Welcome to the Oldest Town in Croatia
There is a place on Hvar Island in Croatia that I have been to countless times, over 25 times at least, and it has never once lost its magical luster. No, it is not Hvar Town, the limelight baby of the Croatian islands and epicenter for Croatia’s hottest nightlife scene.
Not that there is anything remotely wrong with Hvar Town, it is a wicked good time, but I’m talking of a deep connection with a certain place. A town we look forward to seeing over and over each week on MedSailors Croatia sailing holiday. And a town I can’t wait for others to see for themselves.
That town is Stari Grad.
As the yacht sails into the inlet and Stari Grad unfolds before your eyes — the bright pine trees fan out and rise up the mountains, framing the sprawling plains as if ready to take off into the sky. The sun dances on the cerulean water as it retreats into the horizon like a serpents tail, flanked by the massive limestone quay lining the marina. The pastel-coloured buildings emerge like a pop-up storybook from beneath the terra-cotta rooftops revealing Venetian architecture intertwined with the art-deco flair.
When you sail into Stari Grad, it’s an experience, and the soul of the town is tangible on arrival. And it’s an old soul at that.
Stari Grad translates to “Old Town” and though there are many places named Stari Grad across the Balkans, usually the label of any old sector of a town, Stari Grad on Hvar Island is one of the oldest towns in Europe.
Dating back to the 4th century BC, the region was settled by the ancient Greeks and has been continually inhabited since, with the lush and abundant Stari Grad plain cultivated for olive oil and wine over thousands of years.
Whenever we are docked in Stari Grad, the crew always find me returning to the yacht hours later and ask “where have you been this whole time?”
I usually answer with a line like, “just wandering around” which puzzles a lot of Skippers since I’ve visited Stari Grad so many times. But as I mentioned before, wandering this town never gets old.
Those smooth limestone promenades lined with locals strolling along or weaving through the iron lamplights on vintage bikes. Flowering rose vines bursting over old stone walls splashing fresh color onto the ancient history. The pancake lady stationed behind a plum of savoury and sweet aromas flipping Nutella-dripping morsels near the tiny wooden fishing boats bobbing about in the marina. Mustached men and elegant women sip lattes or cappuccinos beneath wrought-iron verandas in the palm-lined Venetian square. Sun-kissed scoops of sorbet threatening to drip into oblivion under the summer heat making you indulge in it faster, which means gelato ‘O clock will come around again soon enough.
I could sit there for days and bask in that vibe. Sometime I do for hours on end, before we have to skedaddle off to our wine tasting at Hora Farm in Stari Grad Plain. To the point where people start to wonder where I’ve gone off to and get worried by the disappearance.
Stari Grad is an ideal place to disappear into. The high and narrow flower-draped laneways make it oh-so-perfect for escaping the searing summer heat. That’s not the prime reason to get lost in this fantastical labyrinth by the seaside. A bit of childlike wonder bounds out of you when you walk through the town…it’s okay, there’s no stopping it. But do you really want to? Just accept the wonderment in its entirety.
One alley might have records dangling from the sky with a funky music and trinket shop to poke into. Another alley might be filled with doors painted in every hue imaginable. Turn right or left and you might stumble into Tvrdalj Castle, a 16th century abode of a renowned Croatian poet, finding yourself hypnotically watching the sea fish swim in the Romanesque pools.
Eventually, you’ll turn around and have no clue where you came from and no idea where you’re going. So just put a hand on one of the sides of the alley and keep following the grit of the old cracked stone walls (happy wrinkles) and eventually you’ll find yourself at the marina once more.
That is the magic and the soul of this wonderful Croatian seaside town, and why it is such a special place to me. As much as Hvar Town is known for its nights out, or Dubrovnik known for the Game of Thrones film locations, Stari Grad isn’t on the radar of most. The reason for this is because, just as it was thousands of years before, it’s a special place that is waiting to be discovered. It’s a town that can’t be read about on the Top 10 lists to get the feel for — it’s one you have to experience for yourself.
Would you love to explore the breathtaking town and experience the soul of Stari Grad for yourself? Book your MedSailors Croatia sailing holiday today!