Tucked away in a placid corner of the Mediterranean, Croatia is place of sparkling natural beauty and ancient roots. On a mission to uncover its complex cultural deposits and plunge into rocky coves of ocean delight, I led a sun-seeking troop to the island of Hvar.
A ferry ride from the coastal town of Spilt, sunny Hvar is the prodigal son of the Dalmatian islands. Inhabited since neolithic times, the island has nurtured the culture of the Greeks, allowed the domination of the Romans then the Byzantines, flourished as a Venetian trading post, collapsed back in the arms of the Byzantines, joined its neighbor Croatia/Hungary, was swept up by Napoleon then seized by the Austrians, occupied by the Italians, repressed by the communists…Pretty much everyone got a turn.
And yet, away from the bustle of Hvar Town, there is a tranquility and wild beauty that endures the sweep of armies and conquering heroes. I found a lovely villa nestled in the hill overlooking the peaceful harbor village of Jelsa, about twenty minutes from the mega-yachts and party-til-sunrise beach clubs of Hvar Town. We arrived late in the season and most of the tourists had decamped, leaving a satisfied local population and a gentle mood. In front of the house, a staircase twisted through the neighbor’s kitchen garden and led to the little pebble beach where invisible water lapped the stones. The scent of pine trees and salt breeze filled the rooms.
In the morning, we walked to the quay where the night fisherman hauled in their catch. We bought whatever they had. It was all over by seven am. By eleven am, we had finished swimming and collecting combustibles for the large wood oven on the terrace where we feasted al fresco on grilled seafood and nightshades.
We explored eerie caves used since the iron age for mysteries beyond our grasp, swam in the cleanest, clearest water in the Mediterranean, foraged wild figs at every turn and discovered rich layers of history in the town of Starigrad. The food was good and delightfully simple, a mix of Greek, Italian and potatoes. When we could tear ourselves away from the call of the sea, we packed a picnic and headed to the interior to wander arid lavender fields quilted with ancient stone terraces. There was no one but the wind in these places, and the ghosts of four thousand years of humanity.
Thank you Susie, Hicham, Lulu, Dmitry, and Dexter for traveling to the far reaches of Europe to discover this Adriatic wonderland.
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