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  • Frances Schwabenland

Local Hospitality by the Sea: Hvar

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

When I do my research on a new travel destination, I go to many sites to gather information and see what others have done before me photographically. It lays a foundation of knowledge but what really serves me most is having experiences with the local people. It is priceless, going far beyond Pinterest! I could listen for hours to all of the stories being told as these new friends take me to the most scenic spots to photograph. I come away with so much and wanting so much to return.

When we arrived in Hvar by boat, we came into a port graced with the morning sunlight that had just started to fade into the day. We were greeted by two woman, Petra and her sister, who so graciously helped us with our bags. They were heavy...very heavy but they didn't flinch as they climbed stairs and took us to their Villa. The Hotel Villa Nora sits right off of this main port. It is situated between winding alleys with amazing smells emanating from restaurant after restaurant and right down from a monastery where the Benedictine Nuns are basically cloistered away and still make the famous Agave Lace. It is a fascinating story that I would love to film one day but since we were only here for two days, I just got to the museum to at least see the delicate hand made lace. The Villa was an ancient palace built in the 14th century and was the palatial residence of the aristocratic Grazzari family. Over time, it went to ruins but Petra's grandmother, Nora, bought it, renovated it and it is one of the most beautiful refined hotels in Dalmatia. Each room is decorated in different decor which was part of the charm. My room still had the original stone wall of the palace which was fascinating and I looked out over some of the most popular small restaurants inviting people to come, sit out doors and spend hours enjoying conversation and catch ups. In the morning, we were treated to delicious fresh fruit, cheeses, breads, yogurt and omelets in their flowering garden. Ahhhhhhh! I can assure you that you will sleep well and happily begin the day! The sisters take care of every need during the day and a nephew takes over the night shift. This Villa is totally family run and Grandmother Nora must be so very proud!

Since we were only able to be in Hvar for a short time, we left the harbor area and had a panoramic sightseeing tour with Grgo. He showed us breathtaking views from above and took us up close to homes that people decided to leave when tourism hit Hvar. We saw ethno-eco villages, Stari Grad (one of the oldest towns in Europe) and Vrboska, a picturesque fishing village where any outdoor cafe you go to will have delicious coffee and gelato. I have come to really like that pairing and wish we had many more cafes in the US with that same sampling. Dunkin’ and Baskin & Robbins with a European Flair!

All were fascinating but the best was when we went to Ager Pharensis, an historical site in Croatia where local families work their protected gardens of olives and vegetables as well as vast vineyards. Growing organic produce was extremely important and the each family helps out the others with the upkeep and harvesting. The energy and respect for the land was palpable. Then it was off for the highlight. Grgo took us to the 350 year old stone house where his father now lives. We could hear the cranking and creaking as we walked in to see his Dad turning a lever that was crushing the grapes with a rich dark fragrant purple liquid pouring into the bucket below. Trust me, you have never had grape juice until you have it right after the crushing! Grgo's family has been making their own wine for years and they shared it all so generously with us. His little son was dancing around us while his wife, pregnant with their next child, invited us into their 350 year old stone wine cellar. Course after course of fresh and different cheeses, breads and wines filled our plates. This 350 stone wine cellar was without a doubt our 5 star restaurant! We were all making the sounds one makes when words don't come close to convey pure pleasure!

Between being nestled in sheer comfort by a family carrying on their grandmother's legacy and name to being treated to a gastronomic feast by a family who cares so much about the wine they make and the food that they grow is just one of the reasons I try to always be with the locals as much as possible! It is said that the stronger the emotional connection with the event, the stronger the memory and I am thrilled this moment in time will live on in my mind and heart for many years!

BTW...Travel and Leisure named Hvar as a top destination for 2021!

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