When I moved to the island of Hvar in 2002, I had only known of its existence for three days. A conversation in a bar in Sarajevo led to a road trip to the Adriatic over a long weekend, and the rest is history. It was the best decision I ever made, even if I can still not pronounce the island's name correctly after all these years. I ended up buying in the idyllic northern coastal town of Jelsa (population 1,700), and when I heard a few years after I moved that the island was being billed as the new Ibiza, I had to laugh. Here are ten things to know about Hvar the 'party' island, an overview which is aimed at both those looking for a great party, and those who are looking for a relaxing holiday away from the noise.
(copyright Romulic and Stojcic)
1. Hvar Town and the island of Hvar are as similar as York and New York. Hvar the town is the focal point and main population centre (4,000 out of the 10,500 permanent residents on the island), and it is also the focal point of the island's tourism. This is where the A-list celebs (well, most of them) converge, the super yachts moor up, the most fashionable restaurants and the island's main clubs. And yet, just a kilometre out of town, you experience the true Hvar, a world away, where agriculture and the traditional Dalmatian way of life rule. And that is the beauty of Hvar the town and Hvar the island - there is room for everyone, and you just have to decide what is the Hvar for you.
2. Britain's Vogue named Hvar as one of the world's top boutique festivals, but it is not what you would expect. You probably have not heard of the Escape Community in a remote bay in central Hvar. It is not Ultra Europe, but it is VERY cool.
3. A party island which also has more UNESCO heritage than any island in the world. Five in total, including UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Stari Grad Plain, and intangible heritage of the Za Krizen Easter Procession, agave lace from the Benedictine Nuns in Hvar Town, the island's Mediterranean diet, and the klapa singing of southern Dalmatia.
4. An island 80km long, which has just 5 nightclubs, including a former egg farm.
5. It is a party island with many festivals - lavender, honey, ethno traditions and edible dormice - the new Ibiza indeed!
(photo by Secret Hvar)
6. Once known as the Austrian Madeira, this party island is home to the birthplace of organised tourism in Europe (150 years in 2018), tourism which started with health tourism. Hvar's famous recuperative Mediterranean climate (forgot to mention this is the sunniest island in Europe) was a catalyst in the start of a remarkable story which will be celebrated 150 years later next year on the island - the birth of organised tourism in Europe. There were no parties back then, but the big attraction was health tourism in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with the founding of the Hvar Health Society in 1868.
7. Party tourists are more than welcome, as new Hvar Town mayor Riki Novak explained to The New York Times yesterday, but they are expected to respect the rules of the island, which are similar to rules of behaviour back home. Hvar has a long partying tradition, just one of it many facets of tourism, and indeed the first disco in former Yugoslavia opened on Hvar, in Jelsa in 1964.
8. It is an island rich in natural resources, and here you will find quality wine which is exported as far away as China and California, as well as the most expensive olive oil in the world. The most expensive olive oil in the world? Oh yes, a cool £750 for 0.2 litres.
9. Hvar was a celebrity island long before Prince Harry fell into a nightclub swimming pool, Beyonce showed her baby bump to the world, or Kevin Spacey was snapped fondling a male buttock. This is the island that welcome Emperor Franz Josef I in 1875, Edward and Mrs Simpson for lunch on honeymoon in 1936, a waterskiing Mrs JFK in 1964, and provided the filming location for one Orson Welles in 1967.
(The annual New Year regatta in Hvar Town)
10. The party season is confined to one town for about ten weeks a year. Hvar Town's tourist season runs these days from March until early November. The summer party, hitherto much more regulated, has long been an integral part of the summer scene, but the town's rich offer means it has something for everyone at different times of the year. It is hoped that the party element will be brought back to its former rightful place as a welcome part of the Hvar offer, but without the current excesses, and should that happen, life in Paradise will continue as it has for most of the 149 years of organised tourism on Hvar, a pedigree and quality of destination which has led to the latest accolade for the party island which isn't, in the top 10 islands of the world this week, by readers of Travel + Leisure.
Hvar is an island for everyone. Choose your spot - party tourist or non-party tourist - respect the not unreasonable levels of behaviour expected, and discover why so many visitors describe this incredible island as Paradise on Earth.