Over the past 20 years, Croatia has been one of my favourite places to visit. I was originally supposed to visit Zagreb in the early 1990s but the war for Croatian independence broke out when I was in Belgrade, Serbia. With the two sides suddenly at odds, it struck me as ill advised to try and travel between the two warring countries. I opted to head to Austria and relative safety instead. Needless to say it took a couple of years before I was able to make my way into Croatia. Once there, I loved the country and soon returned with my husband in tow. Over the years we have walked the streets and walls of Dubrovnik numerous times and have become frequent shoppers at a couple of the stores. On this latest trip we trod a new path by stopping in Hvar.
Located on an island in the Adriatic Sea, Hvar offered us a glimpse of 13th century architecture and we found it far more laid back than Dubrovnik or Split. Ships tender at this port so we arrived at the dock in the tender boat and walked into the town. Although this is a port town, it does not have the feel of a port and the island features forests, beaches and plenty of charm. We notices there were boats willing take visitors to the nearby Pakleni Islands for a day of sunbathing on those quiet and secluded beaches.
From where the tenders arrive, it was a fairly short and easy walk into the main square known as Hvarska pjaca. Enroute we passed the 17th century arsenal and made our way to the Cathedral of St. Stephen. Being a church junkie, the cathedral was first up on my must see list. Built on the foundations of a 6th century church, the current structure was built in the 16th and 17th centuries and dedicated to St. Stephen who was the protector of Hvar. The cathedral boasts a painting by Palma the Younger on the main altar and a Renaissance style sanctuary. Of particular note are nine Baroque altars adorned with paintings by various Venetian artists. Works include paintings by Stefano Celesti and Juan Boshettus. The bell tower was built by local builders in 1549 and completed in 1550. Photos were not permitted so I have no pictures to share of the interior of the building and although I searched for postcards with photos of the interior, I was unable to find any.
Once we left the cathedral, we wandered next door to the Episcopal Palace which houses a collection of religious artifacts.
We returned to the square and set our sights on making our way through the narrow streets and up a pathway to the Fortica Castle. Getting there involved climbing a series of stairs and sloping pathways. It was a hot climb and one that some people found a little daunting. Aside from the steps, I found the walk fairly easy. Upon checking my step counter when I arrived at the door to the Castle, I found that it was around 3000 steps. That does not represent a great distance but it is all uphill. Decide for yourself if you want to make the walk up or take a taxi. We ran into friends who had opted to take a taxi from the dock side up to the entrance. They told us that it cost them around $14USD with tip. They split the cost with another couple who shared the taxi.
Entrance to the Castle cost us 40 kuna and they do NOT accept any other types of currency. The people in line in front of us were told that Euros and US dollars were not accepted and the ticket booth did not have the facilities for currency exchanges. Consequently those people, and others who had made the trek up the pathway without kunas in their pocket, found that they were unable to enter the Castle.
Fortica Castle (also known as Spanjola), was built by the Venetians in 1278 on the site of a 6th century citadel. However the foundations actually lie on a fortification that dates from the 1st millennium BC. The fort offers great views of the town and the harbour. The walls and buildings were strengthened in 1551 and again in the 19th century when the Austrians renovated the buildings and added new cannons to the walls. Those cannons face the harbour and would have been able to fire on ships entering the harbour or invaders entering the town. Inside the castle are a couple of shops and some historic artifacts. Some of the items on display are from the Bronze Age and were found on the seabed of the harbour. My husband, who is a certified diving instructor, suddenly wanted to go diving in the harbour.
One interesting fact about the castle relates to a lightning strike that occurred in the wee hours of the morning on the 1st day of October in 1579. Hitting the gunpowder store, the lightning set off an explosion that destroyed portions of the fortification and rained stones on the sleeping people in the town below.
When we were at the Castle we noted that there was another walled fort at a higher elevation and located on the next hill. Upon enquiry, we found that it is called the French Fortress or Napoljun since Napoleon ordered it to be built when his army occupied Hvar in the early 1800s. Today it houses the Hvar observatory. There is both a walking path and a road leading up to that fortress but having limited time to explore, we bookmarked that site for a future visit.
On our way back down to the main square (a much easier walk I might add), we started our search for the Benedictine nunnery and museum. I wanted to buy lace and I was told this was the place to buy it. However we got side tracked when we decided to stop at the Dominican Monastery and Church of St. Mark which are ruins reportedly dating back to the 14th to 17th centuries. Unfortunately, the walled entrance was locked so aside from taking photos of the signage and locked door, we were unable to really see anything of this historical site.
Returning to our goal of finding the nunnery, we made our way down to the main square where once again we became distracted. A host of little carts had made an appearance and so we had to check out their offerings. Selling various touristy items, they were quickly attracting the ship’s passengers who were anxious to make some purchases before heading back to the ship. The items for sale were less diverse in nature than those found in Dubrovnik or Split but a little less expensive overall. I did not find any lace for sale at these little carts and by the time we finished our browsing, there was insufficient time to find the Benedictine nunnery and museum. Consequently that place has also been earmarked as a place to see on a return visit.
Chatting with some of the local people about Hvar, we learned that there are a number of places in the area to see by boat including the Blue and Green Caves. But for us it was too late to negotiate a little boat ride as it was time to head back to the ship. Our overall impression of Hvar is that it is a quaint, historic and an easy port stop to negotiate on your own. No organized tour is necessary and most of it can easily be seen within five or six hours.
If you have any questions or want additional information about Hvar, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com