No visit to Hvar island is complete without a view of the island's lush, hilly interior. Unlike the well-touristed coastal towns of Hvar, Stari Grad and Jelsa, the interior villages offer a glimpse of Dalmatia as it once was. The ancient stone buildings and narrow streets are nearly deserted now but evocative of a way of life devoted to tending bee hives and olive trees, making lavender oil, farming and wine-making. In the midst of it all is the vast Stari Grad Plain, a World Heritage Site.
You'll need wheels to explore the interior. All villages are connected by road and there are well-marked bike paths allowing you to pedal through the rolling hills from village to village. Or you can book a tour. Try a lavender tour, wine-tasting tour, hidden gems of Hvar tour , or an abandoned village tour.
Velo Grablje (pop 14) dates back to before the 15th century, probably developing from the country estates of the old patrician families Ozor and Gazari. A few determined locals are restoring buildings and opening restaurants to keep the village alive. Take a look at the Church of St. Vid for early medieval Croatian architecture or the wall paintings in the 19th century Church of St. Kuzma and Damjan. For a great homemade meal, head to restaurant Vidikovac-Levanda which serves up food caught, grown or brewed themselves on a shady terrace. There are often groups. If it's too busy, try Konoba Nadola.
Two kilometres below town is the nearly-abandoned village of Malo Grablje from which a road leads down to Milna. In the 1950s many villagers left for Milna. Amid the ruins is Konoba Stori Komin in a restored farmhouse.
Overlooking Stari Grad Plain, Vrbanj (pop 489) was founded by Slavs from the Neretva valley who eventually migrated down to Vrboska, a better location to expand the town's shipbuilding industry. The village has a town square and houses with walls from the 16th and 17th centuries to protect against pirate attacks. Of special interest is the house called Kraljevi dvori (the King's Palace) which dates from the Middle Ages and was a patrician residence. Vrbanj was the center of the uprising of 1510 and the birthplace of Croatian working-class hero, Matija Ivanic.
The parish church of the Holy Spirit (1793) was built on the remains of a 15th century church. Above the village are the ruins of the ancient church of St Vitus dating from at least the 14th century. Climb higher and you come to prehistoric Grascice where Roman remnants have been found.
Although hardly a bustling metropolis, Vrbanj has a grocery shop, cafe and a couple of konobas. Try Konoba Bogo for the pizza.
On a hill below the central ridge of the island Vrisnik derives its name from vrijes or heather. The highlight is the Bojanic group of houses with its interlinking bridges and vaults. There are a few old churches: St Anthony the Abbot and the church of St Dorothy. Climb to the top for a panoramic view of the region. Hungry? Try Konoba Vrisnik.
Only 3km from Jelsa, tiny Pitve lies at the entrance to the Vratnik, an extremely favorable position to defend against enemies. It's probably the oldest continually occupied village on the island, dating back to Illyrian times. Admire the well-preserved rural architecture and climb to the top of Upper (Gornje) Pitve for the splendid island views. For an adventure take the incredibly narrow and dark Pitve tunnel from Lower (Donje) Pitve to Zavala. Services are limited but look for Konoba Dubokovic for a bite to eat.
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