Jelsa Hvar Island Itinerary
Surrounded by the highest peaks on the island of Hvar, on the norther coast, sits the lovely little town of Jelsa.
Surrounded by pine forests, olive groves, vineyards and lavender and rosemary fields, Jelsa overlooks a bay of crystal-clear waters, making it the perfect holiday getaway.
This perfect little town is old, founded in the 14th century, and according to legend, it was built around St. John’s chapel.
Today, on that very spot, is a stunning 17th century Baroque chapel.
Interestingly enough, despite being officially founded in the 14th century, there is clear evidence of settlements having been established in the Jelsa area that date back to the ancient Greek as well as Roman eras.
There are also traces of habitation that date back to Illyrian times, if not earlier.
The old name of the town was Civitas Vetus Ielsae, but the name Jelsa first appeared in 1331in the Statute of Hvar.
That name is in reference to the alder trees (Jalša in Croatian) that grew in the swamps that were located near the town’s harbor. Those trees don’t exist anymore, since the swamps dried up in the 19th century.
Jelsa started off as a ship port for the nearby village of Pitve. But it grew from being an insignificant fishing and agricultural village to a maritime and shipbuilding center for the Adriatic region.
The town reached its peak as a maritime powerhouse in the 19th century, being the starting point of shipping vessels, exporting the best Hvar wines, salted fish and olive oil.
After the wine industry was almost destroyed in the 19th century, and the shipping industry dried up, Jelsa, like the rest of the island turned to tourism to sustain itself.
Today, this gorgeous little town is one of the most important tourist centers of the region.
Things to Do in Jelsa
Jelsa is the second largest town on Hvar Island, after Hvar Town. Yet, it is still a small town, with a total of just over 3,500 residents.
Having said that, this is also an ancient town that has adapted well to circumstances and is a bustling tourist spot with tons of things to do.
Visiting Historical Sites
Jelsa is a historical town, and there is so much of the past here, that you could spend your entire holiday just exploring the history and culture of the area!
You could visit the villae rusticae, remnants of the Roman era, old Jelsa City (Civitas Vetus Ielsae), or any or all of the stunning and centuries-old churches that dot the Jelsa landscape.
You can even reach far back into prehistory and visit the archeological site at Grapčeva Cave.
This cave is considered the birthplace of Hvar culture and is one of the oldest prehistorical sites in all of the Mediterranean.
Remember that swamp that dried up in the 19th century? Well, that was converted into a stunning public garden called Perivoj in 1870, and it definitely worth a visit.
You could also visit the ancient Greek fortress of Tor, built in the 4th century BC on the remnants of an earlier Illyrian fort.
You could even go to the Medieval town of Galešnik, not far from Tor.
Festivals in Jelsa
While the town is lovely all year round, the best time to visit is in summer – August to be exact. There are a variety of festivals that attract visitors from all over the world.
You can attend the Nights of Antun Dobronic, a month-long festival that starts on July 20 and concludes on August 20 every year.
There are magical, musical, drama as well as folklore events throughout that time in different locations in and around the town.
August 15, which is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, is the day that is celebrated as Municipality Day. There is an impressive ceremonial session, a sumptuous banquet of the best that Jelsa has to offer and a night of fireworks and celebration!
If you are a wine lover, or want to learn more about wines, or, well, just want to have some fun, then you must attend the Wine Festival on the last weekend of August.
Organized by the city, the best locally grown (but world famous) wines are on display (you get to drink them too!), which are paired up with the best cuisine of the land.
Earlier in the year is the Za Križen, which translated means Following the Cross.
This event takes place on Maundy Thursday, just before Easter every year.
In fact, this procession has been held for 500 years – without a single year being missed. This event is now on the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
There are a number of beautiful beaches in and around Jelsa.
There is a sand cove just outside of the town called Mina, which is perfect for families with small children.
There is also a naturist beach called Zecevo, which has been popular since the 1960s, however, to get there, you need to take a boat from Jelsa.
The most popular breach, however, is Grebisce Bay, which is barely 1.5 km from the center of the town.
Nightlife and Party Places
Jelsa has a vibrant nightlife, which is why the town also attracts young people.
Tarantella and Taboo are two of its most famous clubs where you can drink some of the local spirits called Rakija.
Wineries and Cuisine
Jelsa has some wonderful, traditional, historic wineries, as well as more contemporary ones that are fast becoming world-famous.
Besides the fantastic Wine Festival that takes place in August, you can also take wine tours in and around the town, and enjoy some of the most fantastic local Mediterranean cuisine you will ever taste.
Did you know that the local Mediterranean cuisine of the island has also been listed as a UNESCO Intangible Heritage?
It’s that good – and healthy! And you cannot leave town without having tried the locally grown and produced olive oil.
The most expensive olive oil is from this island, after all!
This is not a town only for the history buffs or party-goers. Adrenaline junkies also love Jelsa.
You do have the more relaxing activities like taking long, romantic walks in and around the town, cycling, mini-golf and fishing.
However, that’s not what keeps the thrill seekers coming back for more.
There are some stunning diving spots, and you can go bay fishing (yes, man vs. fish!), surfing, trekking, hiking, free climbing, mountain biking and so much more!
How to Get to Jelsa
If you are traveling by land, then you will need to get to either town, from where you will need to take a ferry or a catamaran ride to the island.
There isn’t any direct ferry connection to Jelsa from Split, so if you’re traveling by car, then you will need to disembark at Stari Grad and then drive down 14km to Jelsa.
Jelsa, however, does have direct catamaran services to Split if you are depending on public transport to make your way around.