Hvar's been famed for its fields of lavender for centuries and the production of oil from the plant has long played a important part of the island's economy. You'll need to visit the island in Spring and early summer to see the fields in bloom - by the time we arrived in August the flowers were finished and the bushes had all been pruned back to neat little buns.
Only the growth at the top of the plant produces the valuable oil, but waste not, want not, there's plenty of flowers left over to be dried and used to produce every variety of stuffed lavender sachet, pillow and pomander you could think of. The amount of purple net and ribbon that is used in Hvar must have old Perkins smiling down from heaven.
The island of Hvar is not just one of the sunniest in the Adriatic Sea but is also famous for its lavender fields. The Hvar lavender is of highest quality among all sorts of lavender grown throughout Europe. It is produced in an environmentally friendly way while sowing and harvesting are done manually. The cultivation of lavender started to decrease with the development of tourism and olive growing. Also, three big fires on the island made a huge damage to the lavender fields so nowadays only about 20% have remained.
Lavender blooms between the end of June and early July, so we planned our visit during this time to be able to see the unique sight. A drive around the island or hike to the mountain peaks leads to an inevitable encounter with the sea of lavender on the hilly slopes of Hvar. We found huge lavender fields by the road from Stari Grad to Jelsa and the old road from Stari Grad to Hvar, and were delighted by its fragrance and intense violet blue colour.
Lavender can be used as medicine for various diseases. The lavender flowers are used as a spice in many dishes, soups and deserts (see my restaurant tip), and also as a tea. Lavender oil is extracted by distillation of lavender flowers. The health benefits of lavender essential oil include its ability to relieve pain, treat respiratory problems, it's recommended for some skin disorders, burns, insect bites and for protection from moths and mosquitos. Lavender oil has been traditionally used in making perfumes and it's very useful in aromatherapy.
If you want an original Hvar souvenir, a remedy and fragrance in one, don't forget to purchase a bunch of lavender flowers or a small bottle of lavender oil. Its fragrance will always remind you of the lovely time you spent on the island of Hvar.
The village of Velo Grablje experienced a great increase in lavender planting and production in the 1930s, making the village one of the biggest producers of lavender oil in Dalmatia. But the harsh economic situation in Dalmatia caused mass emigration. The population of the village dropped significantly and houses fell into disrepair. An almost abandoned stone village of Velo Grablje becomes lively with the annual Lavender Festival, a celebration of the island’s lavender production. This year it happened for the third time and it took place from 24 – 26 June 2011, with the main events on Saturday 25th. The reason for holding the festival is to commemorate the many hardworking men, women and children who shaped the past of this ‘lavender village’, and motivate today’s young people to take on and maintains this old and beautiful tradition.
The main event on Saturday was a local produce fair (with the emphasis on traditional lavender souvenirs) which took place all day long, from 10am to 10pm. Several stands appeared by the church, offering dried flowers, essential oils (lavender and rosemary), hand made soups (lavender and rosemary), kantarion oil, bags, pictures and postcards with lavender motifs, miniature traditional stone houses, honey (lavender, rosemary and sage), traditional sweets, vine and several different local liquors (lavender, sage, limoncello), olive oil and capers. Great pleasure for all senses.
There were also various presentations on the history of lavender on Hvar, which dates back at least 100 years, such as the documentary Levanda miriše s vrha, presentation of lavender products, tasting old recipes, exhibitions, film nights, literature readings and concerts. Especially interesting was the presentation of lavender oil distillation in the house at the top of the village where tourists were encouraged to participate. I was really glad that my time in Hvar coincided with this unique festival.
In summer months Stari Grad hosts numerous festivals and other music events, such as Faros Jazz & Blues Festival, Stari Grad Summer, International Summer Music School, klapa singing on the picturesque narrow streets and little squares of the old town and concerts of classical and gospel music in one of the churches. I was quite happy to find that Faros Jazz & Blues Festival would take place on Saturday, 2 July 2011. It was our last night on the island so I thought it would be great to spend it in style.
The festival took place on Petar Hektorović Square (also called Tvrdalj), in front of Tvrdalj, the fortified summer residence that belonged to Croatian poet Petar Hektorović. There were four Croatian groups on the program: Jazzy Gents and Partet from Split, Bien plus from Zagreb and Droff band from Stari Grad. The first one should start at 9 pm. Just around that time it started to rain and it did not seem it would stop very quickly. It was not for certain if the festival would happen at all. Fortunately, after a while the rain stopped, and the festival finally began. But the atmosphere was not very good as it was quite cold (can you imagine, cold in Hvar, the sunniest of all Croatian islands?) and there weren’t many people. Later it started to rain again so we decided to return to our apartment, just behind Tvrdalj (which was very convenient in this case) and listen to the music from the terrace :) At around 2 am we went to sleep but the festival was still going on.
Strolling the charming narrow pebbled streets and small squares of Hvar towns you will most likely encounter Dalmatian klapa music, a form of traditional Croatian music. The term klapa is derived from the Dalmatian dialect, maning 'a group of people'. Every Dalmatian town has its own klapa or sometimes even more of them. The singing is mainly a cappella, occasionally it can also be accompanied by a gentle guitar or mandolin. Traditionally, the ensemble consists of all male vocalists. Mixed and women ensembles have also appeared lately, giving new look to the old style. On the positive side, more and more young people show interest in this traditional kind of music, starting their own klapas. A group usually includes five to eight members although there is no strict rule. They usually perform in the traditional costumes of their town. The amateurs sing with great passion. Song themes most often involve love, wine and homeland. Klapa songs reflect Dalmatia's natural beauty, evoking the sea and sun. The sweet melodies and lush harmonies have universal appeal.
