Split was nice, but we were wanderlusting, in the mood to explore more of Croatia and give in to the pull of island life. Our next stop: Hvar, probably Croatia's best-known
island, just an hour south of Split by ferry. But here's the thing: all the talk of Hvar Town's busy summer crowds – 20,000 visit each day in high season, apparently – its glitzy nightlife, obnoxious yachting crowd, Z-lister celebrity sightings (Prince Harry, Abramovich...) and Conde Nast status as one of the 'world's 10 most beautiful islands' admittedly put me off visiting; had it not been for a trusted friend waxing lyrical on her recent blissful honeymoon.
But as we discovered, this is an island famous for all the wrong reasons. Away from the busy hot spots, it's a mysterious destination with a secret, charismatic side. So, follow me...
Here's a scene to get you in the mood. The walk from the port to our apartment in Stari Grad on the north coast of Hvar – translation: 'old town' (every Croatian island has one so make sure you get the ferry to the right one...) – takes you through a miniature maze of ancient marble-clad streets. We feel like we're in a toy town and can't believe our eyes.
(Yes, I do have a thing for doors.)
I guess this one was inspired by Wes Anderson.
And look! We're right next door to the most beautiful Baroque church you've ever seen – called St Stephen's built in the 12th century, sadly closed for renovation during our visit. But you could stare at the outside of it forever...
We wander through town to the picture-perfect harbour, plucked straight from a Hans Christian Andersen story book.
We found more pink houses... does Wes Anderson secretly live here?
We get lost in the alleyways filled with mysterious looking buildings...
...past a cool old faded pink Volkswagen Beetle and a boat...
A house with a garden full of grape vines... (they love home brew here.)
...but we don't quite get to the church. At the top of the hill, we turn a corner and stumble upon what looks like an abandoned village. There's no one around. Grass and weeds grow in between stone slabs, on roof tiles, up along the fronts of houses...
A sign tells us we're at a place called Malo Rudina – this is clearly one of Hvar's best-kept secrets. With just 20 houses – the first built in 1663 – this is what's called an eco-ethno village, one of many around the region designed to protect local culture and architectural traditions. To our surprise, it isn't actually abandoned. Rather in a state of preservation – there are a few permanent residents and some of the houses are used as holiday cottages...
As I look around this deliberately ramshackle village, it's impossible to imagine it coming alive mid-August for the art festival, when the houses are used as galleries for local artists' work.
A tip off sends us to another eco-ethno village – called Malo Grablje (I can't pronounce it either) – but this time completely derelict. I'm excited. Since visiting Bodie ghost town in California a few years ago, I'm obsessed by the thought of what happens to places when they're just left to rot... So we set off in our car, taking in some awesome views across to the island of Brač as the road winds upwards.
Nobody has lived here since the 50s and 60s when all of the villagers decided to move lock, stock and barrel down to the pretty cove of Milna. They didn't sell up; simply built themselves new houses. Imagine if it was that easy?
All the old stone cottages are returning to nature. Roofs are sagging and have fallen in, you can see daylight through the windows, trees and plants grow inside the walls.
Surprisingly, we find a cafe! A proper lived-in, (usually) open-for-business cafe. But when we get there, we find out it's only open for dinner – shame. Although imagine! Dinner in a derelict town. Spooky! So if you want to go to Konoba Stori Komin, call in advance to find out if it's open, just in case.
Behind the imposing old wooden door is a secret world. There's a beautiful seawater fish pond filled with carp within a covered courtyard. Wasn't Hektorović's major work called Fishing and Fishermen's Talk? This man seriously loved fish.
If you follow me on Instagram you'll already know we found this amazing wine shop selling delicious home-brew for just £1 a full tumbler (yes it's nice!). So here I am, on our last night, sitting outside watching the sunset.
See, there's really so much to discover behind Hvar's glossy surface.
Follow us to "little Dubrovnik" next week, or catch up on last week's post on Split, The time we vacationed in a crumbling Roman palace.