Loving the Lavender: Cycling Hvar, Croatia
After the strangeness of Split it feels good to get on our bikes. We’re all keen to see how we get on with the Croatian heat and hills. One of the joys of touring the Croatian coast is visiting islands dipped in sunshine and summer. And rumour has the island of Hvar is the one that will slow your heartbeat. Rich with lavender, olives, and honey, it is a feast for the senses and a treat for an island hopper; especially if you like to arrive by pirate boat. But don’t forget your lilo; it’s a must have accessory apparently…
Ahoy there Pirates
The seaside village of Jelsa has more flip flops on display than a beachwear fashion show. It also has a continual seaside holiday vibe. The small settlement is full to bursting point on this hot summer morning. The villas are full, the restaurants busy with people doing nothing, and more and more holidaymakers pour in every hour. While the big cruise ships like the Celebrity have to hang out far off shore or in the harbour of nearby Split, the packed little party boats work their way around islands like this from early morning every day. Bringing fun and europop and people with a fist full of Kunas. And beach towels and blown up lilo’s.
Lavender Island me hearties
Everyone carries a lilo like a handbag here. The party boats are modelled on picture book-schooners and pirate ships and they disgorge passengers with a slip of paper telling them when they need to be back on board. Because they don’t hang around for long. More island paradises are on the schedule. They stay just long enough for passengers to have ice cream, loll on their lilo or buy some lucky lavender.
Actually you’re the lucky one if you can avoid the lavender sellers. Because the way to take your lavender on Hvar is naturally and free. And the way to really see this glorious island, if you don’t mind a few hills, is by bicycle. The roads are gentle and quiet, and the view, as you rise out of the bays, makes your beating heart slow down. Mind you it can take a while after the exertions of climbing. But when the rocky outcrops fall away to the strikingly blue sea, you soon leave the Caribbean style beach umbrellas of the local bars far behind. And stillness descends.
Time to walk the plank
When we first disembark from the ferry, it’s just a short ride to the picturesque village of Stari Grad, with its church that was a cathedral until the bishop moved out. Perhaps we’re looking at the smallest cathedral in the world? And a bell tower next door that Quasimodo would have died for.
We take an off road route, through the vineyards. Blackberries tangle with grapes and we pull them off the bushes, trying to curb our thirst. We pass a nudist camp and wish we were braver. At a bay we pull on swimming costumes and choke on the salty blue.
We need a lilo!
“Mum, can we have one?” asks Hannah for the fiftieth time.
Mad dogs and Englishmen
We reluctantly take on the island’s main hill in the heat of the day. We fuel up in the last beach bar and then huff and puff in the heat until we are high above the settlements. Here, it looks like times have been hard and the sun harsh. Little squares of land lie abandoned and the flies crowd around litter bins that look like they won’t be filled or emptied until eternity. We try to find some shade in the heat but the flies find us instead.
Eventually we are at the top and we fly down. Patches of warm and cold air mingle with wafts of lavender. There are unripe figs and olives on the trees. Little settlements appear out of nowhere, framed by a halo of sun. A local entrepeneur tends a stand in her front garden with home made honey and olive oil. Neither will work for us, but we plunder her fridge for cold drinks and ice cream.
The lavender does its stuff
We hope to reach the ferry at Sucuraj, at the other end of the island, but night is falling and we still have 20km to pedal. We set up a bivvy camp in some olive trees away from the road. We lie under the stars in cotton sheets and watch for the odd star to tumble to earth. The ground is hard from the endless Croatian sunshine.
“I told you we should have bought a lilo,” says Hannah.
But we have no problems drifting off. This is lavender island after all. Purple smells drift in and out of our consciousness, and someone turns the volume on the cicadas down for long enough for us to grab some sweet scented sleep.