I met an American friend for a drink in Split the other day. A recent arrival in Croatia, he was just back from his first visit to Hvar Town and was waxing lyrical about the island that had been my home for 13 years.
I smiled. Not just as his obvious love and enthusiasm for what really is one of the most beautiful islands in the world, but also that his (correct) perception of elite Hvar Town was a sign that this magical place has once more found its focus after a rather turbulent few years.
I too had been to Hvar Town last week, my first visit for a while. And it was… different, but in a very pleasant way.
As I listened to my American friend talking about Hvar’s beauty, I filled him in a little on the recent history, commenting just how far Hvar Town had come in such a short space of time.
I have been writing about Hvar for over a decade, and with over 9,000 articles written about the island over the years, there is little that I have not covered. And one topic has been the subject of much controversy over the years – Hvar Town and the party.
Hvar Town is a destination which has it all. The Pakleni islands, a spectacular old town, UNESCO heritage, the oldest public theatre in the world, fabulous food and wine, lively nightlife, beaches to die for, and an outstanding adventure tourism offer. When they all work in tandem, the town is magnificent.
But something went badly wrong over the last decade, as the party – always an accepted and welcome part of the tourism makeup – took full control of tourism in Hvar Town. Rather than attracting global headlines for its beauty and culture, Hvar was appearing on lists such as top 7 stag destinations in Europe. The arrival of The Yacht Week brought with it drunken debauchery, The elite waterfront was often taken over by drunken Brits and Aussies, while early morning risers would sometimes have to step over sleeping bodies to go on with their daily business. So bad did things become that the Mayor Riki Novak introduced signs threatening huge fines for people eating, drinking and walking topless on the streets of the historic centre. It was a story which went around the globe.
Was all that just a bad dream, I asked myself, as I strolled around last week, a question I asked myself again when talking to my American friend.
Hvar Town 2021 is magnificent! Those infamous signs are there as a reminder of the recent past, but that is all. The nightlife is still there, but now more contained as it used to be. And in its place, the return of quality on every level. No topless drunkards wandering through the main square carrying open cans of beer, just people relaxing in one of the Adriatic’s most beautiful towns.
There have been a lot of positives in Hvar Town over the last few years, apart from the scaling back of the party. Europe’s oldest public theatre reopened on the main square after a 20-year renovation. Opposite, and across Dalmatia’s largest square, the island welcomed its first-ever five star hotel in 2019, as Hotel Palace Elisabeth, hvar heritage hotel, opened its doors on the very place where organised tourism began in Europe with the founding of the Hvar Health Society in 1868.
In front of the hotel, the iconic Loggia has also been through an upgrade, and the centre of the town has never looked as appealing as it does at the moment, especially in peak season. The numbers are not quite at pre-pandemic level, but the hotels are completely full, and there is a pleasant relaxed buzz about the place.
Lunch was a chance to catch up on yet one more renovation and upgrade – the new Suncani Hvar Beach Club, located in the spectacular 1927 Bons les Bains colonnade. With every sunbed and cabana already rented out for the day, I had to console myself with a waterfront lunch instead.
And rather tasty it was, with a shared table including tuna tartare, grilled tuna and shrimp, and lamb chops.
The view to the sea is always magnificent, but there is a real feeling that the town itself has recognised its quality offer and is moving on from the party era in search of more discerning guests looking for a more elegant experience that perhaps they have had in recent years.
Walking along the waterfront , which was not too busy, was a very pleasant experience, and there were plenty swimming in the little bay next to the 550-year-old Franciscan Monastery. My next meeeting was in Krizna Luka, which was once almost an afterthought compared to the more fashionable centre. But in recent years, it – like the rest of the town – has raised its game. New cafes and restaurants have emerged, and they seem to be growing in popularity with an excellent (and more affordable) offering than in the centre. Krizna Luka is also becoming more central to local life, with more apparently more cafes open there during the winter than in the centre.
The pandemic has wreaked much havoc and destruction to tourism all over the world. But maybe, just maybe, it has also contrinbuted to a tourism mindset reset in certain quarters. Aided by a very focused strategy of the Hvar tourism chiefs, things are finally moving very much in the right direction.
If you have never been to Hvar, now is the time.
To learn more about Hvar Town, check out the TC Hvar Town in a Page guide.