If you haven’t been to Croatia yet, where the hell have you been holidaying recently? The Eastern European country which joined the EU in 2013 is now one of the most popular tourist destinations for Brits – around 400,000 visit each year.
The culturally rich city of Split has a can’t-beat-it backpacker vibe and the sparklingly beautiful wonders of the Adriatic coast boasts the kind of untouched and unpretentious aura Ibiza started out with before all the clubs started charging 10 Euro for a bottle of water. What’s not to like?
If you’re pushed for time and money but want to sample Croatia’s best-bits, head to the historical city of Split and spend a couple of nights in dreamy Hvar and you won’t want to leave.
Do: Brush Up On Boat Knowledge
Getting between the city of Split and the island of Hvar takes one to two hours on a Catamaran, but there’s very little trustworthy information online about the boat schedules. If you want to have a spot secured before arriving, book with the most well-known company Jadrolinija at least 48 hours in advance. If you don’t secure a ticket, don’t panic, you may be able to buy on the day, but if you’re trying to get from Hvar to Split in peak season, get up early for a ticket back to the mainland because they can sell out fast.
Don’t: Get Taxis In Hvar
The only legitimate excuse for getting a taxi in Hvar would be if your structural integrity as a human being is compromised by the amount of Croatian cocktails you have consumed therefore rendering the steep walks around the island impossible…and yes, it happened. However I do know that when sober, the island is actually very walkable so avoid cab drivers who will charger you ten Euro to go less than five minutes up the road.
Even if you’re not a history-buff, a trip to Diocletian’s Palace, the old Roman ruin, is pretty spectacular. General entrance is around £4 and it takes about an hour to take in the whole site.
The beaches in Hvar are notoriously pebbly, but if you bring extra padding, the ‘Lucisca’ beach is nestled amongst green pine trees, has crystalline waters of a perfect temperature and is totally worth the walk. Just wear good shoes.
Don’t: Underestimate Croatian Food And Drink
There are a few hidden restaurants in Split frequented by locals and hunted by tourists, Villa Spiza is one of them. A charming Croatian hole-in-the-wall, if you’re lucky enough to grab a stool for lunch or dinner you’re in for a treat. Food is cooked in front of you, and the giant prawn salad and Mediterranean vegetables with cheese was full of flavour and washed it down with a local Croatian beer, recommended by the waiter.
When it’s a little sophistication you’re after, check out Wine & Cheese Bar Paradox where you can drink locally sourced wines alongside tasty cheeses, breads and meats without breaking the bank. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that only once you’ve left your country of residence can you swill a wine around in its glass and say something like ‘mmm- very full-bodied’ – and get away with it. In this trendy bar, that kind of behaviour is actively encouraged by the well-trained sommeliers who actually teach you stuff whilst you get sauced. My kind of bar.
A restaurant with a deservedly good rep on the island is Lugo Mare famed for its seafood and panoramic views. If seafood isn’t your thing, then there’s meat and vegetarian dishes on offer too. I tried the generously plated tuna salad and the grilled calamari which was cooked on a grill right next to my table.
Do…Stay in backpacker-friendly spots
Accommodation options in Hvar are great, with hostels to suit every budget. My first night’s stay was in the very chilled Green Lizard Hostel where I spent a great portion of my stay swinging in the hammocks outside (the novelty never wears off, I swear). Green Lizard is family-run and centrally located with staff who also love to travel and offers really comfortable dorms or privates as well as super-cheap alcohol to pre-game on at the bar in reception.
If you’re after the ultimate backpacker experience (and a little less sleep) check out the buzzing Earther’s Hostel. Run by three well-travelled guys, Earther’s was great for meeting people and planning stuff during my stay. Included was a free breakfast, bar crawl (pending weather and people) and the guys also organise island boat trips which were so popular we couldn’t’ actually book a spot whilst staying there. Oh and there’s an impossibly-instagrammable view of the Adriatic sea from the patio.
No backpacker trip to Split would be complete without a stay at Al’s Place a hostel brimming with character. Now a resident of Croatia, London-born Al is a seasoned traveller and expert in all things Split. He was the first to open a hostel in the city over ten years ago and unlike some of the other places in the area, Al is full of local recommendations, backpacker tips and Dad-style worldly advice (if your Dad had ever lived in some of the coolest places on the planet).
Do…Stay Out Late
Attracting the young, fun crowd in the high season, Hvar becomes synonymous with partying. The biggest and loudest of them all is Carpe Diem which is so mad they positioned the main club on its very own island. Come 1am boats ferry people to and from the club for free, but entrance is almost £20. However if world-famous DJs, twerking dancers and pool parties are your thing, then it’s small change.
If you’re in the mood for a day-turns-night beach party, head up to ‘Hula Hula’ nestled among the rocks of the Adriatic coastline. There’s non-stop vibes here from about 5pm, when crowds gather to watch the sun melt into the sea, before heading to the bar and getting shots to fuel the podium-dancing.