordes.
But perhaps one of the simplest pleasures on Hvar is taking part in the evening passagiata - with that must-have accessory, an ice-cream. The Slasticarna (the Croatian equivalent of a gelateria) served me up a fantastic combination of pistachio and chocolate, which I ate strolling between lascivious Italian couples and groups of Croatian holidaymakers. Beautiful place, beautiful people, beautiful ice-cream. What more can you want from a holiday?NEED TO KNOWEasyjet
fly from London to Gatwick to Split from approx £70 return. Jarolinija
(00 385 51 666 111) operate twice-daily ferries between Split and Hvar to take a car across costs approx £30 one-way. National Car Hire
offer a four-day hire-car package from Split airport from £117.WHERE TO STAY: HVAR The Riva
is the flagship of the Suncani Hvar chain, and it is sleekly elegant. Rooms are the usual melange of creams and cool browns, glassfronted bathrooms, rainshowers and wi-fi access. The real draw is the elegant harbourfront terrace, all cubist sofas and apron-clad waiters bringing expertly mixed Manhattans against an Ibiza-at-sunset soundtrack. Doubles from £130, but youll be lucky to get one of the standard rooms with a harbour view.
| Terrace at the Riva Hotel|
is the latest of the revamped hotels to open, located on the opposite side of the harbour to the Riva. Standard rooms are small, but there's a gorgeous rooftop terrace with suitably squidgy day-beds, and the restaurant terrace at the front of the hotel does a tip-top shrimp risotto, with a good side order of people-watching. The Sensori spa offers all manner of treatments (there are outdoor massage cabanas) and something called a Mindfulness Walk. There's a rooftop seawater pool that provokes just one question - why on earth did they build it indoors? Doubles from £185 per night.The Podstine
There are a few options besides the Suncani Hvar sleekness. The Podstine
is a fifteen-minute walk from the main square, right next to the pebble beach - being a short way out of the action can be a good thing if you're after a little peace. Doubles from £95, B&B.,
If you can't drag yourself away from the gorgeous pine-fringed beach on Palmizana and feel like missing the boat back, there is a fantastic place to stay - the Pansion Meneghello
tel. 21 717 270, has bungalows and villas, set among the trees, from around £30 pp per night.WHERE TO EATRestaurants:
Eat anywhere on the main square or harbour and you'll pay top dollar for a standard - at best - choice of fish, grilled meats and salads - and at worse, overpriced lazy dishes. Yet head just one or two streets behind and there are plenty of excellent options. Petra Hektorovica, an alleyway just behind the main square is home to a couple of good options; Macondo (21 742 850) has long been popular and is pretty top-end (and you'll have to reserve to get a table in high season) but if you like a starched tablecloths (and I do) and a slab of perfectly grilled swordfish with a zingily fresh salad, then it will hit the spot. Dinner for two from £40.
Staying on Hekotorovica, avoid the overly-praised Luna, and head instead for Zlatna Skoljka (98 168 8797), one of Croatia's only "slow-food" restaurants - which basically means good traditional food that appears at your table in its own time. All the more time to knock back a glass or two of Malvasia (good Croatian white wine) before tucking into goats cheese in olive oil and a succulent lamb stew. Seriously yummy but, being Hvar, not cheap - approx £50 for two. There are simpler options. I stumbled upon the Gostiona Kod Matkovica on a small square (Anton Markovic) just behind the Riva. It's rustic, authentic and wonderfully cheap; a vast platter of mussels, glass of local wine and cost about £8.More info: www.tzzadar.hrBeach:
The nearest thing to a beach is on the outlying Pakleni Otoci, a pine-forested archipelago buffering the town's harbour, £4 return by water taxi. The best beach is on Parmizana, with sandy stretches flanked by restaurants, its small bay dotted with yachts mooring for lunch. Idyllic, and reasonable: a four-course meal including buttery pasta with lobster and local wine cost £12 a head.
| Coastline at Hvar|
June 21 - September 30: annual summer festival, one of the Croatian coast's oldest summer events, with concerts, theatre and folk performances from Croatian and international artists. More information: www.travel-2-croatia.comTHE EXPERTS' VIEWMichael at URBAN JUNKIES writes: Sunsets
- they say that Hvar has the prettiest sunsets. Once you see the intense blue sky give way to hues of red, yellow and purple in the evening, it's hard to disagree. Lovers and honeymooners have long flocked to the island to watch the sun go down.
