Monday, April 25, 2011
As one would expect for an island, the history of Hvar has been broadly shaped and influenced by outsiders, each invading force leaving their mark, which has resulted in a rich cultural, archaeological and architectural legacy. There is much to discover for visitors interested in the heritage of Hvar, as this brief overview of the island’s history will demonstrate.
The earliest signs of civilisation on Hvar date back to Neolithic times and the so-called Hvar Culture of 3500 – 2500 BC. These estimates by archaeologists are based on artefacts and painted pottery in the caves of Grapceva and Markova Spilija, both of which can be visited today. Examples of the finds are displayed in the excellent Heritage Museum in Hvar Town.
Given its prominent position on a busy sea route, it is perhaps surprising that the island was not settled earlier that 384 BC, when the Ancient Greeks founded the settlement of Pharos (modern-day Stari Grad). The Ionian Greeks, the Parans, were in search of a base for military and trade expansion and the deep bay at Pharos offered the best protection.
The first recorded naval battle in the Adriatic took place just off Hvar, with the Greeks successfully taking on the native Illyrian tribe of the Liburni, an account of which was written by Diodorus of Sicily.
While there is some evidence of Greek heritage in present day Stari Grad, the most striking remnant is the UNESCO-protected Stari Grad Plain, a superbly preserved 80-hectare agricultural colony still in use today.
With the decline of the Syracuse Empire, Pharos enjoyed a brief period of local rule under Demetrius of Hvar, who kept the Romans at bay until they finally smashed the walls of Pharos in 229 BC. The Romans used the island as a strategic and logistical base, keeping their boats in the protected bays of the Scedro and the Pakleni Islands. Roman holiday houses sprang up in the bays close to fresh water, most notably in Hvar, Stari Grad and Jelsa. Archaeological finds confirm that the islanders were engaged in an existence of wine growing, fishing and trade.
There is little recorded about Hvar after Roman rule but the island was under a Croatian state of the Neretljani in the early Middle Ages, along with surrounding islands, before being briefly occupied by Venice in 1147. This was only temporary, however, as Croatian-Hungarian King Bela III managed to bring Dalmatia under his rule.
The Venetians were back in 1278, having been invited back by the islanders looking for protection from the pirates of Omis. One of the early changes the Venetians introduced was to move central administration from Stari Grad to Hvar, and the new centre became a regional centre of administration for Hvar, Vis and Brac. A plan to build walls around the town and monastery was initiated in 1292.
Venice’s rule was far from secure, and the island’s noblemen rebelled in 1310, and the Hvar’s rulers changed several times (Croatian-Hungarian kingdom, Bosnian kingdom and Dubrovnik) before, along with the rest of Dalmatia, a more protracted period of Venetian rule from 1420 to 1797.
Hvar became the main Venetian port in the eastern Adriatic, but was under constant threat of attack from the Turkish fleet which controlled the mainland near Makarska. A devastating Turkish naval attack in 1571 under Algerian commander Uluz Ali in 1571 laid waste Vrboska, Stari Grad and Hvar.
Hvar prospered under Venetian rule, and was known as a place for wine, lavender, olives, rosemary, fishing and boat building. More than three centuries of rule from Venice came to an end in 1797, when the Austrians briefly took over before themselves being usurped by the French. The Russians bombarded Hvar in 1807 in a period of general instability and warfare in Europe, until the Austrians retook control in 1813, a rule that lasted into the 20th Century.
Austrian rule was stable and brought prosperity, most notably in the development of health tourism on the island, with the founding of the Hvar Health Society in 1868. The oldest meteorological station in Croatia was also established in 1858. Austrian rule also brought infrastructure improvements to the island, with all the ports rebuilt, new lighthouses, malaria-infested marshland reclaimed, and a road connecting Jelsa to Pitve and Vrisnik in 1907. The old road from Jelsa to Hvar did not appear until the 1930s, and previous travel options were ship or 8-hour donkey ride.
