A Return To Croatia
This was a spur of the moment trip. The original plan had been to go to Miami or Hawaii but time constraints limited options to Europe. I travelled down the coast of Croatia in September last year, from Vodice to Split, then into Bosnia (Mostar and its bridge) and down to Dubrovnik – which acted as a staging point for a trip into Montenegro (the amazing Kotor). One place I’d wanted to get to back then but couldn’t due to distance and limited ferries was the island of Hvar.
So that was my choice for this trip.
Quick click-and-fly from my local airport in Bristol straight into Split. It was a 4 o’clock in the morning start to get a 6.30 A.M. flight but it meant that you were sitting down for a bite to eat and coffee in a cafe in Diocletian’s palace before it was even 12 Noon local time.
There are two ferries to get to Hvar. One is a big lumbering vehicle ferry that drops you off 20 KM from Hvar town (on the island). The other is a faster catamaran that goes straight into Hvar Town harbour and you can walk on almost opposite Diocletian’s palace. Being May it only runs twice a day, 2pm and 4pm, and I could not get tickets in advance.
The hotel (Podstine) was amazing, and arranged for a taxi driver to buy my ticket from the Jadrolinija office in Split, then drive out to get me from the airport when I landed, and bring me into Split – dropping me off where the Catamaran launches and handing me my ticket. Mr Darko. He was like some super friendly favourite uncle from childhood.
Hanging around Split for a couple hours was nice: not sure how much time it would be worth staying there for as the city itself feels more like a transit point. Diocletian’s palace is worth an afternoon and evening of your time, basically a medieval town within ancient walls.
The catamaran to Hvar is small. They serve coffee, alcohol and some snacks.
Docking at Hvar you feel like you have sailed into Game of Thrones. A lovely collection of buildings spill across steep slopes, grey rock and luscious green forest remind you this is a sparsely populated place. Hvar Town is wonderfully small and easy to enjoy.
They have a distinct dislike of stag parties or hen dos.
My hotel was the sublime Podstine, 20 minute walk along the island shore and the furthest from the town. The hotel were at the harbour to meet and greet me with a free pick-up service.
Podstine hotel perches on the edge of cliffs and tumbles down in organised fashion (three floors of rooms) to a dining area, coffee bar, spa with sauna and gym and small outdoor pool. Beyond this is a labyrinth of grottoes, terraces and comfortable seating areas where you can bask in sunlight or shade. Staff regularly move through to see if they can get you anything, food and drinks are available all day. Next door is the Viking diving centre. Very good. Further down from the grottoes and terraces you reach the sea and a private beach. There is no sandy shores on this island, so they have constructed a concrete wharf with sun loungers and easy access to the sea. It is a really, really good hotel. And the staff cannot do enough to help you or make you feel comfortable.
When I was booking the trip both Podstine and the Amfora came up as contenders. The Amfora is closer to town, much larger and gregarious – ideal if you’re young and looking to party. My choice was based on isolation and space to switch off.
The Podstine has an idyllic absence of children. I wasn’t here to travel much or explore. Days developed a routine. Waking up in total darkness with blackout curtains blocking the sun. Bathroom. Find clothes. Pad downstairs for inclusive breakfast (nothing fancy but a good range if you are not a fussy eater). Boots on, sling backpack over shoulder and head out along the coastal path for a 20 minute walk into Hvar Town – a very beautiful walk close to the water with views of nearby islands, low forest covered mounds; the water is cobalt blue but turquoise by the shallows – and you can just dive in anywhere if you want. The shores are dotted with concrete jetties and stainless steel ladders going down into the water to service anybody who wants to swim. Fantastic sense of personal freedom.
Reaching the town and crossing the main square there is a good choice of cafes. But my attention is higher up. Head up steep steps to the base of the Spanjola Fortress hillside, follow switchback paths that lead up to the main gate of this massive structure that dates back to the 1500s. It is an enjoyable location to visit and nose around, the views are spectacular, and the cafe bar is small and lovely. I went there every day. It costs 30 KN (3 euros, 3 quid) to get in but keep your ticket and you can go back as many times as you like.
Tvrđava Španjola (Spanish Fort) was constructed following the gunpowder explosion in 1579 which devastated the old fortress.
Cafe bar situated within the heart of Tvrdava Španjola, perched on a hillside overlooking the harbour. This is where I wrote the first chapter of Shadows of the Quantinex, a novel to be based on the epic, globe-spanning campaign book for Yellow Dawn The Age of Hastur.
The view. Tvrdava Španjola. After a couple hours writing I’d grab a beer and sit on the walls with my headphones on and just gaze at the view. That’s pretty much the entirely of Hvar Town below. Small. Just lovely.
Around noon I am walking back to the hotel to spend the afternoon by the water, alternating between swimming in the sea or sprawled on a sun lounger. Later afternoon I am taking strong coffee up to my room to sit on balcony in shade and do some writing. Evening stroll into town to eat. More restaurants than you can shake a stick at and every one I went to was beyond good The food is fantastic. As is the service. Lovely place. Lovely people.
I had to get the 6.30 a.m. catamaran back to Split to get flight direct to Bristol. The hotel prepared a take-away breakfast and gave me a free ride down to the harbour. Standing there, the sun began to split between gaps in the nearby islands, flooding parts of the harbour with golden light. Magical.
- If you’re travelling to Hvar then be very careful about how you time your arrival and departures because the ferries are not particularly frequent. But they are super cheap. About 5 euros / 5 quid one way for an hour crossing between Split and Hvar.
- Arrive in Split or Dubrovnik, and then use the ferry to bounce either up or down the coast taking in Hvar for a few days on the way. Ferry between Hvar and Dubrovnik costs around 12 euros / 12 quid one way for a 4 hour crossing.
- Don’t base your plans on any long range weather forecast – or rather, don’t be put off by the threat of heavy rain. The day before I flew the forecast was for four days of thunder and lightening. Weather in this area is highly unpredictable but sun, and lots of it, is the norm. So despite the bad forecast the weather was brilliant.
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