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New Europe

Day Nine: Hvar

Ferry to Hvar 
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Split slips away as the ferry takes me to the island of Hvar.
Michael Palin - New EuropeI find that what catches my fancy most is the smell of the place. Like a slice of Provence cut loose and floated down the Mediterranean, Hvar is famous for its lavender fields. This is not even the lavender season and yet the aromas around me are powerful. The scent of pine mingles with those of broom, dill and oregano, wafting up to me as I stand amongst the stout stone walls of a sixteenth-century hilltop village. Vines are everywhere and each of the courtyards has its own delicately carved winepress.

But the village is deserted and its inhabitants have moved away, to cities like Split or Zagreb or even as far as Australia. My companion and guide Igor Zivanovic loves the island with a vengeance and yet sees that the rural life, however picturesque it might be for visitors like us, offered only hard work and low rewards. Hvar's beauty has never helped its inhabitants. Malta, another Mediterranean island of similar size, sustains a population of 400,000. There are 10,000 living on Hvar.

Igor is what is called in the business a 'character'. He's fifty-one, born in Istria and has lived here since 1961. He wears his long, greying hair in a stumpy ponytail which he is constantly adjusting. Sometimes it's at the back of his head and sometimes perched on top of it like a Mandarin emperor. He wears worn jeans and a shirt which pops open rather frequently to reveal a round, bulging stomach.

He has found some donkeys to take us around the deserted village, but even that hasn't been easy. Once the staple form of transport on the island, they have been comprehensively superseded by the motor car and the pick-up truck. Of the two he was able to find, one is lame.

Igor points out the details of the deserted buildings, the carved lintels, decorated keystones on the arches, and the funnel in the millstone on which the wine was pressed.

'They made wine right here. Dark wine. They call it black wine. Very strong.'

Igor dispenses information and opinions with impulsive finality. He doesn't do musing.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Nine: Hvar
  • Country/sea: Croatia
  • Place: Hvar
  • Book page no: 26

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