The Italians were back in November, 1919, occupying Hvar once more after fierce fighting, an occupation which lasted until the 1921 Treaty of Rapello consigned the island to membership of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later the first Yugoslavia and then the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Hvar’s latest (and one would hope permanent) change of master occurred on January 15 1992, when Croatia was recognised as an independent state.
So just how do you pronounce this beautiful island? And what are the origins of its linguistically-challenging name? For Westerners used to a good coating of vowels in their words, Croatian can be a handful to pronounce (For Trieste, read Trst for example), and words in English beginning with H+V are in short supply.
There seem to be two approaches which seem to work. The first is to ignore the ‘H’ completely and ask the ticket seller at the ferry terminal for a ticket to Var. The other is it to insert an ‘A’ and come up with Ha-var. You will sound like a tourist, but at least you should get a ticket to the right island. The correct pronunciation is somewhere between the two, a very shortened ‘A.’ If in doubt, just ask for Croatia’s premier island.
The origins of the name seem to descend from the Ancient Greeks, who named the their settlement Pharos (lighthouse). The Romans derived the name Pharia, which then became Fara. This changed in the Middle Ages to Hvar, as the Slavonic consonant ‘F’ was superceded by ‘HV’. This was sometimes spelt Quara or Quarra. To further confuse the issue, the Italians renamed the island Lesina in the 11th Century (or Liesena or Liesna in Venetian dialect), which was derived from an old Croatian word for ‘forest’.
For an island that has been receiving visitors since the Ancient Greeks settled in 389 BC, the inhabitants of Hvar are used to receiving tourists. Known today as Croatia’s premier island and a must-see on the Adriatic coast, the origins of the island’s tourism have little to do with the sun, beach and party image. Click here for a detailed overview of the history of tourism on Hvar from its humble beginnings to the founding of the Hvar Health Society in 1868, the oldest organised tourism in Europe.
Royal Investment in Europe’s Oldest Organised Tourism
With the founding of the Hvar Health Society on May 15, 1868, the first organised tourism in Europe came into being, tourism based on health and recuperation, rather than historical sites. While individual travel had a long tradition among the upper classes, the first organised tourist association in France only came into existence in Cannes in 1907 (Syndicat d’Initiative). The birth of organised tourism in Europe was announced as follows:
Having surrendered Venice, in all its vast dominions Austria does not have a single place on the coast suitable for people with chest illnesses to stay during the winter season, despite the fact that there are several such places in Istria and Dalmatia.
After due consideration, and with the approval of the most capable doctors and excellent naturalists, it has been established that nowhere is better than Hvar for those with chest illnesses. With its location, the particular nature of the town and the special features of its climate, it can not only rival Venice, Pisa, Nice and so on, but can often outshine them.
Guided by these reasons, and inspired by patriotism and humanity, in the belief that we can offer people from Austria and Northern Germany a superior and more accessible resort, we are establishing in Hvar, Dalmatia, a joint stock company called the Health Society in Hvar.
The aim of the Health Society is to provide everything needed for visitors to have a pleasant stay in this town, so that their sufferings are eased and their diseased lungs can benefit from our mild climate and health-giving air.
For this purpose, the Society will have at its disposal comfortable accommodation for visitors, providing all services, and sparing no effort to fulfil all their desires.
By October several houses will be ready and equipped for this purpose.
Hvar, 15th May 1868.
The first hotel for the new society was a private house on the main square in Hvar Town, owned by the Samohod-Duboković family, which opened for business on October 15 1868 after a full renovation. The new hotel had 13 single rooms with heating and a restaurant, and was staffed by a cook, two waiters and a chambermaid from Trieste.
Funds for a more expansive hotel were sought but progress was slow and the temporary hotel was moved to the former military building on the Fabrika in 1872, with private accommodation fulfilling any shortfall in beds.
