Visit Stari Grad On Hvar Island
This is the jewel of the island of Hvar! Stari Grad in Croatian simply means Old Town, and it is old.
In fact, it is the oldest towns in Europe, and has seen occupation by Neolithic tribes, the Illyrians, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Slavs, the Venetians, the Turkish Empire and even the Austro-Hungarians.
The region around modern-day Stari Grad was first occupied by the Hvar Neolithic tribes from about 3,500 BC to 2,500BC.
There are archeological remains of these tribes’ pottery as well as other artefacts around the town.
The Illyrian tribes succeeded the neoliths, whose settlement was unearthed at the lower part of Stari Grad bay.
This settlement was defended by two fortresses on the northern and southern hills that overlooked the bay.
The settlement of Stari Grad was established by the ancient Greeks in 384BC, and the town was named Pharos, and it was an independent city-state, a polis.
Then, in 218BC, the Romans defeated the residents and destroyed the town.
However, it was only in 168BC that they actually took over the town and renamed it Faria.
Then the Slavs wrested the town from the Romans in the 8th century, and named it Hvar.
However, when the capital of the island was moved in 1278 to the town we today know as Hvar Town, the town simply came to be known as Old Town, or Stari Grad in Croatian.
In the 16th century, the Turks marauded the town and destroyed most of it. However, the spirit of Stari Grad did not die. The residents slowly rebuilt the ancient town and once again it rose to prominence.
The town we see today, with the lovely stone houses and clean, cobbled streets, was built mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries, when Stari Grad was at its most prosperous.
Things to Do in Stari Grad
This ancient little town has a lot to offer visitors, and while historical sites do loom large on the list of places to visit, there are a lot of other activities for tourists in Stari Grad.
The first thing that you must see is the Stari Grad Plain. Listed as a UNSECO World Heritage Site in 2008, it was set up as an agricultural site by the ancient Greeks in the 4th century BC.
For more than 24 centuries, the locals have maintained the plain in almost its original form.
The plain is known as Hora or Ager, and it is the pretty much the only remaining cadastral plan (ancient Greek agricultural plan) in the entire Mediterranean region.
The plain, which is still in use, still grows the same crops that the Greeks did 2,400 years ago – grapes and olives.
You should also visit the ancient Illyrian forts of Glavica and Purkin Kuk and the remains of the Roman villas in the area.
A visit to the 15th century palace Tvrdalj would also be a great idea. It is truly romantic, with its lovely garden and fishpond in the heart of Stari Grad.
The Churches of Stari Grad
The churches of Stari Grad should also be on your must-see list. The Church of St. John is one of the main attractions.
And another place that you should visit is the Dominican monastery dedicated to St. Peter the Martyr.
The greatest art treasures of Stari Grad are housed in this monastery, including The Lamentation of Christ, a painting created by the world-famous Renaissance painter Jacopo Tintoretto.
The Church of St. Rocco, who is the patron saint of the town, is also worth visiting.
There is a mosaic Roman floor that are discovered under the church’s stairs in 1898!
The architecture of all the churches in and around the town is stunning, so you could spend a day or two visiting them and finding out their history.
There are lovely little pebbled beaches nestled in shallow coves along Hvar’s coastline.
In fact, there are more than 40 lovely beaches from which to choose, starting just a couple of hundred meters from the town.
A favorite is Banj, a stunning pebble beach with shallow waters that is perfect for little children.
Another popular beach is Lanterna. It is surrounded by rocky outcrops, with stairs that visitors can use to get into the water.
Maslinica Bay, which is just 2km outside Starigrad center, is the only sandy beach in the area.
There is also a naturist beach along the northern trail leading to the Kabal peninsula.
Stari Grad Museum
Housed in what was once Bianchini Palace, you will see all of Stari Grad’s long history in the form of exhibits of archeological collections that date back to the Neolithic age.
You can even take walking tours of the town.
The narrow streets of this Old Town are fascinating and you will feel like you have stepped out of your time into the past.
A good idea would be to pick up a guide of Starigrad to help you around.
There are so many wine-tasting options in Stari Grad, especially since wine-making is one of its mainstays.
However, the one place that you must make time to visit – especially if you are a wine lover – is the Hora Winery.
It is located on the Stari Grad Plain and it offers you a seriously unique experience.
The food is delicious in Stari Grad. In fact, this little town boasts a Michelin star restaurant – the only one on Hvar Island!
Villa Apolon is the only restaurant to be mentioned in the Michelin guide. It serves contemporary Mediterranean dishes, derived from the local cuisine.
You don’t need to visit a Michelin star restaurant to get some really sumptuous food.
The local Mediterranean cuisine is wonderful.
So wonderful that it has been listed as a UNESCO Intangible Heritage!
And don’t forget to sample the wonderful locally-made olive oils while you’re in Stari Grad.
You can taste oil made from olives grown in the Stari Grad Plain, one of the most ancient agricultural sites in the world.
It’s not all history tours and leisurely strolls in Stari Grad.
Adventure and nature enthusiasts also love this little town.
Besides cycling, fishing, diving, trekking and hiking, Stari Grad is famous for one of the most grueling long-distance swim competitions in the world – the Faros Marathon.
How to Get to Stari Grad
If traveling by air, you will need to get to Split, which has both international as well as domestic airports.
You can also land at Dubrovnik, but it is a much longer ferry crossing from there.
If traveling by road, you can take one of the car ferries from Split that will take you directly to Stari Grad, however, be warned that the crossing can take as long as 2 hours in the peak summer season.
There are also international ferry lines from Italy, and Stari Grad is a port of call for them.
There used to be coastal ferry lines that used to operate along the Dalmatian coast, but they don’t run any more.
The port of Stari Grad is about 2km away from the town, so you will need to use the local bus service to get there, or you can hire a taxi, or rent a car or scooter when you arrive at the port.