Beautiful sights and incredible culinary experiences are not in short supply along Croatia’s sun-drenched Dalmatian Coast, but the island of Hvar offers the most impressive mix of historic architecture, natural beauty, great restaurants and delightful wines.
Most visitors will go to Hvar town for its cobbled streets and Venetian plazas, as well as its beaches and bars.
In high season, the local population of 3,000 can easily swell to above 30,000, turning the quiet getaway into a crowded sea of sun-worshipping, often alcohol-fueled revellers in July and August.
For a more laid-back experience, venture to historic Stari Grad, one of Europe’s oldest towns. It was here in the 4th century BC that Greek colonists from Paros settled and set up the nearby Stari Grad Plain, an almost unaltered agricultural landscape that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008. Today it’s a quaint town with cafés and galleries.
With nights running late in Hvar town and no ‘must eat’ breakfast spots, start the day light and save room for lunch and dinner options. Hotels like Riva offer a solid breakfast selection that includes fresh local fruits and a quiet, picturesque view of the harbour.
When it comes to sweets, head down the narrow alleys behind the Riva to Nonica (“Grandma”), a tiny patisserie with a selection that is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. For local favorites, try the Medenjok, biscuits with honey, herbs and spices, and Smokvenjok, made with local figs.
For a snack or breakfast on-to-go, stop by the small market off Hvar’s town square near the bus station for a selection of fresh, locally-grown produce that comes directly from the farms.
Fresh figs are a must! It’s also a good spot to pick up some tasty souvenirs, like honey, olive oil or herbs.
Situated along the waterfront in Stari Grad’s old town, Restaurant Apolon stands out for both its relaxed vibe and amazing menu with fresh, seasonal ingredients that are grown from primarily organic producers on the island.
Tuna Carpaccio and Tagliolini with Smoked Salmon are just a couple of examples of what can be found here, in addition to the daily fresh lobster, shrimp and fish catches. Service is personalized and the views from the terrace over the bay are splendid.
On the south side of the island in Sveta Nedjelja, Tamaris has spectacular views of the sea and a menu focused on fresh seafood and Italian dishes. A good choice for a lunch break between winery visits.
For a beautiful view as the sun goes down on Hvar’s old town, the terrace at Kod Kapetana (At the Captain’s House) can’t be beaten.
Catch something from the fresh fish display outside, or select from menu favourites like octopus salad, grilled calamari or a nicely prepared whitefish. The food is a little overpriced, but worth it for the view.
Some of the best cuisine can be found tucked along the cobbled alleys north of the main square, where Giaxa remains a top choice. Housed in a 15th century stone palace, the menu adds a contemporary twist on classic Dalmatian cuisine, where fresh local seafood and vegetables pair with an extensive wine list.
The Dalmatian Brodeto, a fish stew, is a traditional favourite with a modern flair and their contemporary fish dishes and the highly regarded oysters from nearby Ston are solid choices. Check out the three-course menus offering the best of the season in summer and don’t skip out on the freshly baked bread.
Viticulture on Hvar dates back to the ancient Greeks and is one of the main reasons to visit the island. Winemakers predominantly produce wines from indigenous grapes, some of which are only grown on the island.
The most notable varietal is Plavac Mali, an ancestor of the Napa Valley Zinfandel, while the local Pošip, Bogdanuša, Darnekuša, and Parč definitely warrant a taste.
Just outside the town of Jelsa, the Tomić family boasts over 150 years of winemaking. Winemaker Andro Tomić spent twenty years abroad working and training, mainly in France, and returned to the island to lead a rebirth of local wine culture with a particular emphasis on Plavac Mali and Prošek, a delightful Dalmatian dessert wine. Tastings take place in a stone wine cellar modelled after the ancient Roman dining rooms.
Carić Vrboska 211, Vrboska
The small, family-run Carić winery once involved going through a number of small hills and hamlets to one final, narrow stone-paved road in a rustic village to where the family lived and worked.
Now there’s an easy to find shop and tasting room in the village of Vrboska. They’re known for their Plovac Ploški, made from the Plavac Mali varietal, a light and fresh Bogdanuša, and a Cesarica, which blends Marastina and Kuč.
Plenković Put Stjepana Radića 3, Sveta Nedjelja
Located along the steep and sunny slopes on the southern side of Hvar island, the Plenković family winery produces Zlatan Otok wines and known for an undersea cellar. Plavac Mali and Pošip are favourites here.
During the day, Hula Hula is a good place to lounge lazily on the beach with cocktails or a little bite by the sea.
When evening comes, it’s a magnificent spot to catch the sunset before the seaside dance floor fills into the early hours.
Just a short walk from the catamaran, the sleekly-designed Riva Hvar Yacht Harbour Hotel offers modern design, a terrace restaurant, views of the yacht harbour and friendly staff. Rooms facing the harbour can come with some late-night noise from the nearby bars.
Overlooking the harbour from the west side, the four-star Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel is small enough to maintain a boutique feel, yet offers a large spa, pools and incredible views from its rooftop terrace. Like Riva, it’s a part of the Sunčani Hvar hotel group.
This 19th-century neoclassical Heritage Villa in Stari Grad was once the residence of a prominent Croatian archaeologist and historian, Don Šime Ljubić. Today this pink gem offers four suites and three superior rooms with wood floors and plush beds.
Most rooms offer a view of the bay, as does the restaurant terrace, and it’s just a short walk from the heart of this historic town. It’s absolutely best place to stay and eat in the town.
Zac Steger is an American photographer and writer whose writing has appeared in outlets such as AFAR, German Life, The Globe and Mail, and Highroads. He spent a summer studying German at Universität Lüneburg before earning a degree in Germanic Studies, Geography & History from Indiana University, Bloomington.
No matter where he’s travelling, he’s likely to have his sights set on a local restaurant, atmospheric café, great patisserie or local chocolate shop. He has both eaten ice cream and cake as a meal and will not rule out doing it again.
Visit Zac’s travel and lifestyle website to read more about his travels.