As much as I love Hvar, what made the experience for me were the wonderful people I met in town and the stellar hostels I stayed at. The first hostel, called Helvetia Hostel, I would highly recommend in a heartbeat to any backpacker making their way through Hvar. The building is located right in the middle of the old town, family owned and operated, and has one of the greatest patios I've ever seen in my life! If I ever won the lottery, I would happily spend the entirety of my winnings on an old house like this here in Hvar without hesitation.
Which is convenient since properties in Hvar cost as much as apartments in NYC.
Since there were only three people in the hostel during my stay, I spend hours talking with the owner, Reno, about of how his grandfather, a local fisherman, saved up the money to buy the place. Over the years the building was passed down from father to son until Reno moved out and converted it to a hostel. The most fascinating aspect of this hostel is that the owner himself grew up in the very house and the building holds a special place in his heart. He spoke with incredible passion about how the building is as much a part of him as it is Hvar and was adamant that he'd never even consider selling the building - regardless of price.
The Song of Hvar (#2):
While the hostel is narrow and full of stairs, there is plenty of space for people and there is a certain charm about living among all the old buildings in old town Hvar. Every single window I looked out of made me feel as if I was living is a far off, romanticized destination (which, honestly, I was). As strange as it sounds, my favorite window to stare through was in the kitchen that overlooks Hvar harbor and the surrounding buildings. Without fail, every time I walked by to get water or cook I was entranced by the view through the old wooden blinds. Frequently I'd just stand there completely engrossed by the view and I had to continually reminded myself that what I was seeing was not a picture hung up on the other side to give the illusion of a beautiful vista - this is the real thing!
And this was just from the kitchen!
The cherry on top of the entire hostel is the rooftop terrace. It is, without a doubt, the most beautiful outdoor patio I have ever seen in my life. From the top of the hostel, I sat surrounded by the numerous archaic stone residences and their old red tile roofs. In front of me was a nearly unobstructed view of Hvar harbor with numerous boats bobbing in the light, aquamarine water. Off in the distance to the right were the imposing mountains crowned by the ever-present Španjola Fortress and to the left the deep green forests covering the nearby Paklinski islands poking out of the vast expanse of sparkling water.
On the opposite side of the harbor I could see the expensive Adriana Hotel on the main promenade next to the marina. Visitors staying at this upscale resort were paying easily €200+ per night and the main selling point advertised on the front of the building was the view of the old town from their overpriced rooftop bar. I couldn’t help but smile every time I saw a camera flash from the hotel bar. From the private terrace atop my €10 per night hostel I had a better view and since the hostel faced west I could see the sun set ever single night!
I felt sorry for the poor bastards. They were paying 20x more for a lesser experience.
Every single evening, regardless of the whether, I was on that patio savoring the view, smells, and sounds of the tranquil city for hours on end. For the first time in my life, I planned my entire day around sunset and made it a point to never miss a single awe-inspiring performance as the sun slowly disappeared behind the distant islands. The wondrously radiant orange and red aurora that filled the sky each night was sublime – the best I've experienced so far on this trip. As soon the sun disappeared, delightful little high-pitched squeaks began emanating from the city as the bats awoke from their daytime slumber. Down below the faint sounds of waves lapping up against the old cobble stone promenade relaxed away what little stress I'd accumulated over the day. Considering how absolutely perfect the patio was, I couldn’t let the opportunity go to waste, so I splurged and bought myself a bottle of scotch and a few cigars. Literally the only thing I was missing in life was friend to share it with!
Damn it Eric, Andrei, Sean, and Mannino! Why aren’t you here in Croatia!
Thankfully, I did make a new friend, Kenny, who was staying a few days at the hostel and like me was one of the last visitors before the Reno closed the place down for the winter. We spent several nights on that patio discussing everything from the places we visited on our travels to deep, philosophical life lessons. We bonded rather quickly since Kenny, in his previous life, was an investment banker out of NYC. Fifteen years ago Kenny, who is now rounding 55, went through a midlife crisis and took a three months leave of absence from his job to travel. His three-month leave turned into six months that eventually became one year and now, fifteen years later, he's still traveling the world.
He finally decided to just say he's just “retired."
I was mesmerized to hear Kenny's story and find out that such long-term travel is realistically possible if I am willing to make the necessary sacrifices. It was reassuring to hear his unique perspective on life, especially considering his background in finance, and the various phases he went through in life as he questioned his own previously held values and beliefs much like I did. Regardless of where I travel in this world, I meet all sorts of people that repeatedly show me it is possible to do whatever you want in life, regardless of whether you're 25 or 55 years old.
Hmmm... perhaps this is a direction in life I may have overlooked.
Often times when I travel, I feel like I’m looking at old cities like Hvar from a distance. So far there is always sense of separation between the town I'm visiting and myself, but on top of the Helvetia Hostel patio I felt for a brief moment like I was part of the city, like I belonged. It was the most quaint, picturesque, and seemingly authentic feeling I’ve experienced so far. For 360 degrees I was surrounded by the old town of Hvar and felt embraced by the history of this place. I couldn’t help but smile when I thought that this was the very same vista Reno’s grandfather looked out over every morning before he went out to get the mornings catch.
Part of me wants to see what Hvar is like during the peak summer months, but I’m not in any rush, Hvar is a fantastic town that I will never forget. Much like the other cities I’ve visited so far n Croatia, if you ever get the chance to see Hvar with your own two eyes, don’t miss it. Even if I try, there is no way I can oversell how amazing the city is - it simply can’t be done. The best months to visit are April & May or September & October, but even at full price during the high season (June, July, & August), this place is completely worth every penny. This wonderful town has stolen a little piece of my heart and I really don’t want to leave.
…so perhaps I won’t.