The island of Hvar is making a concerted effort to prolong the season with the introduction of new festivals and events. An interview with Ivan Gospodnetic.
It has been another successful season for Hvar Town in Croatia, the main settlement on the island of the same name, and the buzz surrounding the arrival of Tom Cruise on August 31, 2012, has become typical of an island that is branding itself as a luxury destination, with a quality mix of heritage, sun, natural beauty, beaches, gastronomy and celebrity draw.
Not resting on their laurels, however, the island's businessmen and politicians are actively looking at ways to prolong the summer tourist season, this on the island where organised tourism began in 1868 with the founding of the Hvar Health Society, whose focus was on health tourism in the winter months, rather than the current trend of summer beaches and partying. Digital Journal caught up with one Hvar businessman who is very active in promoting all sections of the island - Ivan Gospodnetic, owner of the island's most exclusive restaurant, Gariful.
The first squid fishing championship, or peskafondo, was held last year. This year's event will be a four-day gastro festival.
Since taking over the restaurant several years ago, Gospodnetic has enjoyed stunning success, elevating the restaurant to the status as Hvar's premier fish restaurant, with the largest catch displayed daily in front of the building, as well as the island's most extensive wine list by some distance. As previously reported by Digital Journal, the list of champagnes include a rare 6 litre bottle of Dom Perignon Rose which is on the market for a cool 800,000 kuna (US$160,000). Celebrity diners have included the likes of Prince Harry, Roman Abramovich and Giorgio Armani.
A day with Hvar's fishermen.
Far from merely focusing on the rich and famous, however, Gospodnetic is one of the driving forces behind various initiatives to increase events and activities on the island for the local population, as well as working on ways on improving tourism and lengthening the season on Hvar.
"Hvar is an island of such incredible diversity and appeal," Gospodnetic told Digital Journal at his waterfront restaurant, over a glass of his most popular white wine, the Hvar-produced Sveti Klement from Andro Tomic, "a place where a backpacker and a billionaire can mix on the same street without a problem. Tom Cruise paid us a visit this week and mingled with fans and enjoyed a relaxing time (click here to see the video). Celebrities do not experience the same pressures that they do elsewhere, and they appreciate that, and come back.
"Apart from running my restaurant, my mission is to work to improve tourism on Hvar, and to bring out the magic of the island in all its shapes and forms.
"Hvar is known for its celebrities, for its beaches, for its night life and for being the sunniest island in the Adriatic, but it has much more to offer. This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the oldest municipal theatre in Europe, we are the only island in the world with three UNESCO sites, our wines are exported all over the world, and we have four chefs going to the gastronomic Olympics in Erfurt, Germany next month."
It is this focus on food and drink which is at the heart of the latest initiative on Hvar - a four-day gastronomic festival aimed at promoting all aspects of Hvar's food, wine and maritime offers. The 2012 Hvar Gariful Peskafondo starts on October 3, and events will range from a squid fishing championship, gastronomic presentations and showcasing of local products. Some of Croatia's best-known chefs, fishermen and dignitaries are expected to attend.
The festival coincides with St. Stephen's Day, the patron saint of the town, and among the celebrations will be the official marking of the 400th anniversary of the Hvar theatre, which is the oldest public theatre in Europe, having been constructed in 1612.
"The festival will be a chance for people to experience the real Hvar out of the main tourist season. We live from our beaches, night life and summer season, but there is so much more to develop on this island. Tourism started here based on winter tourism, and we have the potential and diversity to turn the island into a twelve-month destination. But we must promote. We hope that this festival will be a step in that direction."
Hvar's restaurants are known for their excellent seafood, and squid is a popular dish.
The island has added an impressive array of new attractions this season. Known for its natural goodness and successful lavender festival, the island's first honey festival was held in Stari Grad this summer, with one of its organisers Boris Buratovic fresh from a fourth place in Argentina at the 2011 Apimondia with his rosemary honey, while Hvar's wines have enjoyed a very successful year, with new exports to China and America among others, and the introduction of an intern programme between Fresno State University and the Hvar Wine Association from 2013.
The island's leading hotel, Adriana - shortlisted for the best boutique resort in Europe at the World Travel Awards - is going back to Hvar's tourism roots and has developed an impressive winter spa health package. The island's largest UNESCO zone, the 2,400 year old Stari Grad Plain (see video below) will be enjoyed next Saturday by participants in the first 30km Cycle Through Hvar's Heritage race.
Tom Cruise, Michael Schumacher and Eric Clapton may hit the Hvar headlines during the summer, but the long-term future of Croatia's premier island as a year-round destination is looking very promising indeed.