Continuing our look at 2018 European Best Destinations nominee, the island of Hvar, a closer look at one of the gems of the island – Jelsa.
Back in 1983, it was named as the top destination in all of former Yugoslavia, and it would appear that the good times are once more just around the corner for Jelsa, the third biggest town on the island of Hvar.
No destination in Croatia has undergone as much infrastructure change as Jelsa in the last few years, and 2018 promises to be the year when all the hard work will present itself in a gorgeous Dalmatian destination with quite a facelift.
At the heart of the upgrade is the new riva, which has been extended by ten metres. More and more restaurants have been opening her in recent years, and the new riva is a great addition to the town, and is rivalling the main square as the centre of social life. The road to Sucuraj has been shortened and upgraded, while various works in and around the town have given Jelsa a much more glamorous look than in years gone by. For an update on the latest with all the renovation works, click here.
My home for 13 years, I was always amazed at how undiscovered Jelsa was compared to other Dalmatian island towns. Almost everyone who visits it is enchanted, and yet it remains relaxed and calm, even in the height of the summer. The connections to Jelsa include a daily catamaran to and from Split via Bol, and this was where the first scheduled seaplane flight in modern European history took place (the service has sadly been discontinued, but another company is keen to restart operations), and it is also close to the main ferry in Stari Grad.
At first glance, Jelsa looks like a tranquil, pretty harbour town, where not much happens, but dig a little deeper and you will see a destination with something for everyone, at prices a little lower than more popular destinations in the region.
If you like your wine, you have come to the right town. Jelsa is the heartland of the Hvar wine story, and back in the 19th century, its harbour saw plenty of sizable boats taking its barrels all over Europe. These days, the quantities may be smaller, but the quality is also there. Jelsa wines can now be bought online as far away as the United States, and the three wine tasting experiences of Andro Tomic, Ivo Dubokovic and Teo Huljic are among the best on the island. And if you are interested in tasting a little more in the close vicinity, check out British Master of Wine Jo Ahearne in Vrisnik, Ivo Caric in Vrboska, whose wine is served in a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Holland, and the Svirce Cooperative, whose Ivan Dolac Barrique has won international organic gold on more than one occasion at Biofach Mundus Vini in Germany. Too lazy to visit all the wineries? Let them come to you – Artichoke Wine Bar, one of the new restaurants on the expanded waterfront, has the biggest selection of Hvar wines on the island, many by the glass.
For beach lovers, Jelsa is heaven indeed. Many locals like to visit the rocky beaches of Vitarnja, on the road to Vrboska. Keep going and you will find some delightful little coves not frequented by the masses. Others prefer the other side of the bay, which offers the latest sun – Zencisce, Grebisce and Mina, the latter two with shallow sandy bases, ideally for family beach time. One of the new additions to Jelsa is the so-called Copacabana Town Beach, located right at the end of the riva, so not too far to walk for another glorious day at the beach.
The daily catamaran to Bol and Split is one way to travel, but there are also tourist boats in season, where you can enjoy the calm waters between the two islands, often accompanied by dolphins, just one of many day trips which can be enjoyed from Jelsa. It is ideally located to explore the rest of Hvar.
For activity lovers, Jelsa is arguably the most sporting town on Hvar. Its rowing club is one of the strongest in Croatia, and you can see the young rowers out in the harbour in the early morning, a wonderfully tranquil way to enjoy an early cappuccino in one of the numerous waterfront cafes. Jelsa is also a popular cycling destination, and the shoulder months are seeing a sharp increase in cyclists, including world champion Vincenzo Nibali in December 2017, part of the Bahrain Merida cycling team which was here for winter training. Hiking, kayaking, sailing and scuba diving can all be arranged locally. That is one of the beauties of Jelsa – you can be as busy as you want to be.
Which brings us to the most magical part of Jelsa, at least for me – the main square. Rarely in life have I found such a picturesque and agreeable slice of the planet in all my years of travels. Seven cafes, each with their own personality, give life to this square, where relaxation is kind, where kids of all ages and nationalities mix and engage, while hard-working parents relax in the sun with an espresso or something stronger. In an era where safety is increasingly a memory of a previous generation, Jelsa is one of the safest places I have lived, and the perfect place to bring up small children.
When is the best time to visit? That, of course, depends on your individual needs, but for an atmosphere that is quite unique in the world, I would recommend you come at Easter, just the once. For here, during Holy Week, extended families come back to the town to celebrate Easter, with many taking part in the 500-year-old UNESCO procession known as Za Krizen (Behind the Cross). Although not a tourist event whatsoever, it is quite a spectacle, as cross bearers from six villages simultaneously lead their acolytes and pilgrims on a 22km procession through the other villages starting at 22:00 on Maundy Thursday and finishing at about 07:00 on Good Friday. Learn more about Za Krizen in the official UNESCO video below.
Jelsa, a divine little spot (as well as being the birthplace of TCN…), and a worthy addition to the island nominated as the best destination in all Europe. Have you voted yet? You can do so here.
Want to learn a little more about Jelsa? 25 Things to Know.