We are all greatly limited with travel options today, but in this blog we are brining first hand experience from one of the travel agents who visited Croatia during COVID19 pandemic. We hosted Kemi Wells, Virtuoso travel agent from Canada, who is bringing her story and sharing all the experience how post COVID travel to Croatia can look like. After all, travel is not as bad as it seems and we just all need to get used to ‘new normal’.
After nearly 5 months since my last international flight, it felt surreal to land in London Heathrow on July 12th 2020. It was the start of a journey which, for a good few months prior, I did not believe was going to be possible. But, I did it. I travelled internationally during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the trip was fantastic so I wanted to share my experience.
I had planned to take my Mum away for her birthday (booked nearly a year ago) but our Uniworld river cruise in Bordeaux was cancelled. However I kept a close eye on everything in Europe and when numbers started to drop and things started to open up, I decided to plan a new itinerary visiting Croatia which was open to both Canadians and British (I have a UK passport). Following advice from my preferred partners on the ground in Croatia (Via Tours Croatia), we chose to stay on the beautiful island of Hvar (which at the time of writing, still hasn’t had one confirmed case of COVID-19 to date). I also spent a few days in Germany with my Dad and brother before heading back to Vancouver.
..and here we go…. Hvar is a very special island and a gem of Croatia. A beautiful sea breeze, crystal clear waters, luscious landscapes and amazing food and wine…I totally see why everyone know that has already visited Hvar, absolutely loved it. It is such a beautiful island. We stayed in Hvar Town, which has rich history and is a port on the Croatian Adriatic Sea.
In July 2020 I decided to venture from Canada to Europe, to reunite with my Mum in the UK and continue on to vacation in Croatia. Despite the challenges we are all facing with COVID-19, as a regular traveler, I was thrilled to finally be back in the air and have the opportunity to travel internationally.
We landed at Split airport, it was tiny, just our flight in the arrivals hall and bags were quick. I had filled out this detailed online form for entry in advance, printed it, alongside proof of my accommodation booking.
We were met by our driver in the arrivals hall, where you may usually shake hands, this time you just exchanged smiles (under our masks) and off we went (hand sanitizer in the car too of course). We headed straight to the ferry port and made the 5pm fast catamaran across to Hvar (takes around an hour). You had to wear your mask to board and for the duration. The ferry was a third full I’d say. When we arrived in Hvar, staff from the hotel took our bags but told us to walk to the hotel, along the beautiful marina.
For our first night we stayed at Amfora Grand Beach Resort and Spa. It is a lovely 4* hotel which is located across from a beach and has gorgeous green landscaping, beautiful swimming pools and breathtaking views. This hotel is part of the Suncani Hvar Hotel Group and is their largest property on the island with over 300 rooms. The hotel has a beautiful lobby with a central bar and lounge area.
Our arrival day was also my Mum’s birthday so Ivana, our travel concierge (all clients booking with VIA get 24/7 access to their own local concierge) had booked us the best table at the best restaurant in Hvar called Gariful. We toasted and celebrated with some delicious Croatian rose bubbly and enjoyed a divine multi-course dinner and fresh seafood.
The next morning I woke up and took one look at the view and pinched myself. I couldn’t believe after everything here we were in Croatia. It was 24c and only 8am, I was so ready for sunshine and blue skies!
Amfora has a great pool and we spent the day there, reading our books, sipping on local wine and just generally unwinding, as we settled in to the start of our much anticipated holiday! We enjoyed a poolside lunch and it was divine. We were so happy to be in the Mediterranean. Fresh burrata cheese, baked bread, delicious tomatoes, all drizzled in local olive oil! Yum!
Later that afternoon, we walked over to Palace Elisabeth, where we would be checking in for the next four nights. Palace Elisabeth is the first and only true five star hotel on the island of Hvar and we arrived on opening day for their much anticipated but necessarily delayed summer season. The hotel only opened its door in September 2019 and shut in the October as it is a seasonal hotel. You could tell the staff were genuinely excited to welcome their first guests!
The hotel was absolutely gorgeous in every way. A boutique hotel with only 33 rooms and 12 suites. We walked into the small lobby and noticed a stunning floral arrangement and beautiful chandelier- we couldn’t wait to see the rest of the hotel. Palace Elisabeth has been restored to its former glory, and the hotel is very luxurious and our room was nice and spacious, with a gorgeous view overlooking the hotel grounds and the marina.
Breakfast was a feast at the hotel every morning. As soon as you sat down, they bring you a platter of fresh cheese and meats, all locally-sourced from the island, and delicious fruit. For a splash of fun, you also have access to a complimentary Bloody Mary menu with fun adaptations for a morning cocktail. You are then free to order whatever you want from their a la carte menu- we tried various dishes over our stay and all were delicious! I was in heaven as breakfast is my favorite meal of the day.
