May 28, 2019 – Stari Grad is the 2400-year-old town of my grandmother; a gem located on the glorious island of Hvar. While the island itself is recognized most for the glitz, glamour, and party culture of Hvar town, Stari Grad is an ancient sanctuary located just under 30 minutes away from its better-known sibling. It is a quiet escape from the buzz on the other side of the island, and a paradise when you need to flee from the swarms of tourists already hitting the city of Split.
With May nearing its end and a month of peculiar spring weather almost over (we hope), we inch closer to the heart of the tourist season in Croatia. But before the scorching summer heat, sweaty tour groups and long queues ensue, I opted for a preseason getaway to Stari Grad for a moment of meditation; a chance to enjoy the calm before the storm.
While my grandmother hails from Stari Grad, and specifically the village of Dol, I’m ashamed to say I seldom visit. If I make it once or twice a year, I consider myself lucky, and it’s usually thanks to family visiting during the summer. I have, however, been fortunate to visit Stari Grad a handful of times in the preseason, specifically in May – and it is a tradition I intend on keeping.
So, with the weather a gamble, sea temperatures not quite up to par, and a 50/50 chance that anything will be operating, why is Stari Grad a preseason paradise?
Quiet streets, empty squares, and no crowds in sight
And dare I say it – peace. Living in Split, I’ve grown accustomed to the tourist boom hitting earlier each year, which is really beginning to take its toll. How rare it is to be able to navigate your way through a narrow alleyway, not cramped or behind a group of umbrella-clad tourists who sometimes seem to forget that others exist.
Stari Grad, on the other hand, had none of that. And it felt as if we were the only ones in town.
The restaurants are just beginning to open for the season
While one might assume this comes with sides of good and bad, for our weekend, it was perfect. Sure, the staff might still be working out the kinks, the menus might still be developing, and you’ll most likely be sitting in an empty restaurant or alleyway with no way of gauging whether it’s good or bad; however, the positives prevail.
For starters, you receive the undivided attention of the restaurant staff. You’re able to get personal and learn about the biography behind the business, and, well, you’re probably treated a bit better than when hundreds of hungry and screaming tourists jump in asking for orders of ketchup and pomfrit. It’s an intimate experience you’ll be hard pressed to find in the peak season, and one you should never take for granted.
You can buy local
Namely, a French couple with a ‘passion for gastronomy, wines, culture and beautiful places around the world’ opened the alleyway treasure ‘Za Pod Zub’ a few years ago – and TCN even met Chloé and Yvan last year. Bringing together more than 70 producers and 250 products from the islands and all over Croatia, Za Pod Zuub showcases the best that Croatia has to offer – and you get to take it home with you, too.
We opted for a fresh goat cheese made from the ‘goats around the corner’, red-wine soaked prosciutto from Drniš, and sage and onion crackers to create our charcuterie lunch at home. To drink, we couldn’t pass up the Rosina by Master of Wine, Jo Ahearne of Ahearne Vino on Hvar.
They even carry a creative collection of Croatian gin, which we went back to buy before our ferry home.
And an impressive selection of hot sauces which warms any Californian girl’s heart.
And you can swim
If you’re brave enough, that is. And there were a few.
There’s even entertainment
How lucky were we to find that the Evening of Singing – Večer od kantonjo – was held in St. Stephen’s Square on the Saturday we visited. Organized by the Faroski Kantaduri, this was the sixth meeting of the island klapa, conceived as an evening of original singing. Each klapa group performed two old original songs, and the groups included female klapa Frecija (Jelsa), Klapa Kaštilac (Vrboska), Klapa Galešnik (Hvar), female klapa Bodulke (Hvar), Klapa Pharia (Brusje), Klapa Priženca (Svirče), and Faroskikantaduri (Stari Grad). The guest of the evening was Klapa Mela from Murter.
This klapa meeting officially opens the tourist season and the cultural summer in Stari Grad.
A picture-perfect paradise before the chaos of summer hits on the coast, why wouldn’t you escape to Stari Grad?
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