by Tina Kovačiček
Stari Grad (eng. “old town”) on the Dalmatian island of Hvar is the oldest town in Croatia. Well, at least the historians say that, but what all of us can agree about is that Stari Grad is among the most popular summer destinations in Croatia.
History facts claim that the same year – 384 b.c. when Greek philosopher Aristotle was born in Trakia, the greeks from the island of Paros in Aegean sea settled the town on the island of Hvar, and named it Pharos.
Its convenient position in the middle of the Hvar island made this ancient town a safe harbor to sailors, which have been always welcomed by locals on the main promenade. After the Greeks, The Romans came, then Venetians and in the younger history Socialist of former Yugoslavia, all leaving this island full of tradition and rich heritage. Even the UNESCO noticed the Stari Grad’s beauty and decided to put its historic center on the World Heritage list in 2008.
Although today business and nightlife center are more focused on the city of Hvar, Stari Grad stays the ancient beauty of the island. Its bay is still regularly visited by most of the travelers on boats passing through middle Dalmatia and some of them are really well known such as Bono Vox, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. Also here is where Edward and Mrs. Simpson had lunch after he abdicated the British throne in 1936. (they had lunch in Jurin podrum which is still run by the same family).
The town is surrounded with pine trees and cooled with summer breeze (maestral) which make nights pleasant. Thousand years long history has left many monuments in the urban surrounding of the Town but also on the outskirts. So if you come here, you will have plenty to explore.
So let us take you on a Stari Grad’s summer tour. Prepare to enjoy!
Since Stari Grad is a very popular destination, coming to this heaven shouldn’t be a problem. There is an everyday regular ferry from Split or you can take a local bus from Town of Hvar or other island’s cities like Jelsa or Sućuraj. All of them are within 30 minutes drive and well connected. There is even a mini airport close by Stari Grad, just in case you want to come by plane.
The rooms and apartments in private houses are mostly situated on the north part of the Stari Grad bay, under the small Glavice hill. Of course from here the views are amazing. Last couple of years lots of old stone houses have been renovated by inhabitants offering nice, more or less luxury holiday houses.
Before you start exploring all the narrow cobbled and beautiful streets, grab something to eat.
Most of the traditional Dalmatian restaurants (“konoba”) will offer you typical domestic meals such as Pasticada, “Peka” (veal, octopus), baked lamb, octopus salad, black risotto out of cuttlefish or other seafood specialties fresh from Adriatic sea. For starters, you will be served domestic prosciutto with cheese and for dessert, you deserve Dalmatian rozata. Some of the best places to recommend are Jurin podrum, Konoba Batana and Pinetta with reasonable prices.
4:00 pm: Breathe in the Mediterranean as it once was
We recommend you to start your city walk at the most charming point on the island – Škor. It is a small baroque square in the eastern part of Old Town. The name was given after the shipyard that was here until 17/18 century when there was still the sea in front of the square. Today Škor is surrounded by three parts of houses with renaissance and baroque style features, some of which are built in the style of folk island architecture. The biggest value of the square is its authentic preservation.
5:00 pm: Museum o’clock
Stari Grad Museum is located at the Braće Biankini 4 street and the name of this beautiful building is The Biankini Palace. This used to be the neo-renaissance family home of the Biankini brothers dating back to 1896. Interior decorations from the period in which the palace was built have been preserved, whilst in the garden, there is century-old Deodar Cedar, which is of the same period as the building itself. Museum collections on the ground floor and upstairs tell us the tales of Stari Grad’s long history.
The hydro-archaeological collection is, in fact, a tale about the sinking of a merchant ship full of amphora that, in the 4th and 5th C., was sailing from North Africa to Pharia of the late antiquity period. The archaeological collection of artifacts tell us about the life of ancient Stari Grad – from the 5th century B.C. to the 7th / 8th centuries A.D.
The Gelineo Bervaldi Salon invokes the times of the patrician salons from the end of 18th and the beginning of 19th C. whilst the Kapetanska soba (the Captain’s room) from the second part of 19th C. reminds us of the time when Stari Grad was a living port with large sailing ships. The works of art of two painters from Stari Grad – Juraj Plančić (1899 – 1930) and Bartol Petrić (1899 – 1974) together with other 20th century Croatian painters can be seen in the permanent exhibition of the Juraj Plančić Gallery. Sometimes, other exhibitions are also on show in the gallery.
6:00 pm: Discover the sunset at the most exciting house on the island
Petar Hektorović’s Tvrdalj (1487 – 1572) with a fish-pond and a dove-cot over it, is the most famous building in Stari Grad. This renaissance poet built it throughout his entire life and it had the same importance for him as his literary work. With it, he realized his idea of microcosm – a small, enclosed world where all divine creatures – fish, birds, plants and people had a space to live.
