Our tour began with a short drive up to Malo Grablje, a now abandoned village that is home to one of the world’s most secret and sought after restaurants, Stori Komin. We didn’t get to eat there as it had closed for the season, so I’ll refer you to this charming review of it. We’re definitely going to make an effort to book a table the next time we’re in town. Apart from Stori Komin, the town of Malo Grablje is a well preserved window into the island’s past.
Beautiful stone houses, still standing and overgrown with creepers give shape to the life of the town as it was a century ago. It was easy to make out the town square, the individual farm houses, their stables, barns and stores where they pressed one of Hvar’s main agricultural products, the olive. One could imagine how life was like then, and conjure up an idea of how it could still be, should more people like the owner of Stori Komin rediscover their roots and return to Malo Grablje.
After Malo Grablje, Galileo took us to the highest peak on Hvar, upon which stood the statue of Saint Nicholas. Along the way, we met some men harvesting another plant Hvar is famous for, the Immortelle flower, sought after for its uses in various beauty and anti-aging products. After some greetings were exchanged, Galileo parked the car at the end of the dirt road, and we hiked up the last few meters to the statue. From here, we could make out almost the entire coastline of the island, and see how its land forms varied when we looked out at it at different directions.
The statue faces onto the Adriatic sea, so looking towards it and beyond will give you a view of the UNESCO heritage site, the Stari Grad Plain. This plain is one of the oldest agricultural sites in the world that has been maintained since the 4th century B.C. That was the century of Alexander the Great. The continuity of activity on this plain stands for so much of what is awesome about Dalmatia, that it is a place of living history.
After Saint Nicholas, we had lunch of local veal and lamb in a small restaurant in a small town I cannot recall the name of. The food was exceedingly delicious and felt like a home cooked meal made by the grandmother of all grandmothers. The meat and vegetables were all locally sourced, and the animals lived off eating herbs that grew on the island, which gave the meat a distinct and wonderful taste.
The next stop was Vrboska, a sleepy old town in central Hvar. The houses are all built along a long canal which carves in from the sea, and reminded me of Venice. One can see how this place was once an important trading stop, with its prominent bay and huge storehouses that line the canal. Now its population numbers around 500 and most of the houses are empty. The young people have all left, so it’s mainly a tourist curiosity with its bay appropriated for storing yachts. That said, the houses there are all in great condition and reflect the town’s Renaissance and Baroque heritage. Some of them are positively sumptuous, with gorgeous french balconies, well appointed terraces and luxuriant, albeit overgrown, gardens.
For a mid-afternoon drink, Galileo took us to yet another UNESCO heritage site, Stari Grad, on the northern side of the island. As evident from its name, which means ‘old town’ in Croatian, Stari Grad is one of the oldest towns in all of Europe. Located at the end of a long and sheltered bay, right beside prime agricultural land, it has been sought after by settlers throughout human history. As we strolled along the boulevard by the bay, I noticed a little hole in the wall bar, squashed between two other nondescript shop fronts. The bar was the only thing open on that stretch of the boulevard and Galileo invited us in.
Inside, it was a small stone room lined with two benches on one side, sporting an alcove which held a bar that was well stocked with homemade brandies of between 10 to 15 different flavours. On one of the benches, a few old men who had clearly been enjoying the beverages for a few hours were seated, looking out the door onto the view of the Adriatic sea. Galileo, who was already behind the bar, told us that the oldest guy was the owner, and that he’d been making these brandies for decades now. The alcohol flowed freely; by the time we were done, I reckoned I must have sampled at least eight different flavours. When we emerged, it was nearly sun down. Galileo drove us back to the city of Hvar, stopping along the way at a look-out point to appreciate the sunset. Slightly tipsy on excellent brandy, the sun setting over the opalescent waters of the Adriatic, it was a wonderful end to the day.