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Outdoor Recreation on Hvar: A Paradise for Sport and Nature

There is so much to fall madly, obsessively in love with on Hvar: the history, the wine, the people. To that list one must also add outdoor recreation, because Hvar is a paradise for activity of all kinds. Pretty much anyone visiting Hvar takes advantage of the beaches. But the island’s other outdoor activities and natural assets are usually overlooked. If you’re looking to get active, here are some ideas.

Hiking: Hvar’s Trail Network

Croatia has an incredible network of hiking trails and cabins, maintained by a broad and active community of local mountaineering societies. Hvar is no exception. The island is criss-crossed in well-marked paths. You can camp your way around the circumference. You can hike the ridge line from one end to the other. You can traipse through fields of lavender from Stari Grad to Hvar Town. All the while, you’ll probably be walking in the footsteps of millennia of soldiers, shepherds, tradesmen, and other local inhabitants who needed to get from one part of the island to the other in the pre-car era, which constitutes at least 99% of the island’s inhabited history. This awesome hiking map is in Croatian, but you can figure out what you need from the visuals or use your browser’s translate function.

Hvar’s Limestone Cliffs

Climbing: Hvar’s Limestone Cliffs

If you’re more of an up-and-down than side-to-side kind of mountaineer, Hvar has that too. You couldn’t ask for a nicer introduction to the island’s vertical ascents than its Via Ferrata, a series of steel bridges that will dangle you over some truly heart-stopping drops. The price is only about 15 EUR to rent equipment, and less if you bring your own. At the end of your journey, you can calm your nerves at the Cliffbase winery, built into a chasm next to the sea. Seriously. And the wine is delicious. These are the kinds of places that, for better or worse, very few tourists ever see.

Once you’ve got your bearings, experienced climbers go nuts on the island’s south side, which is basically one giant limestone cliff, never more than a few meters from the beach and a laidback cabana. Check out Climbing Hvar for some great inspiration and routes.

Sailing: Historic Boats and a Friendly Community

Hvar is an incredible place to sail. The history of boating is deep here – so deep that the oldest known depiction of a boat in Europe was found on island Hvar, in Grapčeva Cave. Calm waters and deep harbours encircle the island, and a passionate community of locals still maintain and sail the beautiful wooden ships that dominated the Adriatic for centuries. You can see these majestic boats in action every summer during the “Dance of the Sails” in Vrboska and Jelsa. There is a similar event in Stari Grad in the early fall called “Days in the Bay”. All throughout the summer, marinas and beaches throughout the island play host to the lively, mellow culture of amateur sailors, with a hundred groups of friends and families docking up for the night.

If you are learning to sail, getting lessons on the island is unfortunately a bit trickier. In the past, there was a sailing school for kids and adults in Stari Grad, but it is unclear what its status is now. Your best option is probably 45 Degrees Sailing, an outstanding sailing tour provider that also specialises in boating education.

Open Water Swimming

Open Water Swimming: Faros Marathon

Every year, Stari Grad hosts the “Faros Marathon”, one of the most challenging and prestigious open water swimming competitions in the world. The race covers a distance of 16 kilometres (10 miles) and takes swimmers from the town of Stari Grad to the Faros Lighthouse and back, along the beautiful coastline of the island of Hvar.

The competition is open to both amateur and professional swimmers, who must be able to complete the race within a certain time limit. Swimmers are supported by boats and kayaks throughout the race, and are provided with food and drinks at designated stations.

The Faros Marathon in Stari Grad has been held annually since 1976, and has attracted swimmers from all over the world. The race is known for its stunning scenery, challenging conditions, and the strong sense of camaraderie and sportsmanship among the competitors.

Fishing: An Island Tradition

As you might imagine, fishing is a way of life in Hvar’s coastal villages. In towns like Sućuraj or Vrboska, nearly every family has a small boat that they use to fish for the table. The most unique and historic fishing style here is probably “pod sviću” or “under the light.” On still nights, two fishermen go out: one who rows and the other who spears octopus or fish that pass under the ship’s lamp. More commonly, amateur anglers fish from the shore, spending much of the winter scouting out spots on the island’s remote reaches. This is a meditative hobby that requires hours of quiet patience and laganini.

Traditional-style fishing tours are available throughout the island, and Vrboska has a lovely small museum dedicated to the techniques of the trade as well as the significant economic and social role that fishing has played on island Hvar over the centuries. It is open mornings 10am to noon, and evenings 6pm to 8pm in the summer.

For those seeking a higher octane experience, the waters surrounding Hvar are home to bluefin tuna, amberjack, swordfish, dorado, snapper, grouper, and others. Big game fishing tours are available, but may require getting to Split.

Cycling on Hvar

Biking: Cycling on Hvar

It is hard to imagine a place better suited to cyclists than Hvar. Because the island has been intensively cultivated for so long, there are well-maintained farm paths going pretty much everywhere the asphalt roads do, and many places they don’t.

Start out with an easy ride from Stari Grad to Vrboska on a path through the legendary Ager, where you’ll see wildlife, farm animals, and locals tending their vineyards and fields. Then try a route to the tip of the Kabal Peninsula – off limits to cars – that ends with a secret naval cave dating back to the Yugoslav era. Or work up a sweat climbing to the top of Sveti Nikola, the island’s highest point, featuring a rugged forest of primordial black pine and a view to Italy. If you want to connect with other cyclists on the island, start with a tour from Natural Hvar Tours, a knowledgeable group of bike guides who will be happy to clue you into competitions, favourite routes, and everything else you need to know.

Pretty much wherever you go, there are haciendas, cabanas, or konobas to reward your efforts and refuel you for the next adventure with delicious fresh fish, energy-dense pasta, and refreshing white wines.

Safety

Sun

As with any endeavour, use your good sense. Do not underestimate the summer heat. Start early and take note of which side of the ridge you will be on when the sun is at full force (usually between 10am and 4pm). Bring sun protection and water, and give yourself extra time in case you lose the trail. Especially with children, it is better to do too little than too much.

Dangerous Animals and Wildlife

Most towns have a few stray dogs. A few far-flung homes have dogs that are free to roam. Don’t assume that they won’t bite.Hvar is home to the most poisonous snake in Europe, the horned viper or poskok as it is known locally. This snake can be found anywhere on the island but particularly prefers to be on the rocks by the sea.

Hvar also has wild boar, which typically feed at dawn and twilight. They are huge (180kg), powerful animals. They are not particularly aggressive, but you should never approach them.

You are unlikely to encounter the pine processionary caterpillar, which migrates in the spring, but if you do, steer clear. Its fuzz is an irritant that can endanger children and pets.

Swimmers will likely encounter sea urchins, which are totally harmless unless you step on them (ouch!). More dangerous are spider fish (pauka) which occasionally sting snorkelers. Don’t try to touch them, and if you are stung, seek medical attention immediately.

Boar

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