Tvrdalj is also a stone book – Hektorović carved more than twenty Latin stone inscriptions. His own life motto is carved in Italian: Fede e realtà o quanto è bella – How lovely faith and reality are. Only one inscription is in Croatian, the one above the house for travelers and paupers. Poet, Christian thinker and architect, Petar Hektorović worked on the construction of his Tvrdalj obsessively and persistently throughout his long life. It was conceived as a summer villa and left to his heirs as a well-rounded introverted microcosm devoted to the Creator of all things – Omnium Conditori.
The playful interior of Tvrdalj is the antithesis of the façade’s simplicity. Pond, surrounded by a portico, where fish live, small tower over it, with stone nests for pigeons and holes for sparrows, garden with plants that were sent to him by his friends, poets from Dubrovnik, and again inscriptions all around.
7:30 pm: Continue with the evening magical city stroll
When the summer nights slowly touch the ground, things start becoming even more magical in town. If you just wander around the old streets you will find small churches like St. Stephen, charming bars and restaurants and many more. Take a long walk in the new marina and try to catch any of the open-air summer concerts. Finish your night with a good cocktail or glass of wine at La Gitana bar located in the central part of the bay.
09:30 am: Good breakfast with even better coffee to start your day
The town of Hvar has recently got its first specialty coffee shop called kava 37 (“kava” means coffee) thanks to lovely couple Ivana and Marko. In their cozy shop, they offer freshly roasted espresso and drip based brews. Currently serving Brazil+Columbia blend and Kenya as a single. Ivana bakes all the croissants and squeezes out the fresh juice every morning. Visnja is making chia+granola breakfast bowls and Marko makes cold brew coffee for you. You will enjoy this local corner, located first street next to the ferry pier.
11:00 am: Visit Stari Grad Plain – UNESCO says it’s worth seeing
The large plain occupies the island’s central area. A longer walk from the old city will take between one and two hours to here and you will dive into the cultivated area between Stari Grad and Jelsa. The fields, you will walk through, were first laid out by Greek colonists in the 4th century BC. The pattern is largely unchanged today and has been on UNESCO List since 2008.
There are Greek and Roman remains that make good destinations for walks. Autumn, when the grapes or olives are being harvested, is especially pleasant. Walking through Stari Grad Plain to Maslinovik, Kupinovik or to Vrboska, Basina and Mudri Dolac Bay will give you the opportunity learn more about past and present of the Island of Hvar. Either you walk or even choose to take a pleasant bike ride, you will love the nature.
4:00 pm: Lunch with a view
Lunch with a view towards the sea? Sounds good and a good place to that is Bistro Simple located in the harbor. They offer light and heavier plates in various combinations from salads to wraps, club sandwiches and burgers, all under reasonable prices.
5:00 pm: Time to relax
Finally, it’s time to go to the beach! The island of Hvar has 2726 hours of sunshine per year, therefore is considered one of the sunniest islands on the Adriatic Sea – perfect for sunbathing. Stari Grad offers you several beaches a few hundred meters from the city center, although in ten-minute car drive you can find even more beautiful hidden bays with the turquoise sea just for you.
If you don’t feel like driving, then walk towards the south side of the Stari Grad’s bay where you will find Lanterna beach. Locals think it is the most romantic spot in the city and they share plenty of sweet moments from here. Lanterna has a small pebble beach and plateaus with the stairs to enter the sea. Near the beach are restaurants, showers, changing rooms.
8:00 pm: How to finish your Saturday?
Just stay on the beach and enjoy the sunset while holding a cocktail in your hand. Sunsets are amazing at Lanterna beach!
10:00 am: Check out the Kabal peninsula
The Kabal peninsula, whose form resembles the fingers of a hand, is located in the north-western part of Stari Grad Bay. It is a natural heaven with only two permanent settlements and few private houses in a small idyllic bay. During the crystal clear days, you will have the feeling of sailing into some kind of a fjord.
The best plan is to explore this area by boat cause you will find plenty of bays and beaches to call your own. This is actually a perfect plan to spend your day if you want to escape crowd and enjoy nature. Lots of locals go here to swim and relax. The tip of the peninsula Kabal is the halfway point in the annual Faros Marathon, a 16 km swimming marathon held every August in Stari Grad.
After 12 km along a rough road, there is a tunnel that belonged to Tito. These concrete construction that was built to repel the enemy will give you a glimpse of newer history. Spending a day at Kabal peninsula is a perfect chilled ending in the town of Stari Grad. Don’t leave too early, you have one more sunset to catch!