A slow-paced lifestyle, friendly locals and impossibly fresh air that’s scented with lavender. Stari Grad is a must-see for anyone visiting the island of Hvar, despite its more popular and stylish sister town of Hvar.
Founded by the ancient Greeks in 384 BC, the town once known as Pharos sits on a deep inlet in the northeast of Hvar island – a popular spot for modern-day sailors doing their rounds in the glorious Croatian archipelago.
The small town never feels overrun with tourists and still retains its authenticity, which can come as a breath of fresh air if you’ve come from manic Hvar, or even Korčula.
The UNESCO listed old town is a pleasure to explore. No hills, streets and cobbled passages that won’t get you lost (although that can be half the fun) and a lovely waterfront that’s perfect to soak in the atmosphere.
You could spend time in the morning wafting about the small market, maybe pick up a memento made from local limestone or lavender, or find the most fascinating food-store in town – Za Pod Zub.
This foodie hot-spot is in the backstreets of the old town and is filled with all things local, artisanal and delicious. There’s craft beer, chocolate, smallgoods, a very unusual selection of ice creams, truffle oils and even stunning handmade ceramics from Split.
For the two days we spent in Stari Grad, Caffe Bar Kavana was our go-to for coffee. It’s perfectly positioned in what may have been an old palace, right by the water and overlooking the old town. They’re open nice and early and the espresso is very decent.
Something else that’s very decent are the vanilla custard-filled krafne from a tiny bakery called Kraljica Mira. Get there early before they sell out, is all I can say.
Za Pod Zub – Ul. Srinjo Kola 11
Caffe Bar Kavana
Krafne from Kraljica Mira
In the middle of the old town you can find Antika, a fab restaurant with tables lining the historic cobbled laneways. Fill up on homemade pasta, seafood and local specialties like shark in sour cream and chive sauce.
Our gnocchi with veg and gorgonzola (65) and vegetable risotto (56) was delicious, nicely finished off with a wedge of rožada (28).
Antika Restaurant – Duolnja Kola 34
The atmosphere in the village becomes more lively as the sun nears the mountain-top in the afternoon. All the boats that have lined up along the village promenade teem with people chatting and drinking on deck, also spilling into the village bars and restaurants and creating a wonderful buzz.
It was a red and white vino kind of evening for us, as usual, enjoyed at Kod Damira – a pub-like tavern with home-style local cooking at its heart. Two hefty plates of pasta did us for the night – spaghetti with octopus & zucchini (60) and tagliatelle with leek, pršut and goat cheese (80).
Lavender also filters into the menu here with things like lavender juice with champagne, cappuccino with lavender milk, lavender lemonade and lavender cake.
Bistro Kod Damira – Trg Stjepana Radića 5
For something a tad more stylish, there’s the beautiful Konoba Zvijezda Mora that spills into a passage that’s surrounded by lovely old stone buildings.
Here you can enjoy local food with a modern touch, beneath the stars and flickering lanterns. Dare I say it’s also romantic?
The house vino is something special and the service is incredibly friendly; a perfect start to our tasty food. Rolled chicken with rocket & prosciutto (80) and an incredible beef rižoto with squash and thyme (75). Even the virgin olive oil is amazing.
Konoba Zvijezda Mora – Ulica Petra Zoranića 6P
Continuing on with our travels and getting off the island of Hvar meant we needed to get to Jelsa, another fishing village some 25 minutes away.
Nestled between two of the highest mountains on the island, Jelsa is another relatively sleepy place that’s packed with charm. Wine cellars can be found throughout the town, along with numerous ancient ruins and the defensive remains of Civitas Vetus Ielsae (The Ancient City of Jelsa).
This partially preserved wall divides the peninsula from Mina beach to Bocic, so not much to see other than a semi-crumbling fortification.
Two ancient towers on the mountain above Jelsa: the Greek-Illyrian Tor Tower and the 4th century BC fortress town of Galesnik.
The town’s social centre is Pjaca – or town plaza – found near Church of Mary’s Assumption. It’s here that you’ll find a smattering of cafés, gift and clothing stores and plenty of locals catching up on village goss. It’s a perfect spot to sip on espresso or a local vino – a popular drop that has a history dating back more than 2000 years.
The Ancient Greeks arrived here in 384 BC and cultivated some 5700 hectares of vines, making Jelsa the heart of the wine industry and its harbour the hub of transporting quality vino around Europe.
Zupna Crkva Uznesenja Marinjina – Church of Mary’s Assumption
St. John’s Church
Towering over the old town is the Church of Mary’s Assumption, a beautiful structure that dates back to 1331. These trademark church towers are a common sight in this part of Croatia, and it seems that every other village has one.
Not too far away is St. Ivan’s Square (St. John’s), the best preserved part of the village from the Renaissance-Baroque era.
The small 17th century church at its heart is as pretty as a picture and is flanked by simple stone houses with lovely Renaissance balconies and street lamps.
Aside from the cafés on the square, the south side of the cove has some lovely alfresco restaurants that are ideal spots to enjoy a languid afternoon or evening. Alternatively, by the marina on the north side of the cove there’s a handful of eateries with gorgeous views of the village and mountain backdrop.
Five minutes walk from the centre of town is Konoba Turan, a traditional tavern that draws in visitors and locals alike. The beautiful leafy terrace is strewn with tables where one can enjoy the likes of grilled meats, Hvar-style pašticada (90) and a variety of dishes typical of the region. Service is very friendly and the house vino is quite drinkable.
Konoba Turan – Jelsa 638
The Jadrolinija ferry office is located at Plokata 19. travnja 1921 by the Marco Polo gift store. Passenger ferry tickets to Hvar cost 110 kuna per person and departure is at 6am and arrival at Hvar at 9.15am.
From Hvar we got the local bus to Stari Grad next door to the Konzum supermarket. Cost per person is 27 kuna and departure is 12.10pm. The trip takes just 20 minutes.
The local bus station in Stari Grad is located about 5 minutes walk from the old town, on the southeast side of Vorba park. Check the map for location. Cost per person to Jelsa is 22 kuna and it takes 25 minutes. Times are irregular so head to the information centre by the Pazar (market) to find out. Alternatively you can email email@example.com or call 021 765 904