Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hvar: An Insider's Guide to Croatia's Premier Island

Detailed information about destinations in Croatia is hard to find. Here are the origins of Hvar's first comprehensive guide book.
Hvar Has a Wide Range of Activities - Hvar Town Tourist Board (http://)
While there are some excellent guidebooks for Croatia in general, visitors to a particular town or island often struggle to find detailed information in English on things to see and do, and nowhere is this truer than on the island of Hvar.
A Guidebook for Hvar
Having watched countless tourists walking through the main square in Jelsa, Hvar’s third biggest town, fumbling through outdated guides or trying to "do" Jelsa via a couple of paragraphs in a general Croatia guide, I thought I would have a go; after all, how hard can it be to write a guidebook about the place you live?
I set to work with gusto, determined to write not just a guide that explained the points of interest, but also one that gave the reader a little more background to my adopted home. Little is known outside Hvar about the Croatian superhero, Lavanderman, for example, and, rather than lamely repeat all the celebrities to have allegedly spent time here, I researched the complete list through official sources: an impressive selection of A-list celebs including three James Bonds and several Oscar winners.
My research began in late March and my deadline was early June, not only to meet the season, but also to have some detailed choices of activities for some dear friends from Munich, regular visitors to Hvar, who were bringing their son and three grandchildren for the first time.
Oldest Organised Tourism in Europe on Hvar
There was a surprise at every point of the research, and I was embarrassed at how little I knew about a place that had been my home since 2003. The oldest organised tourism in Europe? None other than Hvar Town, which opened its doors to organised tourism in 1868 with the founding of the Hvar Health Society. A cultural tradition? The oldest municipal theatre in Europe dating back to 1612. UNESCO heritage? I had known about the 2,400 year-old agricultural colony near Stari Grad, but was not aware that the Easter Procession in Jelsa had been awarded UNESCO status in 2009.
The more I researched, the more I discovered, and the more small businesses and activities came out of the woodwork. The inland village of Dol had not one, but two yoga retreats, an art studio offering painting classes for children on Saturdays, and a surreal-sounding dormouse festival in August.
Discovering Activities on Hvar
I knew that there was rock climbing on Hvar, but I was shocked to find such a sophisticated interactive website as, offering comprehensive information about all the climbing locations on the island, as well as a climbing school.
Local activity specialist Hvar Adventure covered all the sea sports, from sailing schools and regatta racing to sea kayak tours, while a fabulous-sounding off-road Jeep safari from Secret Hvar took guests to the island’s hidden gems, largely unseen by most tourists.
Making Information Available
While there was a wealth of information available about Hvar Town, my aim was to cover the whole island, which proved more of a challenge. Popular resorts such as Ivan Dolac and Zavala had precious little information about them online, usually 1-2 lines that had been frequently recycled from an ancient original source.
Simple things such as the island’s bus timetables were impossible to find online, and the Getting There and Around section grew to fill those gaps. Practical tips on getting to the island from Split and Dubrovnik (crossing the Bosnian Riviera, the merits of mainland or island car rental) and alternative ways of reaching Hvar (private speedboat collection with Hvar Boat Rent, panoramic flights over Hvar and beyond) - the book was taking shape.
There were two more sections to add and then the guide would be ready. The first was the dull practical info section covering visas, emergencies and where to do the laundry. The second was the eat, drink and party section, which brought home the nostalgia for curry and sushi; of the 74 restaurants covered in the guide, the cuisine was exclusively Dalmatian/Croatian with the occasional Mediterranean.
Three days before my friends’ arrival from Munich, the manuscript was finished. I emailed the Word document to them and then set about trying to publish the book. There was no time to approach a traditional publisher, and having self-published my first book, Lebanese Nuns Don’t Ski, I decided to go the same route and Hvar: An Insider’s Guide to Croatia’s Premier Island was live!
The Guidebook in the Modern Age
Technology has changed the way people source their travel information and I endeavoured to offer the book in several formats. Having learned that Amazon now sells more Kindle books than paperbacks, I investigated and published on Kindle. Watching visitors glued to their iPads and smart phones, it was clear that a downloadable version of the book would appeal to the technically savvy, and (never having used a smart phone or seen an app) I partnered with to produce the first app for the island of Hvar, as well as a downloadable PDF.
My friends arrived and, with typical Germanic efficiency, my manuscript had been converted for use on some mobile gadget, dissected and an itinerary assembled. It felt strange to hear them tell me that “The guide says …” in the third person, but off they went to discover the island on my recommendations.
There were in time for the first organised tour of the season of the Neolithic Grapceva Cave from the abandoned shepherd’s village of Humac; they delighted in the free historical walking tour of Vrboska; and they went back to Atelier Marinka after an enjoyable day’s painting for the children. It seemed to be working – the book was connecting real tourists with lesser known activities on the island.
And then came the Jelsa Train.
Trainspotting on Hvar
Shortly before the season began, a motorised train appeared on the riva in Jelsa, offering an impressive itinerary to the beaches in the morning with evening collection, with a tour of the inland villages in the afternoon; perfect fun for all the family and the kind of current information that fresh guidebooks thrive on. Having spoken in depth to the owner the week before, I highlighted it in the book.
A disappointed Munich family told me over dinner that there was no train. Investigations revealed that, having announced the impressive routes, the train did not receive a licence to operate in Jelsa town, but is now plying its trade elsewhere on the island.
My guide was already out of date! Fortunately in the modern age, there is an instant fix; Kindle books, print on demand paperbacks, websites, PDF downloads and apps can all be updated to keep the content fresh.
A few days after launch came the first Amazon review, from a Croatian living in Split, who gave it a five-star rating, citing the level of accurate up-to-date information. Presumably he had not tried to board the Jelsa Train.

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