Ex­plor­ing Croa­tia’s hid­den de­lights.

Dis­cov­er­ing Croa­tia’s al­ter­na­tive ap­peal.

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - ByLizGu­ber

on the third day of my week-long jour­ney through Croa­tia, I picked up a local phrase: “Ste uz­i­manje mas­noća iz mene”— or “You’re tak­ing the fat out of me.” Al­though the lit­eral trans­la­tion sounds like some­thing you’d say to your per­sonal trainer, it’s ac­tu­ally a light­hearted way to say “You’re mak­ing me jeal­ous.” And that’s ex­actly what I was do­ing, ac­cord­ing to my friends via Snapchat, as I shared a play-by-play of my day ex­plor­ing Hvar—a ruggedly pic­turesque is­land off the coun­try’s south­ern coast.

Hvar’s draws are plen­ti­ful: se­cluded peb­bly beaches, weather so sunny it bor­ders on ob­nox­ious and a wine­mak­ing legacy dat­ing back more than 2,000 years. The most fa­mous fea­ture of all, how­ever, is the pretty 13th­cen­tury port town that shares the is­land’s name. Thanks to the surge in the Croa­t­ian Riviera’s pop­u­lar­ity as a sum­mer get­away spot, Hvar Town has earned a rep­u­ta­tion for two things: yachts and youth. The for­mer, moored in Hvar’s rocky inlet, are un­apolo­get­i­cally lav­ish (who needs a heli­copter pad?), while the lat­ter emerge at night and travel in packs to­ward the neon lights and thump­ing beats em­a­nat­ing from the clubs that hug the is­land’s shore­line. Hvar Town is party cen­tral.

Which is why my guide, Sin­isa, took it upon him­self to show me “se­cret” Hvar with an off-road tour of the parts of the is­land that are of­ten over­looked by vis­i­tors and lo­cals alike. So while the pre­vi­ous night’s rev­ellers were still sleep­ing off their après-beach apri­cot radlers, I

was in Sin­isa’s road-bat­tered Toy­ota 4Run­ner, driving down dusty paths flanked by olive trees, in pur­suit of Hvar’s al­ter­na­tive at­trac­tions.

The first stop was Malo Grablje, an eerily idyl­lic ghost vil­lage lo­cated in the is­land’s in­te­rior. The tiny set­tle­ment was largely aban­doned in the 1920s when the local grape crops failed. In the early ’50s, the last hold­outs—a man and his goat—fi­nally packed up and moved on. The crum­bling stone houses are over­grown with wild ca­pers; it seemed like the vil­lage was un­der a spell and that life would re­sume if I sim­ply pressed a “play” but­ton. I imag­ined that the com­mu­nal olive press would start up again and an el­derly man would ap­pear to ask what I was do­ing in his yard, his goat giv­ing me the side eye.

Af­ter a brief stop at the nearby straight-from-apost­card vil­lage of Velo Grablje (not quite aban­doned— pop­u­la­tion: seven), it was time for another per­spec­tive. I bounced in my seat as we drove up a pre­car­i­ous cliff­side path to Sveti Nikola, Hvar’s high­est peak, and its tiny chapel and even tinier weather sta­tion. From the 628-me­tre height, the Adri­atic ap­peared bound­less beyond the bulging tops of the neigh­bour­ing isles Brac and Vis on one side; on the other, Hvar’s craggy land­scape, with its an­cient vine­yards and sleepy town­ships, opened up be­fore me. They are views you could never see from the deck of a 60-me­tre yacht, and I rev­elled in the fact. Then, the “aha” mo­ment: I fig­ured out what the heli­copter pad was for. It was my turn to feel jeal­ous.

1 ZAGREB

Don’t over­look the coun­try’s cap­i­tal city, lo­cated east of the Adri­atic coast, which com­bines strik­ing Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian palaces, a vi­brant arts scene and plenty of foodie de­lights.

MORN­ING Grab a cheese bu­reka (a flaky savoury pas­try) in the city’s Lower Town neigh­bour­hood and claim a bench in the ver­dant Rib­n­jak Park, a quiet spot hid­den be­hind Zagreb Cathe­dral. Then, af­ter a brief stop to ad­mire the or­nate art-nou­veau fa­cades of Ban Jelacic Square, climb the stairs to Up­per Town, the city’s his­toric heart. The coloured-tile roof of St. Mark’s Church is a must-see.

AF­TER­NOON Head to the Do­lac open-air food mar­ket, known as the “belly of Zagreb,” for lunch. On the menu? What­ever catches your eye, like nutty sheep cheese with laven­der honey. For shop­ping, check out the Croa­t­ian De­sign

Su­per­store. The name is a bit mis­lead­ing (the shop is more quaint boutique than Costco), but it’s well stocked with local de­signs. You’ll find leather ac­ces­sories by Kon2re and zany printed sweat­shirts by Ana Krolo.

EVENING Book a ta­ble at Vin­odol’s walled-off ter­race in Lower Town. Peka, a tra­di­tional Croa­t­ian meat-and-veg­gie dish cooked un­der a cast-iron dome, pairs nicely with a glass of the coun­try’s un­der­rated red wine made from in­dige­nous high­alti­tude Plavac Mali grapes.

LATE NIGHT Fin­ish your day the same way you started it: at a park. Zrin­je­vac comes alive at night, with cou­ples and fam­i­lies com­ing out for a star­lit stroll un­der the plane trees. If you’re still hun­gry, try some freshly grilled corn from one of the street ven­dors.

2 SPLIT

Croa­tia’s sec­ond-largest city leads a dou­ble life. Where else do rau­cous bars share walls with an­cient Ro­man res­i­dences?

EX­PLORE Dio­cle­tian’s Palace was built in the fourth century by one of the few Ro­man em­per­ors to en­joy re­tire­ment. Some 1,700 years later, the Unesco World Her­itage Site served as home to Daen­erys’ brood of dragons. But you don’t need to be a clas­sics nerd or a Game of Thrones fan to ap­pre­ci­ate the labyrinthine halls, which are packed with restau­rants, shops and peo­ple.

HIKE Mar­jan For­est Park is just steps away from Split’s main strip. If you’re up for a bit of a walk, the pine woods are worth break­ing a sweat for. They look dark and im­pos­ing from a dis­tance, but the hilly hike of­fers an es­cape from the bus­tle of the town’s high-traffic port and some of the best sea views in the area.

EAT Set in an old hard­ware store in Split’s his­toric Old Town, trendy Bok­e­ria is the go-to for el­e­vated Mediter­ranean fare—think risotto with pesto and ca­pers and sea bass ce­viche made with local in­gre­di­ents.

A view over Hvar Town; the port at Hvar Town (right); the writer in Hvar; the vil­lage of Malo Grablje (lower right)

Clock­wise, from be­low: Ban Jelacic Square; the Do­lac food mar­ket; St. Mark’s Church; the Croa­t­ian De­sign Su­per­store

A view of Split from Mar­jan For­est Park; Zagreb’s Zrin­je­vac Park (right)

Dio­cle­tian’s Palace (right and be­low); Split’s trendy Bok­e­ria (be­low right)

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