Island day! If there were places perfectly suited to explore by boat, the Dalmatian coast is surely on the list. There are so many islands, so many harbours, so many places perfectly suited to berth, alight, and drink it all in. And I haven’t even mentioned the glorious waters that envelope it.
Understandably, our 5 tonne, no sails, land borne monster is a little out of its depth. We’ve decided to remedy this with a ferry side trip to the island of Hvar, listed often as “the pearl of the Adriatic”. This entails some serious focus on the timetable as it’s season, time and day of week driven. And to add to the challenge, there’s one service there, a different one back. Between Chris, me and the tourist office, we determine that we can take the 11.30 am ferry over and catch the 7.15 pm back. So far so good.
We’re up bright and early to get ready and catch the bus in time, getting into Split just after 10 am. It’s here we unravel a little. The ferry ticket office says there’s no 11.30 am ferry – that only runs at certain times of year within a season. And we’ve just missed the 10 am ferry. The next one is at 2 pm. *Sigh*, ok, 2 pm it is. I’m not missing an island that guide books list as “if you see only one island, see Hvar”.
Luckily, we’re in the utterly gorgeous Split with no end of options to keep us busy. We hike back to the markets to explore in a little more detail.
In addition to the home grown produce we saw yesterday, there’s another whole layer of enterprising home made industry – home made wine by the litre, home made olive oil, a rich vibrant green, dried fruits, jams, rose hips, dried herbs for tinctures and teas and Chris’s favourite, roast meats of every description with roast potatoes to match. If we weren’t due on a boat, I know he’d be taking a haul home from there.
Because it’s morning, the fish market is also open, on the other side of town. Once again, these are small stalls with the fishermen’s catch of the morning.
You really have to admire the locals in their enterprise. The fish is so perfectly fresh, there’s barely a hint of fishyness in the air. Above, hopeful seagulls wait patiently for the cleanup, and perhaps the occasional dropped sardine.
We also find the Vestibule, an antechamber to the Palace where guests would wait to be received by the Emperor. With its domed roof open to the skies, the acoustics are excellent, being used to good effect by this local singing group.
It seems to be a Croatian thing, bursting into song periodically – we’ve come across it a few times.
Also a new find, are the remnants of an intricate mosaic floor.
Lunch time sees us in the harbour and finally, I find another favourite food – homemade stuffed peppers.
There must be a grandmother in the kitchen – they’re excellent, made with the tiny capsicums find here. Chris has a boring sandwich and, I suspect, a side of ordering regret.
It’s finally time to board the catamaran which takes us to Hvar. The journey takes about an hour. It passes peacefully, with only the occasional sighting of a yacht once the shoreline recedes.
Alighting in Hvar, it’s immediately clear its reputation is richly deserved. It’s another white stone jewel, with azure blue seas, a veritable flotilla of ocean faring yachts and deep sea fishing boats, a harbour full of restaurants, all offset by a 15th century fort high on the hill. With a 150 year tradition of tourism, Hvar has it all. I fall immediately in love, all over again.
We wander around for a while taking the sights in, but it’s clear that most laneways lead uphill to the fort. Even so it takes a bit of nudging to get Chris to make yet another climb.
The views are worth it, ever improving, the higher we go.
The Venetian’s finished building the Fort in the 16th century, but it was started much earlier, in the 13th century, sat upon a Byzantine citadel from the 6th century.
The Venetian stamp is here still, in the winged lion holding a Bible, the symbol of Venice.
We explore for a while, finding cannons, the prison, a haul of ancient amphora and serving utensils found in a shipwreck in the harbour and various strategic defence posts, but at every turn, the views are the highlight.
We learn about the history of the Fort, including its key deployment in 1571 when it sheltered and saved the residents from Turkish invaders, who set the town on fire. Unfortunately, eight years later, lightning struck the gunpowder store creating a major explosion with extensive damage to the Fort and town below. According to local legend, once the Hvar lost it’s strategic importance in the mid 19th century, the Fort is now left “for the fairies to dance at night”.
Eventually, it’s time to descend and explore the rest of Hvar. We see the Benedictine monastery,
lap the harbour, admire the beautiful Venetian architecture and visit a few churches,
most of which are unfortunately closed. It doesn’t take anything away from the day: Hvar has us both under her spell.
Eventually it’s time to settle for afternoon drinks. Cocktails harbourside are just the thing.
Busy to start with, late afternoon comes with a frenzy of activity as smaller cruise ships, luxury yachts and charter boats arrive for the evening. It’s a spectacular sight and highly entertaining to watch.
We debate dinner and eventually opt to eat here. You just can’t beat the beauty of this view, especially as the sun sets behind it. There’s no end to good food in Croatia and tonight’s meal is no exception. Chris falls on his chops like he hasn’t eaten in a month whilst I have tagliatelle with shrimp in a white wine sauce.
It’s all too soon we have to leave. Luckily, the ferry is a little late, which means I get to capture a few last twilight shots. Hvar didn’t take long to capture our hearts. What an utterly perfect spot.