Well pals, let me start by saying that this post is TAINTED WITH REGRET. The bitter sting of regret. But also, happiness and joy at the fact that we decided to go to Hvar at all. Me and my pal Rachel had already been having a brilliant time exploring Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast (absolutely zero Dalmatians to be seen, but that’s not the reason for my strong sense of regret, don’t you worry), and we’d decided that towards the end of our time in Croatia, we’d relocate and spend one night on Hvar island. The question was, should we stay in Stari Grad or Hvar Town? Most visitors tend to head for the party atmosphere of Hvar Town, but after several nights in the busy city of Split we felt like a bit of tranquility would probs be necessary; opting instead for the much quieter town of Stari Grad. And I’ll tell you this for free- it was in Stari Grad that my love for this part of the world was well and truly solidified.
The ferry from Split to Stari Grad
We waited under the shelter of a big waiting room at Split’s ferry terminal for a long old while, with more and more people entering through the big doorway behind us, all pushing as close as possible to the locked doors at the other end. It was all getting a bit full on in terms of the number of people confined to one space, when at last the ferry pulled into its parking spot and the gigantic doors opened, allowing all of us to spread out and head for the back of the boat, who’s entrance was opening like a gaping mouth in the sunshine.
We headed for a spot overlooking the front of the ferry and settled down for the ninety minute journey across the stunning blue sea to the island of Hvar. I’m glad to say I’ve never had a particularly rocky ferry crossing and this was no exception; we managed to pretty much just chill out and go over sheet music for the entirety of the journey, until we got a bit closer to the island and a young Croatian mum who was sitting nearby with her three children asked us to watch them while she went downstairs to sort her car out.
Related: Santorini to Athens by Ferry
Although I’ve worked as a nanny and a teacher before, I’ve never had a complete stranger entrust the care of their children to me; moreover that kind of thing just isn’t really the norm in England or the US. And whilst the mum spoke English, it was clear that the children did not. When it looked as if the youngest girl- who was probably about three years old- might be on the brink of bolting for the stairs in hot pursuit of her mother, Rachel said- ‘Quick, speak some Serbian to her!’ Serbian and Croatian are to all intents and purposes, slightly different versions of the exact same language, but my knowledge of Serbian basically encompasses the word ‘thankyou’ (hvala), a fairly wide range of swear words and phrases and a much narrower selection of animals. The only suitable thing that my panicked brain could conjure up and blurt out at this late stage in the game was ‘KRAVA PASE TRAVU!!!’
Which basically means ‘cows eat grass.’
The girl gave a half smile.
‘Krava…daje mleko?’ I went on.
She smiled and nodded a ‘well done’ sort of a nod and turned her attention back out to the front of the ferry, head resting on her hands. It was kind of mind-blowing.
You see pals, it really does pay to know some key phrases in the local lingo of whichever country you’re visiting. Even if those phrases involve something as banal as the dietary habits of cows- it could really come in handy! Duolingo is your friend!
Once the ferry had arrived on land, we began our walk along the coastline to the town. Beaches round here aren’t sandy- they’re all about rocky outcrops and sometimes just stone platforms from which you can jump into the water- and every now and again we’d come across a little collection of people sunbathing on the stones or paddling in the sea. It was boiling hot, and I was very much up for joining them ASAP.
At last we reached our Airbnb, on the top floor of a house with a massive balcony overlooking the town’s little harbour, where we were met by an awesome lass who declared ominously ‘You will wish you stayed longer than one night.’
Stari Grad Harbour and all the invitations
Feeling rather peckish, and with a mere 24 hours in which to uncover everything our new base had to offer, we headed into the centre of the town in search of a place to find food. The town is centred around a tiny harbour filled with little boats, and fearing ultimate starvation we settled for one of the first restaurants we saw on the harbour front. Granted, if we’d headed back up into the surrounding alleyways, we definitely could have found a more authentically Croatian place to eat, but sometimes you’ve just got to prioritise the needs of your stomach above all else. Croatian pizza in the sunshine, it was.
It was rather an eventful Croatian pizza though, I’ll give it that. Rachel spotted a guy strolling by who looked the spitting image of an American friend of hers, and decided that she should definitely ask for a selfie with him. Meanwhile the Croatian waiter took a keen interest in both of us, asking us many a question about London and America, eventually writing his number down for us to come out for a drink later that evening and declaring that even if I was a boy I’d still be a very good-looking one, whilst slowly backing away and repeating himself over and over. It was all very bizarre and I was quite grateful that we’d finished eating by that point so I could side-mouth an ‘I-think-we-need-to-leave-right-now’ to Rachel.
Related: Trogir, the Little Venice of Croatia
Pizza mission complete, we carried on following the pathway around the edge of the harbour. Although there were obviously holiday-makers around, it was a lot quieter than it had been in Split- there was room to breathe!! As we approached a bigger boat standing on land on the quieter side of the harbour, we could make out a man standing on top of it, joined after a while by a second one from inside.
‘Hey there ladies!’ the first man, who was clearly American, called out with a massive sweeping wave of his hand. Naturally we called back a ‘hello.’
‘Welcome to Stari Grad! What brings you here!?’
The main man went on to tell us what brought him here, gave us a hundred and one suggestions of what we should do in the area including detailed route plans, and then invited us to a party later that evening. And it didn’t even seem creepy, which is always a brilliant turn of events, let’s face it. We did decline the party nonetheless but told him we’d definitely check out his bike and car rental company instead. Good lad.
