Sunday, November 11, 2012

Authentic Dalmatia: The Hilltop Villages on the Island of Hvar

Looking for an authentic Dalmatian experience on Hvar? An overview of the inland villages of Dol, Pitve, Selca, Svirce, Vrisnik and Vrbanj.
Authentic Dalmatia: The Hilltop Villages on the Island of Hvar - Vivian Grisogono (http://)
While most visitors to the island of Hvar base themselves close to the beach, a growing number of visitors looking to experience authentic Dalmatia are heading to the hills to the six inland villages that form the central spine of the island.
Much quieter than the coastal resorts, the inland villages offer a more peaceful alternative in a traditional stone environment, and an opportunity to view daily life in a typical Dalmatian community without the tourist hordes. While several of the villages feature on the infamous 30km Za Krizem Easter procession, the main tourism focus is more understated, focusing on nature, walking and general relaxation. Here is a quick overview of the villages.
Pitve - 2000 Years of Tradition
One of the oldest settlements on Hvar and with an enviable view overlooking Jelsa and the neighbouring island of Brac, Pitve has long been a popular spot for tourists looking for authentic Dalmatia. The village comes in two parts, Lower and Upper Pitve, separated by the church and cemetery, and property was much sought after in the 2004 property boom, as foreigners flocked to buy traditional stone houses in the village.
According to the 2001 census, the full time population is 81, much reduced from the 756 people living there in 1921. Lower Pitve has two excellent restaurants, Dvor Dubokovic and Kod Komina, and many tourists pass through on the way to the Pitve - Zavala tunnel.
Vrisnik - Village of Heather
A winding road through vineyards and olive groves leads to the village of Vrisnik, named after the local heather, with the parish church of Sv. Ante towering above all. Built on the hillside, the views of Vrisnik from the road to Svirce are stunning.
Vrisnik is linked to the eco-village of Humac, a stunning abandoned shepherd's settlement, 10km east of Vrisnik, one of the undiscovered delights of Croatia, with villagers owning land and property in both places. The local restaurant, Konoba Vrisnik, has been attracting diners away from the more fashionable coastal restaurants with its excellent traditional fare.
Svirce - Wine and Oil Heaven
A short drive on from Vrisnik lies Svirce, nestled at the foot of Sv. Nikola, the highest point on Hvar (and a worthwhile trip for stunning panoramic views). It is the heart of wine production on the island with the biggest winery on the island. There is a hive of activity in Svirce in autumn as local olive farmers bring their harvest to be processed at the village's large olive press.
One of the most curious churches in Dalmatia can be found at the entrance to Svirce: built in the 18th Century, the Mary Magdalene Church has an atypical dome and is surrounded by cypress trees and the local cemeteries, and is worthy of investigation. Stop for a spot of lunch at the excellent Kod None, before walking up the hill to discover the heart of the old village, set out around the pretty main square.
Vrbanj - Largest Village on Hvar
The largest village on Hvar, Vrbanj is undergoing something of a renaissance. It boasts some extra facilities to attract visitors, including a bus connection to the ferry, post office, bars and an excellent restaurant, Konoba Boga.
A curious recent addition by the garishly painted priest's house is a model village and miniature lake which is a source of entertainment for small children, while it is also possible to catch a game of balota, the local equivalent of boules, on the main road.
Dol - Yoga and Meditation in Little Marrakesh
For those not feeling relaxed enough, drive on 2km to Little Marrakesh, as Dol is known locally. It is really two villages in one and has proved a popular place for foreigners to claim a slice of Dalmatian tranquility. The views to the Stari Grad channel are spectacular, as is the organic food in Konoba Kokot.
A growing attraction in the village of Dol is the Suncokret Body and Mind Retreat, run by an American-Croatian couple, and specialising in yoga and meditation techniques, as well as offering a wide range of original activities to bring alive the Dalmatian experience.
Selca - Forest Fires on the Old Road to Hvar
The final village in the central spine is Selca, which can be reached on the old road from Stari Grad to Hvar Town. With most property owners coming from neighbouring Stari Grad, the village is almost abandoned, and Selca was only connected to mains water three years ago. Its spectacular views of the Stari Grad channel and Rudine Peninsula have made it a favourite for foreign buyers, however, and it offers a peaceful retreat from the coast with the opening of the new road to Hvar Town, while only being five minutes from the main ferry terminal.
The savage forest fires of 2003 burned much of the land near Selca, and the fire even reached the village itself, singeing a couple of ruins on the edge of the village. A short distance from Selca on the way to Hvar Town is a bicycle route off a sharp left turn; it is a rough route, but eventually leads to the peak of the island and wonderful panoramic views.
One of the attractions of Hvar as a tourist destination is its sheer diversity, and there is plenty on offer for visitors looking to experience Authentic Dalmatia away from the beach.

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