History, Beaches, Restaurants and UNESCO Zone: Stari Grad on Hvar
Party in Hvar Town or opt for the more relaxed setting of Stari Grad, the second town on Croatia's premier island, and a history dating 2,300 years.
While the celebrities and jet-set head for the yachts and hotels in Hvar Town, the island's second town of Stari Grad offers a more relaxed holiday experience and is an excellent base for tourists wanting to sample the island of Hvar's rich history and fine culinary traditions. Dating back to 384 BC, Stari Grad is one of the oldest towns in Europe and much has been preserved for visitors to appreciate.
UNESCO and the Stari Grad Plain
Originally named Faros by Greek settlers from Paros, the town was renamed Faria in Roman times, before becoming Stari Grad (literally meaning Old Town). While the old town is extremely well preserved, it is the Stari Grad Plain, a short walk from the town, which came under the cultural protection of UNESCO in 2008, when it was listed as one of eight new sites to the World Heritage List.
Relatively untouched in the intervening 24 centuries, the plain is an agricultural landscape developed by the Greeks, consisting of stone shelters, a water collection system and stone walls. The same basic crops - grapes and olives - are still cultivated today. Plans to expand the nearby airstrip into something more substantial have been thwarted by conservationists.
Old Town of Stari Grad
The well-preserved old town is a pedestrianised warren of back streets, churches and pretty squares, dotted with cafes, restaurants and art galleries, and proved to be a popular choice for foreigners in the Croatian property boom of 2004, with the British and Norwegians leading the charge for authentic Dalmatian stone houses (the Norwegian ambassador is one of at least a dozen Scandinavians who bought in the old town). As busy as Hvar becomes in August, the old town is cooler, quieter and more relaxed than other towns.
Two worthwhile museum visits are the Stari Grad Museum, with its architectural collection from Stari Grad Plain and a reconstruction of a Greek shipwreck, and the house of poet Petar Hektorovic, which is the most prominent building in the town, and houses the ethnographic museum, a fish pond and some interesting engravings in both Croatian and Latin.
Accommodation, Restaurants and Cafes in Stari Grad
Unlike many resorts in Dalmatia, Stari Grad is a thriving community all year round, with many of the islands institutions based here, including the court, main shopping centre and ferry terminal. There are some excellent cafes on the various squares in the old town, including Malo Misto and Gradska Kavana, close to the court, where clandestine legal negotiations occur over double espressos.
Some of the best dining is available in Stari Grad, from the excellent value pizza and pasta at Konoba Marko to the Baron steaks at Stari Mlin (Old Mill) across the harbour, a favourite haunt of John Malkovich and ex-Croatian President Stipe Mesic, among others. One other gem not to miss in the old town is Antika, which offers traditional Dalmatian fare and has a gem of a leafy terrace hidden away - the perfect spot to relax with a cocktail or three.
The only hotels in Stari Grad are some distance from the town across the harbour, but there is an excellent range of private accommodation available, from modern apartments to renovated stone houses for guests looking for a more authentic experience.
Day Trips from Stari Grad
Given its central location, Stari Grad is an ideal base from which to explore the rest of the island. Hvar Town is a pleasant 20 minute drive along the new road or slightly longer for those with time and nerves to spare, along the old road. Other popular day trips are to the nearby resorts of Vrboska (home of the island's main marina) and Jelsa, from where regular tourists boats offer trips to the famous Zlatni Rat beach at Bol on the island of Brac.
Those with some time may want to investigate the old town of Split, whose fourth Century centrepiece, Diocletian's Palace, can be comfortably investigated in a return trip on the ferry. Tourists with lazy energy have a selection of excellent beaches to choose from, several of which are within walking distance of the town. Sun seekers looking to get off the beaten track might want to explore the wild and deserted Rudine Peninsula, 2km north of the town.
How to Get to Stari Grad
With its close proximity to the main ferry terminal, Stari Grad is a popular destination for many tourists and is only a ten minute walk from the ferry for backpackers. There are regular ferries from Split all year round, with services for the two-hour crossing increased for the season from late May. A fast catamaran in peak season offers a direct service to Pescara in Italy, while the eight-hour trip from Dubrovnik via Korcula and around the south of Hvar is a journey to be savoured.
Visitors can also choose between catamaran connections from Split to Hvar Town and Jelsa (no bus meets these services) or the car ferry to the eastern port of Sucuraj from Drvenik, but be prepared for an interesting drive, while the Hvar 'airport' just outside Stari Grad does offer a flight arrival option - there is a local plane available for charter in season, and there are rumours of a scheduled service for flights from Split and Dubrovnik for the 2011 season.