Split was nice, but we were in the mood to explore more of Croatia and give in to the pull of island life on Hvar, Croatia’s best-known island a breezy one-hour trip from Split by boat.
Honestly, knowing that 20,000 people visit Hvar each day in high season – eeeps! – I was a little wary, had a friend not told me about the island’s overlooked pretty old town where we stayed for a few nights.
The walk from the boat to our apartment was amazing! Taking us through a maze of beautiful ancient marble-clad streets, lined with pretty cottages and merchants houses with colourful doors, shutters and flowers and hidden alleyways at every turn.
Here’s our pretty little apartment…
We wandered through town to the picture-perfect harbour with lots of pink houses lining the water.
It’s so pretty at sundown…
What’s nice about Stari Grad is you can do so much without needing a car. One day, hiking shoes on, we just walk. Right out of town about 2km up a hill towards a church…
…past a cool old faded pink Volkswagen Beetle and a boat and a house with a garden full of grape vines… (they love home brew here.)
…but we don’t quite get to the church. At the top of the hill, we turn a corner and stumble upon what looks like an abandoned village. There’s no one around. Grass and weeds grow in between stone slabs, on roof tiles, up along the fronts of houses…
A sign tells us we’re at a place called Malo Rudina – this is clearly one of Hvar’s best-kept secrets. With just 20 houses – the first built in 1663 – this is what’s called an eco-ethno village, one of many around the region designed to protect local culture and architectural traditions. To our surprise, it isn’t actually abandoned. Rather in a state of preservation – there are a few permanent residents and some of the houses are used as holiday cottages…
As I look around this deliberately ramshackle village, it’s impossible to imagine it coming alive mid-August for the art festival, when the houses are used as galleries for local artists’ work.
A tip off sends us to another eco-ethno village – called Malo Grablje (I can’t pronounce it either) – but this time completely derelict. I’m excited. Since visiting Bodie ghost town in California a few years ago, I’m obsessed by the thought of what happens to places when they’re just left to rot… So w
Nobody has lived here since the 50s and 60s when all of the villagers decided to move lock, stock and barrel down to the pretty cove of Milna. They didn’t sell up; simply built themselves new houses. Imagine if it was that easy?
It’s so peaceful wandering around these empty once-loved houses, my imagination running wild thinking about times gone by. I’m not ready to leave this tranquil yet eerie place, but we’ve unfinished business in Stari Grad: waterside lunch at Eremitaž, a traditional restaurant set inside a 15th-century building which was once a hermitage for monks… the food is delicious and the service friendly. We love Eremitaž.
…before a peek inside Tvrdjalj Castle, a Stari Grad highlight. It’s not really a castle, but a beautifully well-preserved Renaissance home designed and built in the 16th century by a Dalmation national treasure, architect and poet, Petar Hektorović.
Behind the imposing old wooden door is a secret world. There’s a beautiful seawater fish pond filled with carp within a covered courtyard. Wasn’t Hektorović’s major work called Fishing and Fishermen’s Talk? This man seriously loved fish.
Tomorrow: last stop, Korcula.
Psst: More Croatia travel posts: The time we vacationed in a crumbling Roman palace.