Tunnel Vision: Pitve to Zavala, a Road Trip to Remember on Hvar
A film set in the making or claustrophobic hell? Whatever your feelings, a trip through the Pitve - Zavala tunnel is not easily forgotten.
For an island that has been voted among the top ten most beautiful by Conde Nast readers, and whose glitzy main town has been dubbed the new St. Tropez, visitors to Hvar could be forgiven for expecting a well-developed, highly sophisticated tourism offer.
A-list celebrities are regular visitors in the waterfront cafes in Hvar Town, but there are other, less developed tourist attractions, which linger long in the memory. On an island with a permanent population of 11,500, which functions well without roundabouts or permanent traffic lights, some of the best holiday memories are of places far from the bright lights of Hvar Town, such as the Pitve - Zavala tunnel, one of the great road trips in Europe.
History of the Pitve - Zavala Tunnel
Work on the tunnel began in 1962 by local authorities, as a means of passing water pipes to the south of the island. Never intended to be a passenger tunnel, the drilling of the rock was crude and practical. The result, a 1.4km tunnel approximately 2.30m across, has been a lifeline connecting the southern settlements of Zavala, Ivan Dolac and Sveta Nedelja to Pitve, Jelsa and beyond, but the tunnel is definitely a case of practicality over comfort; there are no lights in the tunnel, water seeps the rock overhead, causing minor flooding problems, and passing options for two cars are extremely limited.
Tunnel Etiquette: The Occasional Traffic Lights
The tunnel has two distinct seasons, local and tourist. As the tunnel is not wide enough for two cars to pass, the tourist season has recently brought about the introduction of the first seasonal traffic lights on Hvar, an upgrade from a previous system operated by walkie-talkies.
Timing is everything. The lights remain green for sixty seconds only, followed by six minutes of red. In that time motorists are expected to navigate their way through the tunnel, although several tourists, unnerved by the sudden darkness and primitive conditions, have encountered numerous problems. While the sudden plunge into darkness and wading through surface water can be disorientating, it is nothing compared to the effects on the eyes when one emerges into the bright sunshine after 1.4km. Judge for yourselves with a virtual Pitve - Zavala Tunnel Tour in this short video.
Tunnel Etiquette: Passing Places and Waiting Times
The lights come into operation in May and work until the end of the season, which is when the real fun begins in the tunnel. The local rules are simple: upon entering the tunnel, if there are no headlights coming the opposite way, one may progress; approaching headlights require drivers to wait.
That would be too easy. There are two roughly dug out passing points in the tunnel, and regular users who are confident in their abilities, feel able to judge the distance of the approaching car, making snap judgments as to their ability to make it to the first passing place on time. They do not always get it right. Throw a nervous tourist, unsure of the rules, into the mix, and the prospect of reversing back half a kilometre in claustrophobic darkness can cause chaos.
New Roads to Zavala and Sveta Nedelja
Fortunately for all, the opening of two new roads has helped to relieve the pressure on the tunnel, as well as alleviate some of the traffic congestion through the historic village of Pitve. A fire road over the top of the hill is passable for more vehicles, while the long awaited road from Dubovica to Sveta Nedelja has made the south side not only more accessible to and from Hvar Town, but also reduced the need to use the tunnel. Even if it is not on your route, it is worth a visit for the ultimate tunnel vision experience.