The Hvar Health Society petitioned the Court in Vienna for financial support to build a proper hotel, asking that the Empress Elizabeth become patron of the new hotel, allowing it to bear her name. She agreed and the first royal donation was made in 1869 with this reply:
To the honourable Management of the Health Society in Hvar, Dalmatia
Her Majesty the Empress and Queen has very generously decided to accept patronage of your Health Society, based in Hvar, and to allow the Clinic built by this Society to bear the name “Stabilimento igienico imperatrice Elisabetta” (The Empress Elizabeth Institution of Health). As a mark of her most gracious acknowledgement of the worthy aim of the aforementioned Institution, it is her pleasure to grant a gift for it of 200 florins from her Royal Highness’ personal funds.
As it is my honour to inform the honourable Management of the Health Society in Hvar of the glad news of Her Majesty’s decision relating to the request of the 20th of last month, and to pass on the above-mentioned generously approved sum, I ask you kindly to sign and return the enclosed confirmation of receipt of the same.
Gödöllö, 10th November 1869
B. Napcsa, on behalf of Her Majesty
Construction of the new hotel, where the ruins of the former Ducal Palace once stood, was slow, from plans drawn up in 1880 to completion of the first part of the building in 1898 and formally opened on April 1 1899.
The fully completed Kur Hotel Kaiserin Elizabeth opened in 1903, furnished from Trieste and boasting 35 beds, bathrooms, a reading room, restaurant and coffee-house in the old loggia.
Some of the hotel’s rules, included in the 1905 rule book (printed in Croatian, Italian and German), required guests to be clean and tidy, not to smoke at lunch, play dangerous games inside the hotel, bring in animals or hang washing outside.
Expansion of Tourism on Hvar
The Society’s early efforts were both impressive and successful, with Hvar becoming known as the Austrian Madeira. The majority of guests were German, Austrian, Czech, Hungarian and Croatian, enticed to Dalmatia by some excellent tourism promotion by the Hvar Health Society.
In addition to the various leaflets, notices and reviews in Austrian journals, the first guide to Hvar, in German, was printed in Trieste in 1899, followed by a second with photographs in 1903. Things to do on Hvar included night fishing, bowling, the shooting range, concerts and music on the hotel’s terrace, and the art collection at the Franciscan Monastery.
The tourism boom inspired others to jump on the bandwagon and the privately-owned Hotel Kovacic opened in 1914 on the waterfront, as did the Palmizana Manor House on the Pakleni Islands in 1906.
The financial dividends of successful tourism were somewhat reinvested in the town, and there were major improvements in this period, including fixing the promenades to the Franciscan Monastery and Majerovia Bay. Improvements were also made to the town’s bathing beach, changing huts and tennis courts, trees were planted and ferry connections improved.
The most high profile visitor to Hvar in the early years was Emperor Franz Joseph I himself, who sailed in for a night in 1875, to be greeted with a spectacular reception, including fireworks, leading him to address the people of the town:
Thank you for the heartfelt welcome organized by this historic town. I have always believed in the sincere and patriotic feelings of these people, and I guarantee them my Imperial mercy and benevolence.’
After a successful start, the Society’s fortunes changed after 1910 and a combination of constant debts and the First World War led to the sale of the hotel to the owner of Hotel Royal in Zagreb in 1918.
Tourism on Hvar Between the Wars: 1921 - 1941
The Hvar Health Society was dissolved shortly afterwards, and the period of 1921-1941 was one of great change, both politically and from a tourism perspective, as Hvar’s rulers changed from Italian occupiers to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, then to Yugoslavia and into the Second World War.
A new breed of tourism entrepreneur emerged, expanding the offer from traditional health tourism into more recreational and bathing holidays, and with the expansion, so tourism was opened up to different social classes. The Hvar Council Tourist Board came into being in the late 1930s.
A driving force in this expansion was the director of the Palace Hotel (as the Empress Elizabeth had been renamed) and leader of the town council, Dr. Josip Avelini, whose energy and enthusiasm led to the construction of new hotels and improved public services.
Work began on the large Madeira Hotel in 1929, the Palace was extended in 1935, and construction of the Dr. Jopip Avelini Health Centre finally opened at Hotel Dalamacija in 1948. Palm trees were planted along the promenade in 1924 and a new stone bathing station unveiled in 1927.
