As Hvar Town’s mayor acts to curb the party culture, just a short drive away to the island’s former capital, a classy and tranquil wander through the historic streets and harbour of Stari Grad on July 10, 2017.
One of the great misconceptions about Hvar and its party culture is that it is a party island. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, there is vibrant nightlife in the main town, also called Hvar, but once you leave the town, the only sound you are likely to experience in much of the rest of the island is the sound of lapping waves and cicadas in the island’s numerous bays and coves. There are other towns on Hvar of course, each with its own evening activities and summer cultural programmes, but the difference to the glitzy and packed Hvar Town in peak season could not be starker.
After my meetings and wander around Hvar Town yesterday, my next stop was Stari Grad, an ancient town which last year celebrated its 2400th birthday, and which has its very own adjacent UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Stari Grad Plain. It is a town which has lived in the shadow of its more glamorous neighbour to the west, but one which is quietly emerging as a top quality destination for those looking for the more refined aspects of a relaxing holiday in Dalmatia. There has been significant investment in the town’s infrastructure in recent years, and a riva extension has made Stari Grad much more attractive to visitors.
And when the history books on the rise of Stari Grad are written, I hope there will be a chapter dedicate to this building. Apolon, boutique rooms and a fine hotel, opened a few years ago, immediately raising both the gourmet and accommodation level of the town. Today this beautifully restored historic building sits overlooking the new waterfront, one of the prime spots on the island in my opinion.
Stari Grad has an incredibly deep bay, some 8km to its mouth from the town, making it an ideal sailing harbour, and it was here that the Ancient Greeks from the island of Paros came in 384BC to found the settlement of Faros, with its nearby agricultural colony which would become a UNESCO World Heritage Site almost 2400 years later. Come at the end of the week in August and see some of the world’s best swimmers, including Olympic Gold medallists, take part in one of the world’s most gruelling races, a 16km swim from the town to the mouth of the bay, and back.
Another firm sign of the bright future of Stari Grad is the announcement that Four Seasons Hotels will be opening a five-star resort a short walk from the town. Construction is expected to commence soon, and the resort, which will have a 120-room luxury hotel and 60 villas.
A new sales office showcasing the resort has recently opened just along from Apolon.
The new waterfront is developing nicely, well presented with greenery and colourful plants. A very relaxing stroll.
In many ways, Stari Grad is arguably the best place for year round living. While Hvar Town all but shuts down after the season, when it is a challenge to even find a restaurant open, life in Stari Grad does not change as drastically. Here of course is the main ferry terminal, the court and a few high quality restaurants which are open all year. A growing number of expats are choosing Stari Grad as their base. It is not hard to see why.
A timeless bay, with plenty of space for both the sailing boats and those owned by local residents and fishermen.
The pedestrianised old town, which dates back to those fearless Greeks all those centuries ago, had something of a facelift in the run-up to last year’s birthday. Particularly impressive is the recently paved square in front of the town’s most famous building, the historic Petar Hektorovic Tvrdalj, a delightfully leafy square with some excellent cafes for chilling and people watching.
The old town is full of quaint squares, and its warren of cobbled streets offer new treasures at every turn.
Many people’s favourite is Skor, close to the entrance of the town from the car park. Try and combine your visit with a wine tasting from the Hvar WIne Association, complete with live music. Traditional Dalmatia at its finest.
I have been coming to Stari Grad for 15 years, but do not visit as often as I used to, but it nice to see some popular institutions such as Marko’s still going strong. Lovely people and great value food.
A stroll through the back streets reveals other timeless classics. The unique dining experience that is Antika, complete with its wonderful and tiny cocktail terrace on the other side of the street. A fabulous little hideaway.
And for all the celebrity status of Hvar Town these days, it was in Stari Grad bay that Mrs JFK went waterskiing in 1964, and in this gorgeous restaurant that Edward and Mrs Simpson had lunch in 1936, as the abdicating British king enjoyed his honeymoon. Today Jurin Podrum is one of the island’s finest restaurants, with a menu which celebrates the island’s finest ingredients. Panna cotta with lavender, anyone?
Small enough to explore in about an hour, big enough to almost get lost, the other big advantage of Stari Grad in the hot summers is the shade it offers, and just how cool it is a short walk from the waterfront.
Hvar the party island? If that is what you seek, that is what you can find. But the strength of the island of Hvar is its diversity, and you can find whatever you are looking for here. A destination very much on the rise, the relaxed lifestyle in Stari Grad is becoming increasingly hard to beat.
A top time to visit? Check out the Days in the Bay festival from September 14-17 below.