If we are ever given an opportunity to revisit just one day out of the 15 that we spent in Croatia, we would, in a heartbeat, choose our second day on the island of Hvar. It was not a day on which we saw any extraordinary monuments like in Pula, Poreč, Šibenik and Split or visited any natural wonder like Plitvice. What made this day unforgettable were the wonderful experiences like exploring abandoned medieval villages, going around the island’s lush, hilly countryside, riding our scooter full-throttle on deserted highways, sitting peacefully by secluded, little coves and taking a refreshing dip in crystal clear turquoise water.
RENTING A SCOOTER
While preparing the itinerary for Hvar, we had earmarked the first day for exploring Hvar Town – the island’s capital city – and the second day for the island itself. We needed a vehicle to travel around the island so we had booked a scooter online from Suncity as they were offering the best deal about which we have written in detail in the first blog. In the morning, we went to the rental company’s office which was located close to the centre of the town. The paperwork was done quickly, an amount of 2,000 Kuna was blocked on our credit card and finally by 10:30 a.m. we left on our scooter to discover all the secrets of the island.
AN ABANDONED VILLAGE
We have always been fascinated by abandoned medieval European villages; so when we got to know that the island of Hvar had a couple of those, we were never going to miss them for anything. The first abandoned village, Malo Grablje, was just 6 km away from Hvar Town. That short ride was not without incidents as barely 10 minutes into it Mansi was stung by a bee. Fortunately, the sting had not penetrated deep and after washing the area she felt okay to continue. We resumed our journey and soon reached Malo Grablje.
The village of Malo Grablje was exactly as we had imagined it – crumbling stone buildings, some with their roofs caved in and others missing their floors, houses covered with vegetation, overgrown pathways, numerous picturesque spots and absolute silence with not a single soul in sight. The village was abandoned in the 1950s when its residents moved to the nearby coastal town of Milna and in the intervening decades, nature had gradually started reclaiming the village.
Although most of the buildings were in a dilapidated condition, the layout of the town had been completely preserved. There were information boards that provided details of important buildings such as the olive mill, the cooperative house which was the hub of social life and the 19th century water cisterns. At the top of the village was the tiny Church of St. Theodor. The church was closed but the view of the village and the surrounding hills from the top was amazing. As we walked around the village we also found that it was not entirely deserted. Tucked away at one end of the village was a small restaurant that catered to the few tourists who were lucky enough to visit Malo Grablje. We wanted to spend more time in this eerily beautiful village which seemed lost in the past but time was not a luxury we had.
From Malo Grablje, we took the road to Stari Grad which is an important town of Hvar Island. A couple of kilometres along that road we came across Malo Grablje’s bigger cousin – the 14th century village of Velo Grablje. This village was on the verge of suffering the same fate as Malo Grablje before it was revived by a group of individuals. We took a few photos of Velo Grablje from the road and continued towards Stari Grad.
Stari Grad means ‘old town’ in Croatian. It is an apt name for a town that was settled by the Greeks in 384 BC (originally named Pharos) thus, making it one of the oldest towns in Europe. The town, situated in the island’s north, remained the most important for centuries till the Venetians moved the administration to Hvar Town in the 13th century.
After reaching Stari Grad, we parked our scooter just outside the town centre and walked to the Riva – the town’s waterfront promenade which was lined with restaurants, cafes and beautiful little squares.
We took a turn from the Riva and arrived at the Petar Hektorovic Square, named after a celebrated local nobleman and poet. Petar Hektorovic chose this site to build Tvrdalj – his summer residence, the construction of which went on from 1520 to 1569. As Turkish attacks were a tangible threat at that time, he also fortified the residence so that it could provide refuge to the citizens of Stari Grad. We bought the 15 kuna tickets and went inside the building though it turned out to be a big waste of money. There was nothing to see inside apart from a fish pond surrounded by arcades and an unkempt garden.
As we walked further inside the town, Stari Grad began to display its full charm through the stone houses, the enclosed gardens and the maze of alleys. We passed the 15th century Dominican Monastery and the adjoining Church of St. Peter which was fortified with round towers. It seems like the Turks were really feared in these parts. A short distance away from the monastery was the oldest Christian monument of the island – St. John’s Church – parts of which date from the 6th century. Behind the church was an archaeological complex which contained remnants of walls and other structures from the Greek era.