A small electric plant in 1925 lit up the town each night, while the water supply grid from the springs near the town was introduced in 1923. A road connecting Hvar with the northern coastal towns of Jelsa and Stari Grad was finished in 1939. Others followed suit, and Hotels Park, Overland and Slavija were built at this time.
The boost in tourism was gratefully received by the local population, suffering as they were from poor wine yields, which had led to large-scale emigration. Records show that there were 3,065 visitors in 1930, for example, totaling 26,911 overnight stays.
As for Hvar’s original hotel, the Empress Elizabeth was renamed the Grand Palace by the new owner, who himself fell into debt, and ownership transferred to a Serbian bank, who sold it to the Honorary Yugoslav Consul in Prague. He remained the owner until the break-up of the first Yugoslavia.
The most ambitious project was the spa Hotel Madeira, a 160-bed hotel where the present Hotel Adriana is located, with central heating and even a lift. Due to a scandal with one of the main investors, a government minister, the hotel was never built, and the site lay empty for forty years until the Hotel Adriatic was built.
Hvar under Communism: Mass Tourism and the Rise of Naturism
Emerging from the Second World War under Communist Yugoslav rule, Hvar’s tourism suffered on two fronts: firstly, many of the traditional guests from Austria and West Germany could not easily visit; and secondly, the new authorities nationalised all the hotels and decided to focus tourism based on workers’ trade unions, so that the majority of visitors were children, invalids and workers, with the only sizable foreign contingent being the Czechs.
In order to attract more quality tourism, the Hvar Hotel Company was established in 1959, an independent company managed by a young Hvar citizen, Tonko Domancic. A new leaflet produced in the same year, entitled “Come to Hvar this winter – the sunniest island on the Adriatic” marked a shift in emphasis in the Hvar tourism offer.
At the same time, several municipal projects, including the 364-bed Hotel Pharos and night-time restaurant on the island of Galesnik, opposite Hvar Town, increased the tourism offer, which also now projected Hvar as an ideal naturist resort, as well as a health resort.
It worked. Hvar became a very popular place to visit from Western Europe and Scandinavia, as tourists took advantage of the cheaper prices in Yugoslavia and the hospitable welcome and improved facilities, and the island once more regained its quality tourism image. Famous guests at the time included Orson Welles (who filmed The Deep on Hvar), actress Jeanne Moreau, actor George Hamilton, designer Pierre Cardin and underwater explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau.
Naturism was an especially effective tourism strategy and Western naturists, particularly from Germany flocked to the island from the 1960s. While the naturist tradition was at odds with Hvar’s conservative society, the island of Jerolim on the Pakleni Islands was made available to naturists discreetly, the first such offer on the Adriatic coast. Hvar has been a haven for naturists ever since.
With the growth of mass tourism in the 1970s came the even stronger growth of the private accommodation offer, which is the backbone of much private income on the island, and has resulted in some lifelong friendships, as tourists return each year to the same families and apartments. In 1930, there were only 44 private rooms for rent in Hvar Town, a number that had increased to 700 by 1990.
War in Yugoslavia and the Arrival of ORCO Group
War, this time a more localised affair, decimated the tourist industry in the early 1990s, at a time when Yugoslavia was the second most popular destination for British tourists after Spain. Not only were foreign guests not coming, but the hotels were filled with refugees and the displaced from mainland Croatia. The effects on the island’s economy and the livelihoods of the many dependent on tourism was severe.
Recovery was initially slow in a newly independent Croatia, as many tourists stayed away, confused as to whether or not Croatia was still a war zone. A highly effective marketing campaign by the Croatian National Tourist Board, under the banner The Mediterranean as it Once Was, helped to dispel some of the myths and tourists are once more flocking to the island.
Hvar Town itself has undergone a major upgrade, both in terms of branding and renovation, with the arrival of Orco Group in 2005, who bought a majority share in Suncani Hvar, the Hvar Town hotel group. Since purchasing, millions have been invested into revamping the hotels and improving the town’s image, so that it is now known as the new St. Tropez.