Klapa groups often perform on the streets of Dalmatian towns. Singing is best enjoyed in a space which has an intimate atmosphere and excellent acoustics. Old squares surrounded by stone houses are good example of that kind of authentic place. During my stay in Stari Grad I had the opportunity to hear klapa music two times. Most memorable was the Evening of klapa singing, which took place on Škor, a picturesque square enclosed by baroque houses. This tiny square seemed to be very suitable for such music. There were four different groups performing, each from different town on Hvar. The last one was local Faroški kantaduri.
The island of Hvar is one of the ancient homelands of viniculture. In the 4th century B.C. the Greeks brought the grape vine to this sunny island and planted it in the fertile plain of the ancient town Pharos. Through the centuries of rich and turbulent history, people of Hvar cultivated their vineyards with great skill and care, blessed with the Mediterranean climate (mild winters and plenty of sunshine in summer) and rocky soils (limestone and terra rosa - red earth). Grapes and wine gave them safety, food and medicine.
Today, half the region's farmers still cultivate grape out of which high quality wines are being produced in a traditional way. Manual work and no pesticides used turn a grape into a drop of gold. The wines from Hvar become very competitive at wine fairs, winning prizes and are among the best wines in Croatia.
The wine of Hvar is something worth talking about. One of the most famous wines is Bogdanuša, a delicious white wine that compliments all seafood dishes and can not be found anywhere else. The southern side of the island is ideal for the cultivation of Plavac Mali due to its sunny hillsides which give the wine its high quality. The wine has a characteristic dark ruby red colour, rich essence, relatively high percentage of alcohol, fullness and harmony of taste. Along white and red wines, dessert wine Prošek (prosecco) is also being produced.
For those who want to know more about Hvar wine, wine tasting tours can be organized. I visited Lupi wine cellar owned by the family where I was staying and Darinka explained about the wine production. They organize wine tasting tours for tourists though ours was more formal. In the mid September there is Hvar Wine Festival where you can experience festive mood of a traditional Hvar wine grape harvest.
During the summer months there are a lot of festivals and cultural events in the island. One of them that we had the opportunity to attend was the Fihermen's Evening in Vrboska, an event that represents culture and local customs of the place. It took place on 23rd June at 8:00pm in front of the church - fortress of St Mary which dominates over the village of Vrboska.
The evening started with the performance of traditional folk dance and continued with the concert of klapa music. It's a form of traditional cappella singing from Dalmatia, performed by a group of singers (mostly men). Sometimes they add a gentle guitar or a mandolin. They sing about love, wine, homeland and the sea. After cultural program started public celebration with abundance of local food and wine. There were salted and grilled sardines, dried figs and a variety of cakes and biscuits made by local women. Wine was in barrels and you could serve yourself. And the best thing, everything was completely free, a kind of promotion of lovely fishermen's village of Vrboska
For centuries the fishermen from Komiža (Vis island) used to fish sardines near Palagruža (Croatia's furthest island, placed in the middle of the Adriatic sea, between the Italian and Croatian coasts) where they salted them in barrels on its pebble beaches and then ship them by their falkuša boats back to Komiža. In a time when piracy was the most lucrative maritime 'affair', the fishermen of Komiža were the only open-sea fishermen of the Mediterranean and therefore had to organize mass regattas as to confront the strength of the pirates in case of attack. On the other hand they used to contest each other in conquering the inaccessible shores of Palagruža where the beaches had insufficient space for all the boats. The fastest regatta got the best places to pull their boats ashore for salting the fish, drying cotton nets and cooking. The winners of regattas were considered heroes in Komiža and their fame was passed on to the next generations.
Over the week of 21st to 25th June 2010 the Rota Palagruzona, a renewed historical regatta of gajeta and falkuša traditional fishing boats was finally revived by Ars Halieutica, the maritime heritage foundation from Komiža (Vis island). The Regatta was sailed on the route Komiža - Palagruža which measures 42 nautical miles. We accompanied Dinko Lupi (my friend's father and famous Croatian opera singer) and his company of incredibly amusing Croatian intellectuals living in Hvar island, who also attend the regatta. The route of preliminary regattas were Hvar - Vis one day, then Vis - Komiža and finally Komiža - Palagruža.
The last day they sailed back to Komiža. This was the closing of the event with the accompanying programme and winner announcement by categories, Fishermen's Night at the Riva in Komiža and Poetry night in the late evening hours. They told they very much enjoyed the regatta. There was plenty of delicious local seafood, wine and lots of fun.
more pics in the travelogue
The sea urchins are considered a great and expensive delicacy on the Adriatic coastline. However they are easy to gather; all you need is a diving mask with a tube. Dive down to the seabed and catch as many as you can.
And local feature is eating them straight from getting them from the sea, while they are still alive!! It is so fresh that it moves when you touch it. You either just lick the insides out or, if you are feeling slightly more refined, you scoop them out with a small piece of bread.
Unfortunately... I have never developed much of an appetite for raw seafood, but I prefer my food quite dead first, and no longer moving.
If you cook them, they taste a bit sweet, like lobster.
It's used in the local pubs, to give the barman a little money everytime you take something, for you only or for all your friends. The first time you pay. The second time you pay. The third time the barman offers the drink to you.