Hvar, Croatia: the perfect break

Why go now?
Because you'll avoid the masses – the island Hvar (pronounced 'var) is Dalmatia's trendiest destination, after Dubrovnik, and gets jam-packed in summer. Spring should see the weather pleasantly sunny, the sea warm enough for a swim, and the main attractions and watersports up and running.
The warmer weather also brings splashes of colour to Hvar's little- visited interior, with grapevines sprouting, the famed lavender fields turning silvery-purple, and pastures dotted with flowers and delicious wild asparagus.
Get there by…
Plane and catamaran. Split airport is served by easyJet (www.easyjet.com) from London Gatwick and London Stansted (Easter onwards), and Bristol (May 21 onwards); Jet2.com (www.jet2.com) flies from Manchester weekly from May 7. Catch the airport bus (www.plesoprijevoz.hr) into Split port, then take a Jadrolinija (www.jadrolinija.hr) white-and-blue catamaran direct to Hvar Town (once daily, 50-minute journey); or a Jadrolinija ferry to the island's main port, Stari Grad (several times daily, two hours), followed by bus to Hvar Town.
Stay at…
Hotel Adriana (00 385 21 750200, www.suncanihvar.com) overlooking the harbour, main square and cathedral. Dating from the 1970s but given a chic contemporary look, it has 50 airy rooms and nine spa suites. Sea-view rooms cost £195 until the end of May, with a 15 per cent discount if you book online before April 30.
For a waterside retreat outside the centre, try Hotel Podstine (00 385 21 740400, www.podstine.com). A 20-minute walk along the coastal path, it's set in lush gardens giving on to a small beach and overlooking the Pakleni islands. A standard double with breakfast costs £118 in May.
A sound budget option is Villa Nora (00 385 21 742498,www.villanora.eu), with four rooms and five suites in a 17th-century stone building. A double room with a big breakfast is £66 throughout May; three nights for the price of two until June 15.
Spend the morning…
Exploring the Old Town. Begin with Hvar Cathedral (00 385 21 741152, daily 7am-noon and 5pm-7pm, free) overlooking Trg Svetog Stjepana, the main square, built between the 16th and 17th centuries. From here, walk south to the Franciscan monastery (Kriza bb, 00 385 21 741193, June-Sept daily 10am-noon and 5pm-7pm; Oct-May daily 10am-noon, £2.40). This walled sanctuary centres on a Renaissance cloister. The museum is home to a magnificent 17th-century painting of the Last Supper.
Return to the main square, then climb steps to the Castle (Groda bb, June-Sept daily 8am-midnight; Oct-May, £3), with fantastic views of the harbour.
Have lunch at…
Konoba Menego (Groda bb, 00 385 21 742036, www.menego.hr), a welcoming little wine bar on the steps between the castle and the main square. Expect platters of Dalmatian specialities such as octopus salad,prsut (prosciutto) and goat's cheese, plus freshly baked bread and homemade wine by the carafe. About £14. Closed Sunday lunchtime.
Or take a 20-minute taxi-boat ride from Hvar's seafront to the islet of Sveti Klement, where Palmizana Meneghello (00 385 21 717270,www.palmizana.hr) shows artwork by contemporary Croatian painters. Try Hvarska gregada (fish and potato casserole). About £30 for a seafood lunch with wine.
Spend the afternoon…
Relishing the sea and the blissful Pakleni islands. A short taxi-boat ride from Hvar's harbour, this archipelago of tiny pine-scented car-free islets offers secluded beaches for bathing, some nudist-friendly. Hvar Adventure (00 385 21 717 813, www.hvar-adventure.com) organises half-day sailing trips around the Pakleni islands (2pm-6pm or 4pm-8pm, £50 per person), as well as sunset sea kayaking tours in the same waters (4pm-8pm, £42 per person).
Have dinner…
At slow-food restaurant Zlatna Skoljka (P Hektorovica 8, 00 385 98 1688797, www.zlatna.skoljka.com). Set in the courtyard garden of a 14th-century palazzo, just off the main square, it's one of Hvar's top gourmet hangouts. Good for sirloin steak stuffed with goat's cheese and capers, or amberjack in saffron sauce. About £42 for a three-course dinner
with wine. Reservations recommended.
Spend the next day…
Exploring the island. Hire a car and drive 15 miles east to Stari Grad, founded by the Greeks in 400 BC, making it the oldest settlement on the island. Check out its main attraction, Tvrdjalj (00 385 21 765068, open May-June 10am-1pm, Jul-Aug daily 10am-1pm and 5pm-8pm, £1.80), a Renaissance villa built by Petar Hektorovic, a young aristocrat and poet, in 1520. Eight miles further east in Jelsa, on the north coast, there is wine-tasting at Bastijana (00385 21 768 160, www.bastijana.hr).
And if you're here from June onwards, you might continue to Humac, to eat barbecued lamb at Konoba Humac (00 385 (0)21 768108, open June-Sept, Mon-Sat 9am-11pm) – there's no electricity so everything is cooked over charcoal. A delightful hamlet of semi-abandoned 16th-century cottages, Humac stands on a hilltop high above Hvar's isolated south coast. To reach it, drive five miles east of Jelsa towards Sucuraj, until you see a wooden sign "Humac". From here, the village lies a five-minute walk along a track. Blissful.
For more information…
Visit the Hvar Town Tourist Board (Trg sv. Stjepana bb, 0038521 741 059, www.tzhvar.hr).


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