Hvar is so much more than its Party Girl image! Dazzling beaches, mountain drives and unbeatable sunsets are only some of the sites that await you on this beautiful island!
Something you’ll quickly learn about me: I’m a “planner.” In all aspects, really. I research the heck out of job interviewers, subjects/cultures I’m writing about and, more to the point, places I’m going to visit!
Boyfriend is a “pants-er.” (As in, “flies by the seat of his.”) In fact all of my boyfriends have been pantsers. Maybe there’s a secret dark part of me that wants to be a little more like that…
Meh, okay, not really.
But the thing about visiting Croatia in the shoulder season is, well, you kind of need to be a “pants-er,“ as we quickly found out when we stepped off the ferry from Split onto the island of Hvar. Now, that’s not to say I hadn’t attempted to plan in the few spare moments I had leading up to our trip. But because most people visit Croatia in the summer, I’d assumed their itineraries wouldn’t work for us. We arrived expecting fall weather, turning leaves, a breeze off the Adriatic. What we got was a full week of summer in October we hadn’t dared hope for!
So in my little red sundress and favorite straw hat I took Boyfriend’s hand and led him… straight to the Tourist Information Center. Hey, with all of the conflicting information online, I couldn’t get a good read for the things to do in Hvar in October. I needed some help!
Luckily the Croatian woman at the desk knew her island well. Because it was a Sunday the Franciscan Monastery and Hvar Cathedral (pictured above) were closed. And because it was shoulder season, quite a few of the shops and restaurants were, too. But, she asked, because the weather was unseasonably warm, might we consider taking a scooter to a beach?
“Babe,” was Boyfriend’s only response. He didn’t need to say more: We were in!
And you know what? I think we experienced a much purer, more authentic Hvar than those who visit during the high season get to. There were no models on yachts in the harbor, nor wild booming parties to join. But there were bursting olive groves, near-private beaches, peaceful mountain drives, and stunningly romantic views.
If you want to meet the real Hvar, especially in the shoulder season, here are 5 Things You MUST Do:
1. Climb to the top of the Spanish Fortress
As your ferry pulls up to the dock in Hvar Town, perched above the terra cotta colored roofs is an old stone fortress presiding over the city below. That fortress is the Tvrdava Fortica (after the Italian word “fortezza,” since it was built largely with Venetian money), aka Tvrdava Spanjola (since Spanish engineers worked on it in the 14thcentury).
A few flights of stairs through the backstreets of the city and an inclined stroll through a botanical garden bring you to the entrance, and a small fee gets you in. The views from the top are unbeatable, stretching over the Pakleni Islands and all the way to Vis on a clear day. Tip: This should be your first stop of the day, before the heat and tourists take over!
2. Rent a scooter and find your beach
Directed to the Hvar Town bus station by the Tourist Info Lady, we went in search of a scooter out of town. She’d told us there were normally several companies to choose from, but now in the shoulder season there may only be two.
There was one.
But it was perfect, and 300 kuna later we riding a baby blue scooter to the beach for our first Croatian swim! The young people that rented to us recommended we take the route along the south road of the island, through the mountain tunnel north to Stari Grad (Hvar’s pre-Venetians Old Town), then west over the mountains up to Brusje before heading south back to Hvar Town. Along the route were three beaches: Milna, Zaraće and Dubovica. And because the girl named Zaraće as her personal favorite, that’s the one we chose.
If we could’ve dreamt up a perfect first beach in Croatia, Zaraće would’ve been it. Weaving through vineyards and olive groves, hairpin turns and dirt paths, we arrived at Velo Zaraće, stripped and jumped in! The water was so clear you could see down to the floor even 50 meters from the pebble shore. The waves were soft and lapping, cool enough to feel refreshing but warm enough that you could walk right into them.
The “town” itself was almost deserted, but a super nice man named Toni (who owns Apartments Bak right above the beach) found Boyfriend wandering around and offered us snorkel masks to borrow while we swam! The amount of tropical fish swimming under, around and right up to us was, just, amazing.
Boyfriend was in beach heaven. And who am I kidding? So was I.
3. Take a slow lap of Stari Grad
We made it to Stari Grad by mid-afternoon and found the same quiet calmness we’d experienced in Hvar Town. Clearly the tourists had gone, and many of the shop owners with them. But Stari Grad felt old and lived-in — nothing like Hvar Town’s upscale Venetian vibe — and we were charmed the more we explored its old stone streets.
We advise you to do the same. Pay a visit to Tvrdalij Castle, the former summer residence of Croatian poet Petar Hektorović, for some pretty courtyard strolls. Then have some ice cream and stumble into old churches, waterfront bars… or, if you’re lucky, snuggling kitties on the walls!
4. Love on that gorgeous Dalmatian scenery
As advised, we took the long way ‘round back to Hvar Town from Stari Grad and were rewarded with breathtaking views of the island of Brač. June and July find this area speckled and smelling of wild lavender and thyme – Velo Grablje even hosts an annual lavender festival to celebrate.
But we were happy just to drive, stopping along the way to admire the UNESCO-recognized ancient Greek agricultural structures blanketing the hills like one gigantic puzzle. Since my six-month stint in Southeast Asia, during which I bought a motorbike and explored Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, I’ve felt like a trip isn’t really a trip without involving a bike in some way. Motorbikes allow you to immerse yourself in your environment in a way a car, bus, train, tuk-tuk, becak or horse-drawn carriage just can’t.
So grab a bike (or even take a hike) and love on that gorgeous Dalmatian scenery. Hvar serves it up in spades and trust us, it deserves to be loved on.
5. Watch the sun set over Hvar Town
It’s no surprise Croatia is known for its unreal sunsets. The skies are clear more often than not on the Adriatic, leaving the sun plenty of time and space to flaunt its gorgeous self. Once you’re back in Hvar Town to catch the ferry back to Split, have a cocktail at a bar in the harbor and watch the city turn from white to peach to rose.
Tip: In the shoulder season, don’t forget to keep your jacket close. Once the sun disappears, the temperature drops as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit! Nighttime strolls along an illuminated harbor are so much more romantic when one isn’t battling hypothermia…