Boating and other water activities are among the most popular things to do on Croatia’s historic Dalmatian Coast, and with such stunning scenery, it’s not hard to see why. From the Italian border in the north to the Montenegrin border in the south, the Croatia coastline is more than 1,100 miles long and features more 1,200 islands (the Dalmatian dog breed originated here and some historians say the multitude of islands that speckle the horizon — reminiscent of the dog’s spotted coat — inspired the name).
Split, the second-largest city in Croatia, is the hub of the ferry and catamaran network linking Croatia’s islands to the mainland. Inspirato Members can fly into Split and then drive about an hour to the club’s stylish, modern villas located right on the Adriatic Sea. From Split, it’s easy to catch a boat to the many islands nearby, including the two most popular: Hvar and Brač.
These sister islands share a common history but are surprisingly different in terms of their atmosphere, topography, and the visitors they attract. Both are relaxing, but in different ways. Both Brač and Hvar are reached by boat from Split. If you get an early start, you’ll have plenty of time to discover each in one day. Or both on two different days. Among the hundreds of inhabited islands off the Croatian coast, these two are true gems.
It is hard to decide which one of the many memorable moments my daughter and I had in Croatia was the most memorable. Was it the astounding color of the water, especially in the Blue Cave? The gorgeous views every time you rounded a bend in the road? Being welcomed into the home of Chef Tajiana Ciciliani and her husband and preparing a wonderful meal in their courtyard and kitchen while laughing the afternoon away? Or was it the trip to the top of the mountain fort overlooking Dubrovnik?Desiree MagneyInspirato Member
Brač, the third largest of the Croatian islands, is plump and leaf-shaped, rugged and rustic, and has always earned its keep from hard work. Brač’s most famous beach, Zlatni Rat, is famous not for celebrity-spotting like Hvar’s beaches are, but for its geomorphology. Changes in tide, current, and wind transform the shape of the spit at the center of the beach.
Supetar, on Brač’s northern coast and the island’s biggest town (pop. about 3,500), rolls down and around gentle hills blanketed with pine trees and odiferous wild herbs like rosemary and thyme. It’s peaceful and idyllic. The intimate harbor front, where ferries from the mainland dock, is edged with the island’s creamy white stone and plump palms whose shaggy crowns are often filled with twittering starlings. Have a coffee in one of the many cafes overlooking the port and its small, colorful fleet of fishing boats before heading to a bakery for fresh bread.
Konoba Vinotoka is the village’s best restaurant, whether you choose its cozy, whitewashed tavern with a wood-burning fireplace or the large, modern, airy dining room with views over the town. The same menu is served in both and the catch-of-the-day options are always impeccably fresh, because they’re what local fishermen brought in that morning. Start with a plate of Croatian prsut, the country’s rich, savory country ham, and then go for grilled dentex (crimson sea bream), served here with spinach and potatoes.
As cute as Supetar is, Bol, a village on the island’s southern coast that’s long been an artist’s colony, is an operetta set come to life. And the drive there — twisting through a rural, mountainous countryside dotted with small, stone bunje shelters dating back to prehistoric times, and tiny villages (the whole island only has 14,000 permanent residents) — is the stuff car commercials are made of. The landscape is a patchwork of silvery-green olive groves, vineyards, and scrub forest with live oaks and pines. Along the way are two stops, each with a serious sense of place: the village of Škrip and the Blaca Hermitage.
People come to Hvar for the same reason they go to Saint-Tropez — to be a part of one of the world’s most stylish beach scenes. As in Saint-Tropez, the owners of the extravagant craft anchored in the harbor spend their days at glamorous beach clubs. Thanks to Hvar’s popularity with Dalmatian nobles in the 18th and 19th centuries, it’s cultured with an aristocratic gloss. In the island’s main port and biggest town, also named Hvar, buildings date to Venetian rule. Today, during the summer, yachts fill the harbor, and the café terraces around the port are packed with a glamourous, international crowd that has included Beyoncé, Tom Cruise, and Oprah.
Depending on the season and the direction of the wind, it’s possible you’ll discover Hvar’s signature scent before you actually arrive on the island. The perfume of the lavender fields planted along the main road that runs form Hvar Town east sometimes wafts out to sea. Otherwise, the breeze coming into the harbor may be laced with the fragrances of pine trees or fig leaves. Whatever scent is in the air, the arrival of every ferry has an opulently festive feel. Passengers on foot and in cars, impeccably dressed, spill onto the stone-edged wharf and air kiss friends accessorized with bright silk scarves and oversized sunglasses, or quickly pop into one of the cafes that line the eastern edge of the port.
While Brač is an island to explore, Hvar is an island to be. To do this, you don’t have to leave Hvar Town, which is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved port towns in Croatia. If Bol is an operetta set, Hvar is an elegant open-air baroque salon perfect for wandering — there are boutiques, restaurants, and museums. The Venetians rebuilt the town — the earliest settlement of note in the area was Roman — in the early 1600s, adding the Pjaca, a rectangular stone-paved main square that is still the area’s heart, and in miniature, recalls some of the refinement of Venice’s Piazza San Marco. At one end of the Pjaca is the harbor and an old arsenal building whose second floor is one of the oldest Baroque playhouses in Europe. The main market and Saint Stephen’s Cathedral are at the other end of the Pjaca.
For more glamour beyond the beach, Hula-Hula Hvar has a party vibe with piped music and a gorgeous young crowd tossing back Austrian sparkling wine. Built in 1927, Bonj les Bains was recently renovated and is more formal. Rent a cabana with chaise lounges and an umbrella here, swim off the pier, book a massage, and tuck into a plate of spaghetti with lobster sauce in its restaurant.
Afterward, bring the best of Hvar and Brač together: punctuate the deliciously lazy hours of a long, nose-stuck-in-a-novel afternoon with a plunge into the Adriatic and a glass or two of Stina Winery’s Pošip, a white wine made in Bol of Bračian-grown grapes.
This post was adapted from Island Life by Alexander Lobrano, which originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Inspirato magazine.