Otok Hvar

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Today (and for many years) Hvar has been seen as the most ‘trendy’ or ‘chic’ destination in the Adriatic. Most (if not all) of this focus has been on Hvar Town on the Island’s south shore, yet Otok Hvar has so much more to offer. While a visit to Hvar Town is an absolute must in any tour of Dalmatia, it is well worth allowing the time to visit some of the Island’s other spots, Vrboska, Jelsa and Starigrad where you will find much of the style, culture, and history that has made Otok Hvar such a popular destination, but without the over inflated prices and false ‘glitz’ that has accompanied the ‘chic’ reputation.


Sucuraj  Lighthouse

Otok Hvar is a long and generally narrow sliver of land (68 km from east to west and between 3-10 km wide) located 33 km south of Split (from where you can travel to the island by ferry) and outside the islands of Brac and Solta. Much of its length is dominated by a rocky spine that rises to around 400 metres and looms over its southern shore. along its northern shore, its high sea cliffs are backed by more gentle slopes and punctuated by a number of small bays. Otok Hvar’s four largest settlements, Starigrad, Vrboska, Jelsa and of course Hvar Town, are all located at the west end of the island where its mountain spine broadens and there are a number of larger and more sheltered bays and inlets.


Jelsa Harbour

While there is clear evidence that the island was occupied during prehistory its first recorded settlement was established by the Greeks in 385BC in the area of Starigrad. This remains the remained the focus of activities on the island throughout the Roman and early medieval until Hvar fell under Venetian influence in the 13th Century. Venetian rule moved the administrative capital of the island away from Starigrad to the site of what is now Hvar Town, and there it has stayed ever since.

While the nobility of the island drew much of its wealth from farming estates on the small plain around Starigrad, Vrboska and Jelsa they were required, by law, to spend a minimum of six months of the year in Hvar Town where the island’s governing council sat.


Vrboska

During the 16th Century the island became one of the physical and intellectual centres of Croatian resistance to Venetian rule in the Adriatic. During this period the rise of Turkish piracy saw the sacking of Hvar Town (1571) supposedly leaving behind nothing but rubble and causing extensive reconstruction of the town’s buildings.

In the following centuries though Otok Hvar became an important regional port it slipped gently into administrative obscurity and would have remained so had it not been for the work of the Hvar Hygiene Society who promoted their island as a destination for health retreats. By 1903 Otok Hvar was being described as ‘Austria’s Mederia’ and one of the most ‘stylish’ Dalmatian resorts - a reputation that continues to be richly deserved, even today.


Abandoned lavender fields near Velo Grablje

Whether you approach Hvar by yacht or ferry the first thing you will notice, that sets it apart from many of its neighbouring islands, is the warm, fresh scent of lavender and pine. During the 1930s the island was identified as an excellent place to establish a new lavender industry. This led to massive works to improve and clear new fields, which soon covered many of Hvar’s mountain slopes with the hazy-blue of large lavender plants. Today though the industry is vastly reduced in size it is still a major source of lavender oil (and associated products) many of which you will find in Hvar’s tourist markets.


Uvala Pribinja

 
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