Hvar Town – Cycling to the Dalmatian Island’s Capital by Mistake
In the last post I described a really delightful and historically informative cycling trip between Stari Grad, Jelsa and Vrboska on the Croatian island of Hvar. After returning to Stari Grad we boarded our boat, the Azimut, for a nice lunch and listen while our guide Mario describes this afternoon’s ride which is going to be a lot harder than this morning’s. There will be an elevation gain of more than 500 metres (1600 feet) from sea level to the top of Hvar and then all the way back down again to Hvar town, a distance of 22 kms. (14 miles). The boat will meet us there and we will have a chance to explore what is supposed to be one of the nicest towns in Dalmatia.
Here is a map of Hvar island. There are two roads that run from Stari Grad to Hvar town. We will be on the old road that goes up and over the mountainous spine of the island. The new road, which carries almost all the traffic, goes through the mountains by way of a tunnel to the south coast.
Cycling to Hvar town
There are five cyclists in the group including myself and Alison on ebikes, the advantages of which I described in the last post, Gary and Cindy on regular hybrids and Mario, our guide. He makes it clear that he will stay in the rear because this is going to be a difficult ascent for Cindy and will take her a lot longer than it should take us. So we are off and after a few kilometres of easy cycling along the coast it gets serious.
While the morning dawned bright and sunny, that did not last and I can see that the road literally climbs into the clouds well over a thousand feet higher up. It doesn’t take long for Alison and I to leave the others behind and as we begin the ascent I get into a steady pace that I think I can maintain to the summit some ten kilometres away. My mind focuses just on that and for almost an hour I continue to climb. Looking back just before the clouds envelop me I can see Stari Grad bathed in sunlight far below.
I can also see the Azimut as it plies its way to Hvar town. That’s it in the middle of the photo leaving a nice wake behind her. I wonder if it will get there before we do. Notice how much darker it is looking this way than back to Stari Grad.
What I don’t see is Alison. Shit! I’ve done this before – get into some kind of reverie and forget about everything else. I wait for a good ten minutes, but no sign of her and I convince myself that she must be with the others and just taking her time. It’s getting very windy and cold and there’s still a ways to go to the top so I continue on into the clouds. The summit seems to be at this stone structure which is apparently a lime kiln that also has doubled as a lookout post in both world wars. It wouldn’t be much good for that today. There are picnic tables here and apparently great views of both sides of the island, but I can’t see more than a few hundred feet in any direction.
I am more than glad that this interminable climb is finally over. Thank God I won’t have to do that again. It’s all downhill from here. Unlike this morning’s downhill which was exhilarating, this one, while much longer, is not so much – mainly because I can’t see a damn thing. I’m also a bit concerned that any traffic won’t be able to see me and because of the wind which is really howling up here, I won’t be able to hear it coming. That forces me to take it much slower than I would if it was clear. It seems like a good thousand feet of descent before I come out of the clouds at the tiny village of Brusje. Shortly after that the road reenters the pine forest and except for the very unsightly town dump, the ride is once again pleasurable right down to the bus depot in Hvar town where the road ends and a pedestrian only area begins.
Dismounting, I almost fall down and realize just how tired my legs are. I’ve cycled over 50 kms. today, much of it uphill and a wave of relief comes over me that the cycling is over for the day. Time to find a bar and have a beer while I wait for the others.
The principal feature of Hvar town is a huge rectangular marble stone plaza, St. Stephen’s square. The cathedral of St. Stephen is at one end and the harbour at the other. Both sides are lined with restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. After not seeing a single soul for the past couple of hours (only two cars passed me the entire way) the place is hopping, especially with middle aged Japanese women. I’ll definitely have a beer at one of the bars while waiting for the others, but first I check to see if the Azimut has arrived. The water is high enough that it’s actually overflowing onto the marble slabs making it very slippery so I walk the bike along the waterfront and satisfy myself I have beaten the boat. OK, time for that well deserved beer.
I sit at an outside table with a view that will make sure I can’t miss the others when they arrive and have a large Ozujsko. Time to take pictures later. The beer goes down very nicely and I’m about to order another when I realize I’ve been in Hvar a good half an hour. I knew the others would be slow, but this slow? Instead I go back to the bus depot where the road ends and keep watch for another ten minutes or so before heading back to the harbour to see there’s any sign of the boat. Nada. Now I’m getting worried. Maybe there’s been an accident. Why did I have to take off like that?
I go back to where the road ends and just as I get there Mario appears. “Great” I think. “They’re here at last. Better late than never” Except the look on Mario’s face doesn’t fit that. It’s a combination of relief and pissed offedness. He shouts, “We have to go back. The boat can’t make it. It’s too rough”. Are you kidding me? I have to go back up that godforsaken hill again? Thank goodness I didn’t have that second Ozujsko.
As we start up Mario explains that I was supposed to wait at the top for the others. Alison and the others are in a tiny restaurant that I didn’t even notice on the way up due to the dense cloud. She is concerned that somehow I might have gone off the road. Boy am I in shit now, but hey, I’m paying the price as I have no choice but to force my legs to do an additional 22 kms. that the others don’t. We make surprisingly good time back up and I can see that there is more relief than anger on the other’s faces when we show up. My protestations that I didn’t hear Mario say we had to wait at the top are greeted with universal skepticism. On the way back down to Stari Grad I stay at the back of the pack. Thanks to my little excursion it’s almost dark by the time we reach the boat.
Here’s what I might have taken photos of if we had spent the night in Hvar town.
After dinner Alison and I and Gary and Cindy walk into Stari Grad which is virtually deserted and search out Antika restaurant and bar which Mario has recommended. It’s a very quirky place with a lot of bric-a-brac and what appears to be the world’s oldest cash register still in use. We are directed up some very steep stairs where there is room at one of two tables. The other is occupied by four couples from four different countries, all speaking English with a different accent. I order and pay for a very good bottle of posip wine as a small token of appreciation for the rest of them not bawling me out for the inconvenience I caused this afternoon. My punishment comes as we get up to leave and I almost fall down the stairs as my knees simply buckle. It’s all I can do to hobble back to the boat. What a start to this cycling trip. Well at least I got to see Hvar town and nobody else did.
Tomorrow we complete our cycling on Hvar with at trip from Jelsa to Sucuraj and then on to the island of Korcula. Please join us.
Here is a link to the Croatia photo gallery with pics from Split to Croatia and all places in between.