Do not adjust your monitor. The deep jewel green you see before you is indeed for reals. No photoshop here, sir. No natural ocean green beauty was harmed in the making of this photo. Where can you dive bomb into this heavenly, infinity pool of mother nature? This is the small town of Jelsa, on Hvar island in Croatia, “the sunniest spot in Europe”. A bountiful island with pomegranate, pear, orange and lime trees lining the winding streets. You can visit olive groves, vineyards and watch the locals fish for their supper, whether the head chef of the local eatery, or seniors in swimsuits, standing proudly on the rocky shore catching fish for the evening’s dish with a simple fish line in hand.
I made a last minute decision to spend my holiday time in Croatia, spurred on by finding cheap digs thanks to airbnb: self catering, seaside apartment for less than 18 euros a night? Don’t mind if I do! My lodgings were cosy, and the hosts as welcoming as a stay at my grandparents’ house. I was unexpectedly collected from the ferry on my first day, welcomed with a scrumptious plate of garlicky, lemony fish and even on my last day, a 5am lift to the ferry port was more than I could have asked for.
Hvar is covered in lavender fields, olive groves and many vineyards, sloping and roving across the terrain. The Caric winery have run their family vineyard on Hvar for the last 15 years. Ivana, whose husband Ivo is the chief winemaker at Caric, picks me up – 7 months pregnant and with her son Tonchi in tow – and takes me whizzing around from vineyard to vineyard over 2 days. From 1945-1991 Croatia was under a communist system, and one effect from that time in history which still remains today: plots of land were shared between many different people, so most people’s vineyards are not all in one place, but in several different patches across the island, a difficulty facing large wineries with many plots soon to be under EU regulations.
Part of our vineyard tour includes the historical plains of Stari Grad, where what may look like unassuming stone walls actually date back to 320 AD. Stari Grad is recorded as the oldest town in Europe (the name literally means “Old Town”) and is a Unesco protected world heritage site. We also stop off at the top of the mountain at the church in Svirče town, to take in the expansive view of the island’s landscape. As the Total Hvar blog says, “If you want the best views of the island, head for the churches”.
The land is alternately flat, hilly or mountainous which allows for different varieties of grape to grow —the names of which are quite fun to pronounce, do have a go at “Bogdanjusa” and “Plavac mali”, both indigenous grapes to Hvar island, which Caric winery harvest to produce some of their red and white wines. Did you know Croatian wines in particular have quite a high sugar content due to the intense sunshine? Ivana tells me they do not add sugar to the wine, so don’t dare dismiss a bottle of delicious Croatian wine if you see a 14 or 15%! To finish, we sit outside the Caric family home for a wine-tasting – notes of chocolate and berries swirl around. I realize that until now I never knew anything of the lifetime of wine-making that takes place here, or had ever even tasted a Croatian wine.
The second highlight of my trip (apart from unintentionally having my own private beach for 2 weeks – off season y’alls) was visiting Boris Buratović’s Bee Farm. I heard there was a bit of a buzz about Boris’ honey (sorry) so jumped at the chance to visit his bees. We take off in his massive jeep to a remote corner of the island, where the bees have some peace and quiet to get on with their work. Working bees are happy bees, Boris explains as we don bright yellow bee suits and head over to inspect the hives. He uses a contraption that billows out smoke, which calms the bees down, this way we can get closer to take a look. Boris explains that he chooses the area to house his hives very carefully, in order to get the absolute clear taste for his sage, or rosemary honey – which every year win more and more prestigious international awards. I watch as Boris methodically takes out each honeycombed slat to inspect the day’s work and see how the bees are getting on. There can be about 50,000 bees in each hive, the thrumming of all those bees buzzing is one I won’t forget. Boris sends me home with 3 jars of honey and a new-found respect for bees, plus I didn’t get stung once.
- If you’re prone to mosquito bites, pick up a bottle of local lavender oil. Use it to keep the mozzies away, and for relief from bites you may get
- Pretty much everyone on the island makes their own wine. Make sure to pick up a bottle – you can even pay a couple of euros less for a bottle with no label – delicious and good value for 3 euros a pop
- Do not miss the town of Stari Grad! 15 minutes away from Jelsa by bus. It is stunningly beautiful, and while you’re there stop by Antika restaurant for an unforgettable lunch. Ask the waiter to recommend you the fresh fish of the day.
The hosts I stayed with own a large home that has been divided into several self-catering apartments. I highly recommend checking them out if you are considering to stay on Hvar island: https://www.facebook.com/islandhvar
Fly in to Split airport, take the bus to Split town and a ferry to Hvar Island. More info here.
Special thanks to Hvar Touristik for organizing the Honey Tour.
*photos and text by Elizabeth Rushe