Now known as one of the premier spots on the Adriatic, the history of tourism on Hvar has been turbulent, but the fundamentals remain the same – it is the sunniest island with stunning scenery and pristine beaches, as well as an extremely healthy climate, leading Conde Nast readers to vote it among the top ten most beautiful islands in the world.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Away from the beaches and into the hills, Hvar is a spectacular combination of colours set against the azure seas and green forests. The plant for which Hvar is most famous, of course, is lavender, and the island is a purple aromatic delight in June and July as the lavender comes into bloom. Click here for more on the history of lavender on Hvar.
Lavender makes an ideal gift, either as dried flowers, oil or scented souvenirs from Hvar, and one lesser known festival worth exploring in June is the lavender festival in Velo Grablje, once the centre of lavender production in Dalmatia.
A more recent and certainly more quirky effect of lavender on one local resident is the birth of Hvar's very own superhero. You can read more about the origins and exploits of Lavanderman here.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Away from the crowds in Hvar Town and the southern beaches of Zavala and Ivan Dolac is one of Hvar's most undiscovered areas - the Rudine Peninsula. Situated just 2km from historic Stari Grad, the peninsula is a haven of peace and quiet, and is full of hidden coves for swimming and sailing enthusiasts, with the bay at Zukova a particular highlight. Click here for more information on the hidden delights of the Rudine Peninsula.
For tourists wanting to experience the relaxation of Rudine, there is a small selection of available accommodation. Among the best offers are these recently renovated stone houses, above, complete with swimming pool, and an outstandingly well-built house containing two quality apartments with all mod cons in the heart of 'Little Bosnia.'
Sunday, April 17, 2011
As Croatia's premier island, Hvar is one of the most popular places on the Adriatic for a holiday, with tourists drawn to the party atmosphere of Hvar Town, its excellent sailing and beaches, as well as its historic old towns such as Vrboska, Jelsa and Stari Grad on the north coast.
Away from the coast, however, there are plenty of more tranquil delights to discover, from the annual lavender festival, to hiking in some of the most picturesque scenery in Europe.
One of the strengths of Hvar is its diversity, with something for everyone. Click here for Ten Things Not to Miss on Hvar.
With blue skies, azure seas and temperatures in the mid-20s, Easter 2011 on Hvar promises to be a special event. Traditionally the time when the island emerges from the long Dalmatian winter and various establishments open up for the season, Easter is also the most important event on the religious calendar, a time when family members return home from the mainland to celebrate Easter.
The cornerstone of the religious celebrations in Jelsa is the 500 year-old, UNESCO-protected Easter Procession through the night on Maundy Thursday, where a procession follows a barefooted cross-bearer on a 22km procession through six villages. Click here for more on the Za Krizem Easter Procession, including recordings of the hypnotic chanting.
Recognised as one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world by readers of Conde Nast, and with an average of 2724 hours of sun, the island of Hvar is growing in popularity as a tourist destination.
Croatia's premier island is a diverse and rewarding experience, from the party atmosphere of Hvar Town to yoga and meditation in picturesque settings. The northern resorts of Jelsa, Vrboksa and Stari Grad offer a more relaxed break by the sea in old stone surroundings, while southern beach resorts such as Zavala, Ivan Dolac and Sveta Nedelja offer excellent family beach holidays.
The aim of this blog is to bring the island of Hvar to life and to explore some of the lesser known aspects of this stunning island. For more information on Hvar, a new guide book, Hvar: An Insider's Guide to Croatia's Premier Island will be available for the 2011 season.
Before you can enjoy Hvar, you have to get here! The most popular entry points are from Split and Dubrovnik. Click on the following links for a comprehensive breakdown of flights to Dubrovnik from the UK and Ireland, flights to Dubrovnik from the rest of Europe, and flights to Split from the UK and Split from Ireland and Europe.
Onward travel from Split Airport to the Hvar is fairly straightforward, with different options by bus, taxi and rental car to the ferry, while travel from Dubrovnik to Hvar is covered by bus, car or ferry.