Next, we reached the St. Stephen Square which was the hub of the town during the medieval era and definitely looked and felt medieval. The square was dominated by the Church of St. Stephen and its bell tower. During the 11th and 12th centuries, the Church of St. Stephen was the island’s first cathedral, but like everything else of note, the cathedral was also shifted to Hvar Town. The current church was constructed in the early 17th century. The bell tower was erected in 1753 and the interesting thing about it is that its ground floor was built with stone blocks recovered from the walls of the ancient Greek city of Pharos. The place where the church and the bell tower stands today was once the entrance to Pharos.
During our exploration of the town, we found it to be quite sleepy and almost devoid of tourists which suited us just fine. We ended our tour of Stari Grad at Škor – a gorgeous square surrounded by historical stone houses on all sides. (2856 (Church of St. Stephen and its bell tower))
IN THE WATER
Despite having been to 7 coastal towns in Croatia we had not gotten a chance to dip our feet in the water, but the indented coastline of Hvar that is dotted with a multitude of sun-soaked beaches gave us a chance to correct this wrong. We had read about a beautiful little beach called Žukova which lay further to the north of Stari Grad so we set about in search of this beach. En-route we halted for 5 minutes at the tiny but charming village of Rudina which has a population of less than 20.
We never did find any sign for Žukova Beach but as we continued down the road, we found a sign in a small clearing that said Zavala Bay. We parked our scooter in the clearing and a short 10-minute walk got us to the little beach which, like most beaches in Croatia, was pebbly. It was surrounded by woods and was completely empty, apart from 4-5 boats out in the bay, which gave us a feeling of being on a private beach. We spent about 15 minutes in the cold but crystal-clear water and then relaxed in this secluded paradise for some time while munching on the lunch we had got packed from a bakery in Stari Grad. After a while, we reluctantly left the beach, hiked back up to the road and left for Jelsa.
Jelsa, although the second largest town of the island, was just as sleepy as Stari Grad and it took us only 20 minutes to cover the important sights of the town. We started our visit from the main square, Square of Croatian Renaissance, locally known as Pjaca which was situated right across the scenic harbour. Adjacent to this square was St. John’s Square – the loveliest and oldest square of the town. In the middle of this square stood the small octagonal Church of St. John featuring different architectural styles. Next, we visited St. Mary’s Church which is the most prominent church in the town due to its bell tower and finished our visit by taking some photos at the harbour.
ONE LAST VILLAGE
We started our day at the abandoned village of Malo Grablje and ended it at the abandoned village of Humac. From the first look itself, it became apparent that Humac was very different from Malo Grablje. The latter had an authentic quality about it while Humac looked sort of staged, like a movie set. It was definitely more touristy with a proper restaurant and a few tourists around. The rustic stone houses of the village were undeniably amazing and we would have liked them more if we hadn’t already been to Malo Grablje. At the end of the village was its most important structure – the late 19th century Church of St. John and Paul which is still used on the feast day of the saints. As we continued on the path beyond the church we came across a 19th century guardhouse. Further ahead was a viewpoint where a telescope had been installed. Humac is situated at an altitude of 350 m hence the viewpoint provided a magnificent panoramic view of the island.
THE JOURNEY BACK
There were still a couple of destinations remaining in our itinerary but there was no time to visit them since we had to return our scooter to the rental company before it closed at 7 p.m. So we rode directly from Humac to Hvar Town all the while regretting our late start in the morning. The road from Humac to Jelsa was full of twists and turns since it passed through a hilly terrain while the road from Jelsa towards Stari Grad was straight and surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. The entire stretch was almost deserted and there were moments where the accelerator could be cranked up to full.
The highlight of this terrific ride came shortly after Stari Grad when we emerged from a long tunnel to a breathtaking view of the azure sea. A short distance down the road was a small clearing from where the trail to one of Hvar’s most famous beaches – Dubovica – began. We did not have time to visit the beach but we did take a few photos from that clearing. From this point onwards to Hvar Town the ride was extremely beautiful with an uninterrupted view of the open sea on one side. After reaching Hvar Town we refuelled our scooter and returned it to the agency at 6:50 p.m., in the nick of time. As we walked back to our apartment, we reflected on what had been a truly memorable day.