If you're looking for an island adventure, without having to travel long-haul, then the Croatian Island of Hvar should be next on your list of must-see destinations. My latest trip with Jet2 marked my second time on the island - and this time, I was very excited to show my boyfriend (who'd never been before) around. For me, it's the embodiment of a perfect getaway - because excuse the cliche, but there really is something for everyone. Ticking the 'city break' box, it has plenty of culture - such as a medieval hilltop fortress and the Renaissance-era Cathedral. It has incredible cuisine and winding streets full of hidden gems, bars and shops. It offers a stunning marina, encapsulated in a crescent by the limestone buildings of the city itself.
It has stunning natural beauty - but it is also very lively, with a renowned party scene attracting the guests of the island and those of the moored yachts in the harbour. If I were to try and explain it using two other well-known holiday destinations, I'd say it has the influence of an Italian city, with cobbled car-less streets, and the injection of fun of somewhere like Ibiza. So think of it like a Venetian Ibiza, and then you're halfway there.
As mentioned, I was lucky enough to visit for the second time - after eagerly recommending it to friends and family the first time around. Often there's a slight worry with places you've visited and loved, that the second time around, your visit won't match up. But I needn't have worried - for I'd argue my second visit was even more enjoyable than the first.
After an hour's ferry ride from Split, we stepped foot on Hvar and I felt myself taking in the hustle and bustle of the bars overlooking the marina, the lively activity and buzz of the city - and the gorgeous sunshine. And I knew it would be a fabulous few days!
In case you're looking for a couple of days break for sunshine and sea this summer, I thought I'd put together my ultimate guide to staying in Hvar...
This post was written in collaboration with Jet2Holidays. They covered my expenses for the trip in return for an honest review of my stay.
Where to eat
Hvar offers an array of incredible Dalmatian cuisine - and don't worry, that's just the official term for Croatian food. No Dalmatians are involved whatsoever - though they did originate from Croatia (hence the term), did you know that?
Because so many wealthy yacht owners choose to moor their boat for a couple of nights in the port of Hvar, the food on the island is relatively pricey but very, very good. We didn't have one bad meal during our four day trip - and even then, we were only stumbling upon restaurants of our own accord, rather than sourcing the best rated from TripAdvisor.
Of course, being dairy-free can throw up some challenges whenever I'm venturing to new destinations - however I had absolutely no issues at all finding suitable food. Everything was fresh, healthy, accessible and flavoursome, while still catering for my intolerances. Since a lot of the cuisine is focused around fresh, local ingredients - I don't think anyone with an allergy or intolerance would have a problem finding food they could safely eat. Which of course, is very reassuring.
Here are three of our favourite restaurants that I'd highly recommend visiting during your stay:
Fig is THE spot for brunch on the island - and it is very popular, so if you're eager to visit and sit on one of their outside tables, I'd try and arrive at 10am when it opens to bag a seat.
The menu here isn't huge but it caters for meat-eaters, vegans, vegetarians and dairy-free diners like me. I'd highly recommend swinging by for brunch - as their smashed avocado, poached eggs and grilled tomato on grilled flatbread is heavenly - in fact, my mouth is actually watering just thinking about it while I'm typing the description.
Nestled in a little side street just off the main square, it's the perfect location to enjoy the array of dishes they have on offer. And a strawberry juice or two!
The pool bar at our hotel was an unexpected favourite of ours during our time on the island.
The tuna steaks were incredibly fresh and well seasoned (look at me, sounding like Mary Berry here) and the grilled vegetables were another delicious option!
The only downside to the food here was that it was VERY pricey, but in my opinion - totally worth it.
Also, is there ANYTHING better than eating your lunch pool-side, with a book in one hand and a cocktail in the other?
I'd argue probably not!
Located adjacent to the park and tucked away behind the market stalls selling lavender bouquets and watercolour paintings of the marina, we found Seven - a pizza and cocktail bar with seating overlooking the harbour. They drew me in because they were one of the only places I found that offered a marinara on their menu - a dairy-free pizza with fresh tomato, garlic and oregano. They also promised us they'd be able to make a dairy-free Pina Colada for us too (annoyingly most places use fresh cream instead of coconut cream), so obviously - we were sold. The food here was VERY good. The dough was fresh, homemade and bouncy (perhaps an odd description for a pizza but I'm a lover of bouncy pizza dough) and teamed with the toppings, made it our favourite pizza on the island.
Where to stay
The main chain of hotels on the island is Suncani, who look after the Amfora, the Adriana, Riva (the yacht harbour hotel), Hotel Delfin and Palace Elizabeth.
