In an age where we nearly always apply enhancements or ‘filters’ to photos we post on social media networks, it’s like a breath of fresh air to arrive in Hvar – a picture-perfect land where rich blue skies merge with calm, clear waters, and where snaps don’t need modification before they reach Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
That is what strikes you most when you arrive on Croatia’s sunniest island – it is naturally beautiful.
I arrived in Hvar as a result of a 7 day road-trip with my girlfriends through Croatia, starting from Split. We’d devised an action-packed itinerary: two days in Plitvice to visit Plitvice Lakes, one of Croatia’s 8 national parks; followed by a night in Zadar; and three nights in Hvar, one of Split’s nearby islands. Our final night was in Split.
As it was my first ever visit to Croatia, here are a few things I discovered:
- In Croatia they drive on the right hand side of the road, which took a bit of getting used to.
- Food prices vary according to where you are: restaurants in the Plitvice area were relatively cheap (£2 for a soup; £2 for fries) but as you get closer to the coast, it becomes more commercialised and expensive – in Zadar a pizza was £7 and fries were £4; on the island of Hvar it was about £7 for a pasta dish, and £6 for a Jägerbomb. As you get closer to the coast though, as you’d expect, there’s lots more fresh sea food.
- Take mosquito repellant. We got bitten!
- Croatia is a safe place: as four ladies travelling through the country, we didn’t ever feel like we were in harm’s way.
- The Croatian currency is the Kuna. Card payments were accepted at some places, not all.
- The mix of mountainous regions and beaches means you get the best of both worlds here.
- In the high season (June/July/August) ferries are very busy and often get booked up so try to book at least a day in advance to secure a spot.
- Croatia’s beaches are mostly all rocky and pebbly, which makes it a bit painful walking around barefoot, especially when getting into the sea.
- Beware of the jellyfish when swimming in the sea – you don’t want to tread on one of those.
If you’re planning a trip to Croatia, try and get these on your list.
1. Plitvice Lakes. This stunning national park comprising 16 lakes interconnected by waterfalls surrounded by plush greenery, really is as good as the pictures make it look. The green and blue hues of the water are so vivid. There’s plenty to explore in the park – it spans well beyond the few lakes shown in the picture above. It took us a good 3 hours to get around the trail at a leisurely pace. Advice: pack snacks and drinks in your bags if you get peckish or thirsty, and a hat, particularly if it’s a hot day. Wear comfortable shoes as there are lots of uneven surfaces and a few climbs, and take a camera: there are plenty of opportunities for great pictures!
You can’t swim in Plitvice lakes unfortunately, but if it’s a swim you’re after, pay a visit to Krka National Park instead where you are allowed to take a dip in the water. At Plitvice, you have to pay for car parking, but if you don’t fancy driving, jump on a bus. Try to get to the park early though, because as the day progresses, large groups from tours start to take over the place.
Plivtice is at a high altitude in Croatia so it is cooler than Split or the islands – something we weren’t prepared for. We needed a light hoody/raincoat, even in July. Our accommodation in Plitvice was super cosy – we were staying at a guesthouse known as Accommodation Plitvice. It was a 15 minute drive from the lakes, and although the owner’s English was sketchy, she made us feel at home.
2. Hvar, Croatia’s sunniest island. Prince William’s been there, Beyoncé and Jay-Z have been there… and now I can tick it off my list. Super yachts line the harbour and bars line the promenade, while Venetian towhouses nestle together in the distance.
It’s not the cheapest place for a cash-strapped Brit – prices are inflated, particularly at eateries, shops and bars nearer to the harbour – but Hvar is a great place to mingle and party with young American, Australian and English travellers. It was very hot when we visited Hvar in July; the sun was out every day and temperatures were in the high twenties.
Sleep: The hostel we stayed at was great fun. With free pancakes for breakfast, organised fun such as a bar crawl and sailing trips on offer, Earthers Hostel was welcoming and homely as well as enjoyable. The first day we arrived the owners sat down with us and went through all the local spots, telling us how to get to the supermarket and the clubs, etc. The hostel wasn’t particularly plush, but it was clean, and had a really relaxed vibe where socialising was easy.
See: Robinson Beach was a nice spot to swim and it was jellyfish-free, although it took a long (and scenic!) coastal walk to get there. Take a break from sunbathing with lunch at the restaurant that’s located right on the beach – we had salads, burgers, fries and fresh fish. In comparison to Hula Hula beach, Robinson Beach was much less pretentious, more laid-back and cheaper (in terms of sun bed hire and food).
Eat: For delicious local sea food, try Lungo Mare. When a restaurant is packed out with locals, it’s always a good sign: and that’s what we discovered when we visited. We were recommended by our hostel to try it, and it was so good we went back, twice. Generous portions, a hospitable, chatty and hilarious owner and tasty food awaits.
Nightlife: Hvar is renowned for its party scene. One night you could take a taxi boat to Carpe Diem beach island to rave, or go in the daytime for a mellow adventure. For a more relaxing evening head to the Jazz Bar, which is hidden away in the back streets of the town. Or join the other party animals at Kiva, a bar/club tucked away in a side street next to the town. Kiva closes at 2am so we headed to Pink Champagne afterwards, a basement club with a very cool entrance – I won’t give it away (entrance fee is payable on the door), which is open till the early hours. Veneranda club is meant to be epic although we didn’t squeeze it in, as is La Struya – a club with expansive views.
Sightsee: If you’re into history, visit the fortress. It’s quite a walk, but we went simply for the views across the island (see picture above).
Lavender is one of Croatia’s biggest exports. You can get lavender oil, cream, soap, dried flowers, lavender honey; basically everything which is made of lavender from local vendors on the streets. We missed out on going on a lavender tour to visit the copious purple fields, but it looks like an amazing opportunity to take great creative pictures. The olive oil and wine you get at the restaurants are also likely to be made fresh locally, so another worthy excursion could be a wine tour.
3. Bar crawls in Split. Unfortunately we were too tired to make it to them, but judging by the number of people we met who raved about them, we missed out.
With over a thousand other islands scattered off Croatia’s stunning Adriatic coastline, as well as 8 national parks on the mainland, there’s reason for repeat visits. I’d like to visit different islands and Dubrovnik next time around. Have you been? What was your highlight? Tell all!