True to our word, we trekked back down to the bike rental hut, where we were met by the American’s friend/employee, who was a very friendly chap indeed. Now, I’m not gonna lie. I’ve got a mild fear of riding bikes on roads. And when I say a ‘mild fear,’ I mean, so much so that I just don’t do it these days. Every time a car zooms past and I’m on a bicycle, I have a moment of hyperventilation and the strong belief that I’m about to be off-roaded kicks in. It’s kind of embarrassing.
Rachel is just a brilliant person in that she sees fun things to do and thinks ‘I’m going to do that.’ I see fun things to do and think, ‘I could legit die if I do that.’ Even if it’s simply GOING ON A BIKE RIDE. So naturally Rachel was really into the idea of hiring these bikes; I was into it in principle, but in practice my nerves were kicking in. When Rachel replayed her Instagram story later that evening, I was mortified to realise that I’d given her and the very lovely Croatian bike hire guy a full on death stare when they claimed that the bike I’d been given was definitely the right height for me and that I’d be fine because there are actually barely any cars on the roads. They were right, the bike was the perfect height and we encountered approximately fifteen cars in total, but I was ridiculously stressed out by the entire thing. If I’m honest, every time we talk about Croatia I feel the need to apologise once again for the death stare; it just happened, you know?
Once we were actually on our way though…it was brilliant times.
Ancient Greeks on the Stari Grad Plain
The area that we were cycling through is known as the Stari Grad Plain. Back in the 4th Century BC, the Ancient Greeks cultivated the land by way of stone walls and water collection systems, making it the ideal location for growing harvesting crops- mainly of grapes and olives. (They really knew how to handle things, those Greeks.) This highly effective agricultural system is incredibly well preserved, and the layout of the Stari Grad Plain remains pretty much the same today as it did all those centuries ago- earning the place a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Cycling along the long dusty road through the plain was awesome. We had set off in the late afternoon, so the heat was bearable and the landscape surrounding us had a golden sheen to it. Vineyards stretched into the distance, growing fat juicy bunches of red and white grapes- pops of colour against the red soil. Every now and again we came to the crumbling ruins of a stone wall or what was once a small building in the middle of a field, and the sound of cicadas filled the air. It’s pretty crazy to think that the farmland has existed like that since the 4th century, and I felt full on lucky to have pushed through my stupid fear of cycling on roads to experience such a beautiful and peaceful place. Also- lucky to have a pal who is rather more of a go-getter than myself. Oh Lordy!
Eventually we reached the little town of Jelsa, cycling onwards round wide curving bends in the road shaded by pine trees in cooler air and with a less intense cicada-soundtrack. After a while we found a suitable looking beach, dismounted from the bikes (I subsequently flung mine accidentally downhill into a bush, so maybe I still harboured some anti-bike feelings), and scrambled down to the water.
Well oh my goodness gracious giddy aunt Nora. The little beach was so secluded that stepping into the sea really felt more like stepping into a lake, with barely a ripple on the surface and only the very slightest notion of a tide, and the water was absolutely crystal clear, dotted with bigger boulders and tiny flashes of silvery fish. There was a local family not far away from us, but aside from the boats moored in the far distance there was no evidence of another soul in sight. Well it was absolutely exquisite, I tell you!
As the sun was beginning to go to bed and our shadows were beginning to grow into giants, before long we decided to turn and head back to Stari Grad. Making use of the ginormous market in the centre of the town, we stocked up on all the different varieties of fruit and vegetable (plus a ‘Croatia’ hat for Rachel), and cooked up a storm of the freshest dinner I’d had in some time. What a time to be alive!!!
Exploring the town of Stari Grad
Stari Grad has been occupied in one way or another, by some people or other, since the Ancient Greeks were kicking around all those years ago on the plain. And like other towns and villages in the area, it changed hands again and again over time, passing from the Romans to the Slavs to the Venetians, to the Austro-Hungarians…it’s been around the block, you know?
So after a coffee in the sunshine by the harbour the next morning, we were pretty excited to explore the little streets that weave their way back from the waterfront, even though by that point time was not on our side, folks! The ferry ticket had already been booked and it wasn’t long till we had to head back to Split.
Stari Grad is a right beaut, and just like the day before, it felt as if we were two of just a handful of people who’d come to visit, despite it being the middle of Summer. Rustic-looking restaurants with mouthwatering smells drifting out of them are round every corner, guarded every now and again by a floppy dog or an indifferent cat. We stumbled across the old Dominican Monastery of St Peter the Martyr and paid a couple of euros to go into its pretty courtyard and little museum, filled with old coins and paintings from the church’s history. They’ve got a beaut selection of artefacts here, but I’m not gonna lie, the thing that has stuck with me the most since we visited is a note left in the Visitors’ Book by a dramatic sounding young lass who clearly loved the place. What an absolute GEM.
Related: What to do in Split, Croatia
Don’t you always find that it’s the places you knew nothing about that are the most brilliant surprises!? I was genuinely rather sad to leave this little gem of a town; our lovely Airbnb owner drove us back to the port after we’d finished exploring and asked whether we’d enjoyed ourselves. Both of us agreed that we did agree with her original prediction- we definitely should have booked more than one night. You live and you learn, pals.
- The ferry between Split and Stari Grad runs seven times a day throughout the Summer season; thrice daily in winter.
- A single passenger fare is 47kn in summertime (about €6.30), but cheaper in winter.
- The walk from Stari Grad Port to Stari Grad takes around half an hour.
- I can’t remember the name of the company we hired bikes from- soz! There are several bike hire places in town which you can just walk right on up to and hire a vehicle from on a whim.