Last time I visited, I stayed at the stunning Amfora - which has a pool with its very own cascading waterfalls, swim-up bar and gardens. It's certainly very luxurious - and has a price-tag to match it.
So if you're looking for somewhere slightly more affordable to stay, I'd recommend the relatively new Pharos Hotel, dubbed 'Croatia's first millennial hotel'.
Also managed by Suncani, the hotel is modern, clean, open-plan and nestled in the hill-top, with panoramic views over Hvar and the ocean.
The hotel has a hip, quirky, creative vibe and an incredible pool bar - offering cocktails, tuna steaks, huge salads, tacos, pasta and pizza.
If you do choose to stay here, I would recommend reserving a sun lounger early if you plan to spend the day lazing by the pool (a great choice in my books) because they are limited and do fill up quickly.
But overall, the Pharos is a great place to make your base during your stay on Hvar - and be sure to check out the pool at golden hour, the sunset is gorgeous!
What to see
Although I'm much more of a pool, cocktail and book kinda girl when it comes to choosing holidays, my boyfriend David is typically, the complete opposite. He cannot sit still on a sun lounger for more than an hour and so for anywhere we choose to visit, we try and make sure it has a balance of both activity and opportunity to unwind. As we were visiting Hvar for four days, we agreed we'd spend two days by the pool - and the other two venturing out and adventuring around the island. It worked out to be a successful plan to keep us both happy - and there was plenty to do in the evenings to keep us occupied all day.
It had been recommended to us to do a boat tour while we were there, and I'm so glad opted to book one. We found a company called Nautica Adventure and booked two places on their all-day blue cave and Pakleni islands tour. Starting at 10.30am and ending at 6pm, it was going to be a long old day - but certainly one to get our money's worth - at £65 each.
The boat picked us up from the Hvar port and immediately began skipping across the waves towards the 'green cave', which was about a 30 minute journey. The boat looked brand new and very spacious, which would have easily accommodated the 12 person per trip maximum that they set. I normally get a little queasy on boats, but fortunately I didn't feel sea-sick the entire day, this particular boat was very stable and comfortable. Beer and water was supplied on the trip, but I would recommend bringing a few snacks to keep you going throughout the day, until you come across islands that have restaurants on.
After stopping at the Green Cave and a natural blue lagoon to swim in, you then head to the Blue Cave, where you hop off the boat and purchase tickets (if you so wish) to be taken inside the waterlogged sea cave by small boat, which is a striking piercing blue colour due to the way the light reflects into it. It's 70kn per person, but I'd highly recommend visiting - as it's quite a spectacular sight.
The little island that you visit for the blue cave is also quite something itself, with ginormous Jurassic like craters and greenery blanketing the ground. According to the information board we found there, dinosaur fossils were discovered on this island - which was incredibly surreal to think about as we took in our surroundings.
We then ventured to another lagoon to swim in and explored several more caves before heading to Palmižana for a well-earned late lunch at one of the gorgeous sea-front restaurants. We ate at Bacchus and oh my goodness, it may have been pricey (£50 for two people) but we ate the best tuna steak we've ever had there. I didn't manage to snap a picture because I succumbed to the hunger before I remembered, so you'll have to just trust me on this one.
The boat trip we took was one of many, so there are a plethora of options available if you're keen to island hop even more during your stay in Hvar. But I'd highly recommend the blue cave tour, purely because we had such a wonderful time on it. I forgot how incredibly freeing and anxiety-releasing being on an open-top boat, skipping across the waves and taking in all the sea air, can really be.
For steady ground activities, I'd recommend taking a walk upto medieval hill-top fort that presides over the marina. David actually ran up to the fort and back every day (I did tell you he couldn't sit still on a lounger for long) and said the views from the top were incredible.
Other than that, you can while away at least an hour or two strolling the streets winding away from the main square, stumbling upon little bars, restaurants and shops that are hidden away. I love destinations where you can just get lost in among tiny winding cobbled and car-less streets, without having to worry about crossing roads or being mown down by a moped.
How to get there
As Hvar is an island, travelling there can get quite pricey - as costs for taxis, planes and boats start to accumulate before you've even got to your destination. I'd recommend booking a package trip, which bundles together all of the journeys into one price. It makes things cheaper, easier and more straight forward - which lets face it, is something we're all after when it comes to planning a relaxing break away.
Our entire stay was booked by Jet2Holidays and for a 4-night trip (which is plenty of time to explore) starts from £401pp, which I personally think is very reasonable. We flew from Stanstead, but Jet2 also offers flights from other UK airports too. You'll fly into Split, hop on your coach at the airport and then take the ferry crossing over to the island. Upon arrival, you'll be picked up from the port and taken on to your hotel.
Have you considered a trip to Hvar?