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When a destination has a reputation for being the sunniest in the Mediterranean, it certainly demands closer inspection and indeed, the Croatian island of Hvar enjoys just that reputation. Offering the perfect Mediterranean escape but one which is very much away from some of the busiest crowds, Hvar is the ideal location in which to enjoy some laid-back sun, with a healthy dose of culture thrown in.
Dating back to prehistoric times, Hvar's first inhabitants were Neolithic and since then it has been inhabited by Illyrians and ancient Greeks, though it first rose to prominence during the time of the Venetian Empire, when it became a key naval base. It continued to prosper, though this prosperity also drew attention and coastal raids from both pirates and the Ottoman Empire were an issue during the 16th century, leading to the construction of a number of coastal fortifications. It prospered under the Austrian Empire, though by the time of the 20th century, had declined as a trade power due in turn to the decline of wooden sailing boats as a means of transport. Today, though it enjoys a prosperous existence once more, as one of Europe's most revered holiday island destinations.
Hvar's Town Square is very much the island's architectural focal point and at 15,000 square feet, one of Croatia's largest town squares. Over the centuries, the town built up around this square and as a result, it's home to many of its most celebrated buildings, dating right back to the 13th century. St Stephen's Cathedral is the square's most instantly recognisable building and dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The ornate, four-story bell tower is more elaborate the higher you go and of course, the view from the top is worth the effort.
Elsewhere on the island, the Hvar Fortress is the premier attraction, standing guard on a hill overlooking the town and island as a whole. Completed in 1551, the fortress dates back to the time when the port was under Venetian control and was built to protect it against Turkish invaders. Exploring the ruins ensures a trip back to this turbulent time and offers some great views and photo opportunities too. There's also a convenient café in which to relax and take a break. The Franciscan Monastery is another popular attraction a little more than five minutes out of the centre. Located in a beautiful setting, it boasts a fascinating treasury and calming and relaxed atmosphere.
When it comes to simply taking it easy on the beach, you'll have plenty of choice on the island and the area surrounding Hvar town is no exception. However for a little bit of seclusion a few minutes out of the town, be sure to head to Dubovica.
If you take a trip out to Hvar's countryside you'll find lots of Lavender and as such, the colourful and aromatic plant contributes to the island's souvenir trade. Lavender bunches and lavender oils are a popular souvenir, while lace is traditionally made here, and makes for another authentic memento.
Much as is the case with any inhabited island, seafood comprises part of the staple diet, and grilled squid with olive oil is popular. It's also easy to find the national Croatian dish of rabbit in fig sauce, though there are plenty of places offering more familiar dishes, too.
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