Croatia is renowned for its stunning islands which number more than 700 but our itinerary only allowed us enough time to visit one of them. Well, in reality, the choice wasn’t so wide. We had to choose an island which lies between the cities of Split and Dubrovnik and could engage us for two days, so it came down to three options – Brač, Hvar and Korčula. They are three of the most famous islands of Croatia with each offering something different. After long deliberations and going through many blogs, we came to the conclusion that it was Hvar that suited us the most. In the past few years, Hvar has been marketed primarily as a party destination but after spending two days exploring the island we found that it was an unfair categorization as Hvar had so much more to offer than its bars and nightclubs.
ARRIVAL IN HVAR
Our ferry from Split left at 11:30 a.m. and took around an hour to reach Hvar Town – the island’s capital that also shares its name. We had booked two rooms at Apartment Velada which was situated in a residential neighbourhood just 10 minutes away from the harbour. Our rooms were spacious and tidy but not among the best that we had stayed at in Croatia. After completing the formalities with the owner we had a delicious lunch at a restaurant situated almost next door to our apartment post which we started our tour of the Hvar Town.
THE FORTRESS ON THE HILL
The most prominent monument of Hvar Town is its fortress, known as Fortica, which dominates the town from the top of a 100 m high hill. The construction of the fortress started in 1282 when the Venetians shifted their capital from Stari Grad, another city on the island, to Hvar Town. After centuries of delay and changes in the structure, the construction finally finished in 1551. The fortress is also referred to as Španjola (Spanish Fortress) because of the involvement of some Spanish military engineers in the construction process. For the citizens of Hvar, the fortress was a godsend as it provided them shelter when their town was attacked and burnt down by the Turks in 1571. In addition to the fortress, the town was also protected by walls that started from the fortress and ran down the hill.
We decided to get the task of climbing up to the fortress out of the way while we were at our freshest. The climb started from the main town square which we reached by walking along the beautiful seafront promenade, passing a small beach and the 15th century Franciscan Monastery on the way.
We started the ascent from the main square at 3:30 p.m. and reached the fortress in about 20 minutes. The climb, which included some stairs followed by a winding, gently inclined path, was not very tough. Additional motivation was provided by the views which progressively got better as we kept climbing higher.
After reaching the top, we bought our tickets and walked around the fortress marvelling at the stupendous views from its bastions and tower. The town of Hvar, spread out below us in all its glory, and the sparkling sea beyond it dotted with lush green islands was a sight to behold. Apart from the views, the other highlights of the fortress were a small prison and a museum. A narrow and steep flight of stairs led down to the prison where the tiny, claustrophobic cells made us pity the people who had to spend time in them. In the museum, the main display was an ancient collection of amphorae which were recovered from the many shipwrecks that had happened around the coast of Croatia. It took us almost an hour to explore the fortress and we were back in town by 5:15 p.m.
THE LARGEST SQUARE IN DALMATIA
The public life in Hvar Town revolves around its main square – St. Stephen’s Square – which is the largest in Dalmatia. The square, located next to the harbour was encircled by elegant medieval buildings chief among which were the St. Stephen’s Cathedral and its bell tower, Arsenal, City Loggia and palaces of Paladini and Užižić.
Out of all the buildings that surround the square, Arsenal had the most interesting history. The building was originally constructed in the early 14th century as a maintenance shipyard for Venetian ships and galleys. After being burnt down by the Turks in 1571, the building was reconstructed in 1611. In 1612, further additions were made to the building which included a warehouse, a large terrace called Belvedere, and a theatre which was the first public theatre in Europe.
AN EVENING STROLL
One of the ‘To Do’ things in Hvar Town is taking a stroll in the evening on the promenade around the town’s harbour that is lined with boats and yachts. So as the sun started going down, we left the square and headed westward. Soon we understood why this activity is so famous with the locals. Small churches and tiny, secluded rocky outcrops along the path coupled with breathtaking views of the town bathed in the golden light of the setting sun made for a memorable experience. We sought out one such rocky outcrop and settled down to witness a magnificent sunset.
We continued our walk for sometime after the sunset and then retraced our steps to St. Stephen’s Square. By this time the darkness had set in and the town was awash with the glow of yellow lights while high up on the hill, the fortress gleamed against the night sky. We took some night shots around the square and then ended the day with the most delicious dinner of our trip at Restaurant Fig.