The tourism ambassadors of the island of Hvar continued their efforts to promote all aspects of Lonely Planet's number 5 destination for 2012, this time making the short journey to the international food fair, GAST 2012 in Split, on March 22, 2012, where the emphasis was on the eco products and traditions of Hvar.
Led once again by its energetic mayor, Pjerino Bebic - who was named Croatian Mayor of the Year at the 2011 Days of Croatian Tourism awards - the highlight of the Hvar team's presentation was a stunning 10-minute video by local Internet portal Otok Hvar
, in partnership with local association Pjover from Velo Grablje and folklore group FK Saltin, a film which highlighted the traditions of the island through dance in costume set in one of Croatia's most interesting villages.
Once the centre of lavender production for all Dalmatia, the village of Velo Grablje followed the fate of many other villages in the region, suffering from massive depopulation in the 20th century as its inhabitants emigrated in search of greater economic opportunity. Today the picturesque stone village, a short drive from one of the Adriatic's hottest destinations, Hvar Town, has a population of just five. A sad but not atypical tale of a Dalmatian village in decline.
Enter a group of enthusiastic locals led by Ivo Zaninovic Grande, who founded a local association called Pjover, whose mandate is to revitalise life and the traditions of Velo Grablje. It is a mandate that has led to an incredible revival of the village's fortunes since Pjover's founding in 2006, and transformed Grablje into one of Croatia's must-see villages.
At the heart of Pjover's vision of the traditions of the village is its best-known product. Hvar is also known as the Lavender Island, and its aromatic fields are awash with lavender in bloom in June and July, which is when Velo Grablje really comes to life. Pjover now organises an annual lavender festival every June, in which all things lavender are celebrated - from an unusually flavoured but very refreshing ice cream, to a chance for tourists to participate in the production of lavender oil.
Perhaps even more impressive is the village's success on the football pitch; despite not having enough residents to field a full team, the wider Velo Grablje community has contributed to a team of enthusiastic players who are the reigning champions of a highly competitive Hvar football league.
Their path to the championship was recorded in an excellent documentary by Maja Zrnic, Lavender Smells from the Top
, which highlighted not only the football, but also a fascinating insight into winter life on a tourism island. Pjover was also behind the founding of the Levanda Ski Club earlier this year, the first on the sunniest island in the Adriatic, where hotels are rumoured to offer a free stay if it snows.
The energy and regeneration of Pjover is being mirrored elsewhere in the inland villages of Hvar, and tourists are waking up to the alternative tourism possibilities in the hills away from the beaches and nightlife which have put the island in the international spotlight, never more so than last year after Prince Harry's nightclub swimming antics and Beyonce's baby bump revelations.
The village of Dol, for example, is also undergoing something of a revolution, as the efforts of another local association, Tartajun, have helped to preserve and promote the history and traditions of the village, which also suffered massive depopulation. At the heart of the Dol calendar is the highly unusual annual Puhijada in August, an edible dormouse festival.
Hvar's presence at GAST 2012, which is one of the most important food and beverage fairs in the region, is the latest effort in a very busy winter for the island's ambassadors, an effort which has been covered by Digital Journal. The island is working hard to promote all aspects of its tourism offer, in addition to the stereotypical attractions of its sun, beaches, celebrity draw and nightlife reputation, and the island's chefs have been involved in some high-profile festivals during the off-season. These include the Days of Hvar Cuisine
festival in Belgrade and headlining the Croatia Food and Wine Festival
in Zagreb, while four of its chefs are part of a strong Dalmatian team heading for the culinary Olympics in Erfurt in October.