If you ever visit Hvar, you will find all sorts of tourist agencies selling excursions to the Blue Cave, or taxi boats offering rides to beaches on the nearby Pakleni island. However, the best thing you can do in Hvar is nothing at all. Hvar is a town for observing.
The Tourists of Hvar
Hvar Town is a bumbling spectacle, full of opposites and contradictions. Here, you can find the best dressed, classiest Europeans, as well as the sloppiest, sleaziest partiers. The harbor contains a spectrum of naval craft ranging from 190ft luxury yachts, to barnacle-covered, barely-afloat fishing boats. There are affluent children begging their Sperry-clad parents for one more scoop of ice cream, and there are young Croatian girls selling shells and lavender on blankets in the central Trg Sv. Stjepana.
Apparently, Hvar has almost no year-round population. Businesses and apartments lay vacant until the summer high season, and then Croatians from all over the country come to profit off the whims of tourists. Based on my ears, most of the tourists in Hvar are from Britain, Australia, Canada/USA, and Germany (with some from China, France, and the Middle East as well). To me, Hvar represents a contemporary colonialism: foreigners come and behave as if Hvar is an oasis to absorb their most indulgent behaviors. In fact, Hvar has the following signs posted around town in an attempt to deter unsavory behavior.
My friend (Cris) and I spent our nights along the waterfront promenade, the Riva, and watched tourists stroll along in packs. We situated ourselves on a bench near Carpe Diem, Hvar’s most famous nightclub, to observe the tourists trying to enter. Groups of twenty-somethings plodded around in uncomfortable clothing: short-shorts hiking up crotches, fabric clinging in all the wrong places, and guts hanging out of unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts. There were ample armband and ankle tattoos. We saw a man lugging around a bottle of vodka with a lightbulb inside, illuminating the liquid in an unappetizing golden glow.
On the other hand, we saw women in elegant, patterned dresses, and men with refined linen shirts. We saw quiet sophistication: people ascending and descending their yachts with a tepid respect for their surroundings (though it is impossible to remain inconspicuous when climbing aboard a 100ft private yacht).
We could never quite determine the bouncer criteria for Carpe Diem, but one thing is certain: if you have one of those paper wristbands from a club or festival or whatever, take it off before attempting entry.
Who Goes Where
Eventually, we noticed trends in Hvar’s tourist demographics. The slightly more mature partiers gravitate towards Carpe Diem, while the loud crowd clumps between Trg Sv. Stjepana and the Ariana Hotel. In fact, you can hardly walk along the waterfront between these two locations after midnight without being trampled by swaying, over-served vacationers. It is especially unfortunate because this particular strip is flanked by locals selling crafts, souvenirs, and lavender. One night, Cris saw a drunk Australian leave his empty beer bottle in the middle of a woman’s souvenir stall (Cris grabbed the bottle and promptly returned it to the stunned Aussie). I am sure this isn’t an infrequent occurrence. If I were a Croatian in Hvar, I would find it difficult to not hate foreigners. I suspect, however, that this is vastly different for the Croatians who work in locations that are more inland.
The more mellow (and in my opinion, most fashionable) guests sit and drink in pale cobblestone alleys, a few blocks removed from the theatrics of the waterfront. Specifically, Ka’lavanda Music Bar and the restaurant/bars along Ulica Petra Hektorovica are full of stylish, understated tourists sitting at low, wooden tables along ambient medieval walls.
A Local Anecdote
When we were in Hvar, Cris and I struck up a conversation with the owner of a cafe. While we were inquiring about his feelings towards tourists in Hvar, he told us a story from about 15 years ago. Italians were the primary tourist demographic in Hvar, and he knew a woman who rented tourist apartments. Apparently, one group of Italian vacationers became exceptionally drunk and wrote “Viva Italia” in fruit across the walls of the rental. Obviously, the woman in charge told the Italians they needed to pay for repairs because the fruit severely damaged the walls. The Italians were furious, but they paid up.
On the morning of the Italians’ departure, they left their luggage in the apartment to buy ferry tickets. The owner entered to inspect the apartment, only to find that the Italians had left their excrement on a baking sheet in the oven. Before the Italians could return, the owner filled their luggage with the (literal) shit they tried to dump on her. The Italians were certainly in for a surprise when they arrived home.
The cafe owner told this story in the manner of a schoolboy relaying a harmless prank. He laughed at the end, and punctuated the story with a “yeah, but that’s how it is here, you know?” Every time my friend and I would try to interject, or say that we have never heard of such horrible behavior, he brushed us off.
What could push a human being to behave like an animal – to literally shit in an oven? And what would make the cafe owner return to Hvar, if he knows the lows to which the tourists will sink? There must be a unique social contract that exists here…but is it flexible, or simply enabling of perversion? The tourists, like colonists, enter and supply Hvar with traditionally-recognized wealth, and so the locals must excuse their behavior (to some extent) if they want to float within this system.
So what, exactly, is Hvar?
Hvar cannot be written off as a stereotypical resort town. Hvar is more than that – it is a series of character studies portraying the best and worst human behaviors. This destination offers a spectrum of humanity, from rogues smearing fruit on walls, to families quietly enjoying a sunset. It is a bizarre social experiment: people mix in this tiny town to create an environment that is absurdly diverse – an environment in which you have no choice but to pause and watch.