Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hvar: Abandoned villages and mountaintop views make for memorable visit

Once again we had an early start as we had to take the tender to the Croatian island of Hvar. We had a brief glimpse of the town as we walked to our off-road vehicle and the beginning of our day's adventure. After climbing a short way up the mountain we found ourselves bumping along a sandy track. Most of the vegetation was very familiar to us: subtropical, olives, vines, pines, lavender, rosemary  and rocky outcrops.

Our first stop was at an abandoned Dalmatian village, Malo Grablje. All the houses were made of local stone that can be found everywhere in the mountains. In the middle of the town was what looked like a cement skateboard park but it was really for water catchment. The village had slowly emptied as people sought better opportunities in town or on the mainland. This is a familiar story all over the Mediterranean where there are many abandoned houses in villages. Blackberries swamp the vines because no one looks after them and olive trees lie untended.

We continued on to a lookout over another old village, Velo Grabjle, with apparently only seven full-time residents. Although families had abandoned this village, they still came back to work their land. We saw some of them drive up in their new cars and then drive their ancient cars from another time out to their land.

The views were magnificent as we drove through the mountains. We looked down on a famous award-winning vineyard from Nikola Hill. The growing conditions, namely the heat and soil, are huge factors here in making wines that are 15% alcohol and higher. Where it wasn't quite as hot and nearer the sea the wines had a lower alcohol content. While we were admiring this view we discovered some wild saffron just at the side of the road. The flowers resemble crocuses.

It was good to be back in Hvar. This is a celebrity go-to place but at this time of year it was very quiet. The streets were so easy to navigate that they are unnamed. The main commercial street was a wide promenade that runs along the harbour. On the northern slope above the town square were the remains of some palaces, which belonged to the Hvar aristocracy. The town is quite tranquil as it is closed to traffic. There were several little shops open, many of them selling local lavender products.

It was definitely lunchtime. We looked at a few restaurants in the main square but they seemed a bit touristy. Finally, we settled for lunch at a restaurant on the pier right next to where we picked up our tender. It was a lovely lunch of the best mussels I have ever had in a sauce of garlic, tomato and white wine. This accompanied by lovely frites and a local white wine was a perfect way to spend our last hour on Hvar.

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