| Hvar and its harbour|
For our own courtship, we'd pass on the views from Cafe del Mar-esque Carpe Diem
, despite its excellent cocktails and cool scene. We'd even forego the the intimate wooden shacks that make up the atmospheric Hula-Hula bar. Instead, we'd grab a container of bevanda (red wine with water), walk south along the beach to the 15th Century Franciscan Monastery and soak up the last rays of daylight in front of the cloisters. Eating out:
Make the trek to the Mekicevica beach (10 minutes by boat or 30 minutes walking on the road towards the village of Milna), a small white pebble paradise better known as Robinson Crusoe, the name of the small improvised restaurant on site. With no electricity, you're served what's available on the day, usually a feast of fresh fish and a variety of appetisers. Pure bliss.Christina at iTRAVELiSHOP suggests: Beach
- to top up your tan in style, head to Hvar's luxury beach club, the Bonj Les Bains. The beach club is carved out from a restored 1930's stone building and is nestled under a pine grove. Book a private cabana here for total privacy, and massages are also available.Hotels:
Hvar is steadily becoming one of the hottest European party destinations - and for good reason, with its mix of sun, beaches and clubs. But choose your hotel carefully as most are functional rather than stylish. The big exception - and the best place to stay - is the Riva Hotel
, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. This boutique is on the waterfront and the rooms are playful and sexy; above your bed you'll find B&W photos of classic Hollywood icons, like James Dean. Sharon Stone, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Steven Spielberg have all stayed here. Rates start at £117. Restaurants:
You'll have to hunt to find Macondo, located on a tiny alley just off the main square, but its well worth it to sample the fresh seafood. The restaurant is named after the town in "One Hundred Years of Solitude," and the décor is understated, with stone walls, a few pieces of modern art and simple white tablecloths. Order the catch of the day or the gregada, a thick seafood soup. (2 blocks north of trg Sv Stjepna, Hvar Town. 021/742-850.
If you're looking for something more casual, try Menego
. Some of the best dishes are marinated anchovies, octopus and chickpea salad, figs stuffed with almonds, and Dalmatian ham, which is smooth and buttery. The chic set heads to Luna (1 Petar Hektoroviæa, Hvar town, Phone 385 21 741 400). The food is classics with a twist, like shrimp gazpacho and smoked salmon.Nightlife:
Some of the city's best clubs feel like they have been imported directly from Ibiza. Carpe Diem
is the biggest and best known, and has white slip-covered day beds and internationally known DJs. Expect a Euro-glam crowd, so pack your white jeans and D&G shades. If you'd rather hang out in a more casual bar, try Kiva off the main square which is favoured by the locals (and where bartenders are known to throw tequila at you). If it's after hours (say 3am) and you want to keep on partying, try Veneranda, a nightclub thats housed in a former monastery. The club is located in the midst of pine groves on a hillside overlooking the harbour.Michael at iESCAPE writes: Hotels
- our favourite is Hotel Podstine
, a romantic seafront hotel and restaurant in a secluded bay, with tables right next to the water, and a swimming pier with steps. It's 20 minutes' walk (or a short taxi-boat ride) along the coast from Hvar.Beaches:
We particularly like "Robinson beach" which is halfway to Milna along the coastal path (about an hour's walk). It has a café and sandy seabed, though the beach itself is pebbly. On the way to Robinson (40 mins' walk) you pass Pokojnyi Dol beach, popular and good for children. If you continue walking to Milna (or take a taxiboat), about 750 metres before Milna, a path leads to a spectacular beach below a cliff, one of the most secluded on the island. On Palmizana, one of the offshore islands served by taxiboat, there is a small sandy beach (the only sandy one in the area, hence it can get crowded) and a wonderful fish restaurant, Zori, which serves the best scampi buzara. They also have cabins for staying overnight.Restaurants:
Our favourite is Leporini, on a lovely Venetian street in the Groda. They serve fantastic fish, grilled or gregada, and seafood dishes, including octopus salad, black risotto made with calamari in its ink and wine, and seafood spaghetti. If you go out of season you get trad peasant food e.g. bean dishes or roast lamb, which is best ordered in advance. Another speciality is octopus "peka" (or "hobotnitsa") which is cooked "under the bell" and needs 24 hours advance notice. The best place for this is Panorama restaurant, reached by taxi. Make sure you get there before sunset to enjoy the spectacular views from the terrace. If your hotel cannot order the peka for you, go to the town tourist office and ask them to ring on your behalf.
The best out-of-the-way place is the restaurant in the almost abandoned village of Malo Grablje, run by the Tudors. It's only been open a couple of years; everything is home made and the husband and wife team running it are extremely hospitable. You can get wild boar in season. Electricity is from a generator. It's closed in winter, and taxi drivers are not very keen on driving there on account of the gravel road from Milna; it is essential to pre-arrange pick-up after dinner.
Source: http://travel.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/travel/destinations/croatia/article2125507.ece?token=null&offset=0 Formatted for CROWN by Marko Puljiæ
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