Berth in Jelsa and meet the sweetness of Croatian islands – World Meanderings (n°21)
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
There are no less than 1244 islands in Croatia, spread like confetti on the Adriatic Sea. Among them Hvar is said to be the sunniest one and is a popular travel destination since the end of the 19th century.
Thanks to a strong will to avoid mass tourism this beautiful island escaped the galloping urbanization that disfigures so many landscapes on the Mediterranean seashore and you will find there wide pine forests, vineyards, lavender and rosemary fields, quiet little coves and clear blue sea.
If Hvar Town is now worldwide known as a festive and jet set destination since Beyonce and Jay Z came there on vacations (they even called their first daughter Blue Ivy after the name of a local tree), most of the villages and ports of Hvar retain all their original charms. Located on the northern coast of the island, Jelsa (pronounce it yelsa), is a small fishing port hidden at the end of a narrow and deep cove and is now part of the protected ecological area of Hvar.
Don’t expect to find long sandy beaches on the island, but all along the coast you can stop and swim in creeks, coves and inlets with rocky and small gravel beaches surrounded by pine trees where you will most of the time be on your own. So even if your hotel offers many water sports don’t hesitate to walk or take a bike to one of these secluded beaches.
If there were only one more good reason to convince you to go to Jelsa, food would be the one! Mediterranean diet, slow food, local produce, fishes and seafood of the day… You will soon discover that Dalmatian gastronomy exists and everything needed to cook comes from the island, from appetizer to dessert. Authentic and tasty meals are served in several good restaurants. There are called konobas, taverns, and are set in the old part of Jelsa. Walking through the narrow streets lined with big stone houses you will be attracted by their terraces shaded by olive or fig trees or by their cool and rustic dinning room.
Close to the St Ivan church, only 50 metres from the harbour quay, you will find “Pelago”, where Ivo and Marija warmly welcome their guests. They serve simple but refined food such as monkfish carpaccio, Hvar Grevada a local dish made with braised spicy fish, wonderful pizzas cooked in a traditional wood oven, black risotto, marinated anchovies or even a “Fis papribas” a spicy fish soup. The wine list offers organic white and white wines from Hvar and you can also taste a glass of Prosek, a local sparkling wine made by Ivo’s family.
The konoba “Nono” is a family business and is set in a old house at the top end of a winding street. Try the langoustine omelette, the sepia ink gnocchi or the braised octopus and have one of the homemade cakes… Vegetables and fruits grow in their garden and they make their own olive oil, a guarantee of quality and freshness.
At “Murvica” you will have typical Dalmatian dishes such as the “pasticada”, a stew made with beef marinated for 12 hours and then cooked for 3 hours. They also make vegetarian cuisine with organic produce from their garden and serve their own wines and olive oils. And if you are not sensitive to gluten you must taste their homemade bread!
In the shade of kiwi, lemon and orange trees the terrace of the “Turan” restaurant awaits you for a dinner of inventive cuisine: octopus tartar steak, brochettes made with figs wrapped in raw ham and barbecued, saffron langoustines… And for a romantic or festive drink go to “Skalinada” while admiring the spectacular view over the Adriatic Sea and its islands.
Before leaving Jelsa pay a visit to the local beekeeper, Juraj Rubin. He makes clear and delicate rosemary honey, sweet aromatic lavender honey, bitter arbutus honey or creamy heather honey. In his farm you will also be able to buy his olive oils, wines, Prosek, figs, almonds, olives… A few samples of Jelsa’s riches to bring back home. The local tourism office is located on the harbour and they will be glad to show you the way to these different places.
To go to Jelsa you should take a direct flight from London Gatwick to Split in mainland Croatia (it’s a 2 hours and 20 minutes flight).
From Split get on board one of the daily ferry that will take you to Jelsa in less than two hours.
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny
For more information: www.visit-croatia.co.uk