My favourite time of year to go abroad is when the remnants of summer are finally starting to fade and the hundreds of photos on Facebook slowly start to return to the more mundane of activities, rather than albums full of cocktails and beaches. Chasing the last of the summer sun is something I’ve done for the past couple of years and really enjoyed. Just before the new term starts, we would jet off for a last minute session by the pool – providing a much needed refresh before the work piles in.
This year, I started researching my late summer break fairly early on (back in March) and eventually stumbled upon some reviews of the city of Hvar, just off the coast of Split in Croatia. Working its way up the popularity ranks in previous years due to its love for music festivals, Croatia is fast becoming a tourist hotspot – however there are some parts which are relatively untouched and undiscovered, so for the most part – you get the best of both worlds!
Lauren and I booked our flights and jetted off for a week of relaxation, beautiful views and sun.
Welcome to Hvar
After a short two-hour flight from Gatwick to Split, we exited the airport rather promptly and hopped on board the shuttle bus to the port. While Split as a place has had rave reviews, the majority of tourists are heading off to one of the islands – so these buses get pretty packed up. A mere 30 kuna (£3) will buy you a single ticket all the way to where you need to go and within half an hour, you’ve arrived.
With our ferry not scheduled to leave for another few hours, we took temporary residence in a cafe along the harbour – watching our new surroundings whizz by with adoring fascination. The scent of freshly baked pastries constantly permeated the air teasingly (we’d cleverly parked ourselves in front of a bakery) – intriguing mammoth looking creations which were unfortunately laden with dairy, otherwise I would have dived straight in!
Eventually, it was time to board our rather swanky ferry (complete with wifi, would you believe) for the hour and 10 minute journey to Hvar. We booked via Jadrolinija online, which was a really affordable and easy way of doing it – however there are booths to purchase your tickets on the day itself.
A short while later and we pulled into Hvar, already bustling with very well dressed yacht-goers, whose incredible Simon Cowell-esque ships lined the port. Although I’d read online that it was a place for the wealthy, I hadn’t quite imagined how beautiful both the architecture and the people would be. It’s certainly a place for people watching, photo taking and digging out your best dress! There’s almost an Italian feel to the place, with stone cobbles and painted pastel balconies, however it’s more relaxed and there’s a cool breeze which wipes away any humidity.
Where to stay
There are plenty of accommodation options in Hvar, catering for a variety of budgets, tastes and scenarios. The majority of the best rated hotels reside within the Suncani family – who own Riva, favoured by yacht goers for its prime location in the bustling harbour, Adriana – a boutique spa hotel with a romantic feel and an amazing location overlooking the port. And then there’s the Amfora Grand Beach Hotel – which happens to be where we stayed for the duration of our trip.
Situated in a private bay, the hotel offers a cascading infinity pool to relax and unwind at during the day – and then an amazingly photogenic white beach club Bonj Les Bains – which comes alive at night with a Mediterranean/LA luxury feel. If there was ever a place perfect for a wedding – this would be it!
Many of the rooms cast out over the incredible views that the sweeping hotel offers, snaking its way around the bay to make the most of what Hvar has to offer. We did find that the ocean view rooms are a little on the small side if there’s two people staying for more than a couple of nights, so very kindly – the hotel moved us to a larger two bedroom suite, which was more comfortable and offered a great deal more privacy.
However, everything else has been greatly perfected to the last detail – even the incredible breakfast buffet which caters for every diet, taste and favoured cuisine you could possibly think of. I usually really struggle to eat breakfast when I’m abroad thanks to being dairy and egg free, however the Amfora had an entire section dedicated to alternative milks. While I usually have to settle for soya milk, here I had the choice between oat, rice and coconut. It was really reassuring to know that we were catered for!
The pool area is vast – so despite the number of guests, you’ll never be without a sunbed! If you get there early enough, you can even bag your own little private sunbathing ‘mini island’ at the edge of the water – our favourite of which was right by the bar – offering ‘Summer Kiss’ cocktails on tap! Oh yes please!
During our stay, the guests were a mix of young island hoppers who’d hired out the family boat for the summer, newly weds (one of whom we saw get married during our stay – and we were also there to witness the en mass hangover the next day) and families, each of whom are there to relax and enjoy the incredible surroundings.
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Where to eat
I love my food – but with a restricted diet due to my egg and dairy intolerance, I have to be extra careful while I’m abroad. Luckily, Lauren is vegan – so our diets were largely quite similar, making picking restaurants that little bit easier. Plus, it was interesting to be able to discover Hvar’s vegan options fully!
One of our favourite places to dine happened to be Fig Cafe, which we actually returned to several times during the week we stayed. Although it’s a little tricky to find initially as it’s so tucked away, once you do arrive – the menu will entice you to stay. My favourite dish is the pulled chicken and avocado burrito – although for a fully vegan option, the honey roast root vegetable dish with hummus is definitely one to try. Don’t be fooled by the descriptions, the portions are huge and you won’t leave hungry! If you want a really carby feast, order a platter of the flat-bread and oil – although be warned, you may be waddling back to your hotel!
For a light, healthy lunch – we opted for the Vita Health Food Bar at the harbour, which offers the most incredible selection of wraps, sandwiches (gluten free options available) and juices. The Green Lantern is a refreshing concoction of ginger, kale, apple and mint – the perfect hangover cure or tummy soother! Again, the portions are huge – I ordered a chicken, avocado and tomato wrap one lunchtime and was so full up, I didn’t have dinner!
Head just around the corner and you’ll find the Green Goddess cafe and shop – the latter of which offers gluten free breads, crisps and cereal and dairy free chocolate cookies – which Lauren and I may have demolished an entire box of within a few short hours. Oops.
Otherwise, the city itself reminds me of a cross between Mykonos and Venice in terms of food and drink options. The majority of restaurants are tucked away in little side streets – some of which you’ll never come across unless you afford yourself the beauty of getting lost. Swanky cocktail bars pitch up along the walls of alleys, with ‘champagne and burger’ windows popping up in places you’d least expect them.
It’s all very cosmopolitan but still with an air of that relaxed European culture we love so much. No-one is in a hurry and you feel at ease in among the bustle, knowing that you’re in the heart of such a friendly, romantic place. Laughter, music and the occasional honk of a boat are the only sounds you’ll hear – chiming alongside the gentle rhythm of the crickets. It’s everything that epitomises a summer break. Only better.
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What to do
If relaxing by the pool by day and exploring the food offerings by night isn’t enough to keep you occupied, then there are plenty of other things to pass the time. A popular option is to hire a boat or explore the other local islands – which you can organise while you’re there as there are tonnes of street salesmen offering just this.
If culture is more of your thing, then the island has a rich and varied history with incredible architecture, monasteries, churches and crumbling old walls. I wish I could profess I know exactly what era these are from but I’d be lying, for I spent the majority of the trip horizontal, trying to balance a book over my head at just the right angle so as to read without sunglasses.
But there’s plenty to do for tourists of all ages.
Have you ever visited Hvar? What did you think? Do you have any tips for those visiting in the future?