She Said, She Said: Hvar
by Geri Bain and Jenny Keroack
Five years after their first blogged adventure (She Said She Said London) Jenny Keroack, now 23 years old, and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain, set off on a new journey. This trip centered on three great societies: the Ancient Greeks, the Ottomans, and the Venetians. Starting in Athens, they set sail on a Windstar Cruise to Venice, tracing the interwoven histories of these superpowers. After the cruise, they headed to the Dolomites for a few days of hiking. As with their last adventure, they recorded their impressions and favorite finds along the way. Jenny’s are in italics; Geri’s are in regular type. The following is their sixth installment, logged from Hvar.
We were only in Hvar from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. so we made sure to get up and out early and were surprised how much we were able to do.
A Living City. I’ve been to (and enjoyed) a lot of very touristy towns, but Hvar struck me as a real gem for both its beauty and its authenticity. The town of Hvar is as beautiful as any we’ve visited, with Venetian architecture, marble streets and pristine waters, and it attracts a fair share of A-list celebrities. However, it also felt like a small town in a way places with crazy tourist numbers just can’t. We saw children walking to school and learned that elementary and higher grade students alternate morning and afternoon classes because they share the same schoolhouse. We visited a monastery and found that it is now run by a single monk who the locals like because he is known for short masses. Finally, we were surprised to see that the prices of food in restaurants on the main square were similar to restaurants further back in town, indicating that restaurant owners aren’t gouging people because they have a good view. In fact, we were told that local parents meet up in the waterfront cafes after dropping their kids off at school. In other words, being in Hvar feels like visiting someone’s hometown in a really special way.
Climbing Gardens. Heading up from the town to do our usual (for this trip) fort climb, we came across Dr. Josef Avelini Park, a Mediterranean herb garden featuring indigenous plants created by a local doctor and tourism leader in the 1930s. It was interesting to identify lavender, rosemary, agave and other plants, but even more fascinating to find out that Hvar was developed as a health tourism locale about 150 years ago. We also detoured into some seemingly abandoned lavender fields and a small church before arriving at the mountaintop Fortica Španjola (Spanish Fortress). Like Hvar, most of what is standing was built under Venetian rule, which lasted from the 15th to 18th centuries. The fortress creates a moody setting for its small collection of medieval and ancient amphorae (containers) and other items. Excellent signage (in English) tells the story of the site’s evolution from a medieval castle built to defend against the Turks to a full-fledged fortress under the Venetians, and improved as recently as the 19th century under Austria-Hungary. But the best reason to come is for the views.
Beach Time. There are several acclaimed beaches around the island, but since our time was limited, we chose one that was less than a ten minute walk from town. It was gorgeous and the water was calm and refreshing but not chilling. The only thing we didn’t think to bring were flip-flops, which would have made it easier to walk on the rocky strand. Happily, we did bring goggles because the water was absolutely clear and it was fun to see schools of fish swim by, deftly evading our strokes. While many locals swim and sun off decks right in and around the port, we enjoyed being in a sheltered cove away from the harbor.
Art and Craftsmanship. In a world where everything can be bought everywhere, there is one souvenir that you won’t find in any shop or flea market; an agave plant outside the 17th century Benedictine nunnery in town is the only hint of the craft that has made the nuns here famous. Since the mid-19th century, these nuns have used threads made from the spikes of the agave plant to create lace in designs that can only be bought here. More conventional crafts fill the stalls in the portside market, where we found some irresistible agate earrings. Still, the craftsmanship we most admired were the Renaissance buildings along the shiny marble streets and the architectural details and statues that adorn them.
Next stop: Venice.
Geri Bain, a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 65 countries. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
23-year-old Jenny Keroack, a recent graduate from University of Chicago, has written for The Gate, Observer Tribune and other publications and is now a Senior Analyst at National Journal’s Network Science Initiative.