I am a huge spa lover, so was very happy to book in for massages one morning. We ended up having the pool and lounge area to ourselves as the hotel was so quiet! The pool is indoors but opens up to a private terrace with very comfortable loungers.
We enjoyed time walking around the marina and stopping for cocktails at the many waterfront bars. The hotel is in such a great location right in the heart of the town.
One afternoon we adventured out on a half day tour which I can’t recommend enough. Our English-speaking guide Tea (pronounced Tea) was waiting for us in the hotel lobby and we walked to the air conditioned van that was waiting for us. We wore our masks, as did the driver and Tea. First stop was the picture-perfect viewpoint overlooking Hvar and the marina.
As we continued our journey we learned about the rich agriculture history Hvar has. We pulled over on the side of the road and checked out some lavender fields. Did you know Croatia once produced 10% of the world’s lavender production? Tragically large fires on the island in the 60s and again in the 90s destroyed most of the fields. There is still some production and you’ll find market stalls selling an abundance of lavender products, but it’s nothing compared to what it once was, sadly.
Our next stop was definitely a highlight of the tour – a private wine and olive oil tasting inside the winemaker’s cellar. There is a huge wine growing history in Croatia and on the island, dating back to the 1800s! WOW- it was such a great experience, I was blown away walking into the cellar to see this stunning candlelit set up. The winemaker, Dubokovic, guided us through his fabulous wine portfolio and we enjoyed local cheese, bread and various olive oils all made on the island of Hvar.
I ordered my favourite white and red wines (oh Canada I wish we had a higher duty free allowance) and ordered a variety of olive oil infusions, each came in these lovely bottles. I would worry about my luggage allowance later…
Our final stop was a late lunch in a village that was abandoned in the 60s but it was recently turned into a restaurant by one of the families who used to live there. The restaurant name translated to “Old Fireplace” in honour of the traditional stove which used to be the central area for family gatherings.
We were going to experience our first “Peka” meal, a very traditional cooking process in Croatia, where you enjoy cooked octopus or meat). The Chef and owner was very entertaining and engaging so it was a fun experience. The food was delicious and we also enjoyed a half carafe of local wine.
The next day we had hired a private boat to take us cruising around the stunning bays for the day. It was the best day ever and is an absolute must! The water was warm, crystal-clear and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Our skipper, Bepo, took us around the Pakleni Islands which were stunning, and way less crowded than normal years. Bepo wanted to show us his favourite areas and hidden gems, so we totally trusted him and we cruised over to another part of Hvar.
We stopped for lunch in the village of Milna. It was so sad to see these amazing waterfront restaurants all empty. They were so grateful to have some guests. Lunch was delicious! We ordered various different fresh seafood items and tasty pasta. We tried another delicious Croatian rose wine too! It was certainly lunch with a view. And crazily, we were literally the only people at the restaurant. Next door was completely empty too. The travel and tourism industry has been hit incredibly hard. While we got to enjoy the magic of being in Hvar without the crowds, which was a privilege for sure, I couldn’t help but feel sad experiencing the reality of the devastation to so many livelihoods. The hoteliers, restaurant staff, bar staff and all service people, were so happy and grateful to have us there spending in their economy.
We spent the afternoon in a small bay and I spent hours in the water as I am such a water baby! I didn’t want the day to end, but like all good things, they must come to an end. Renting a boat for a day is an absolute must if you visit Croatia! Worth every single penny.
That evening Ivana and Z from VIA Tours Croatia met us and took us for a surprise dinner. We took a private mini van through the hills and arrived in this small village, it was about ten minutes away from Hvar Town. Turns out we were back in the village of Milna, where we had cruised to earlier today. This time we were checking out a brand new restaurant, which their friend had just opened called NOTOS Beach Club.
The food was outstanding! It’s the new talk of the town and going to be a new hotspot of the Hvar crowd. The owner T, was great and told us about how he came up with the concept of NOTOS and his sustainability passion and integration into the building materials and the food served. We also had octopus- so tender! We have been spoiled with seafood this entire trip!
For our last full day we went to the hotel’s private beach club, which is just a 10 minute walk away. It is the oldest beach hotel in Hvar as it was built in 1907, but it was renovated last year.
Ironically, it was overcast and even rained a little on our last day, which is very unusual for July, and on Hvar, which is known to be Europe’s sunniest island. Nonetheless it was warm and we still enjoyed our day.
For our final night we decided to have our dinner at our hotel, Palace Elisabeth. It was a splurge, but well worth it. The food was divine. Their Executive Chef is very talented. And the final sunset was perfect! What a magical trip with my Mum, memories we will never forget!
On the last day, my flight out of Split wasn’t until 5pm so I enjoyed a half day private tour of Split. For any Game of Thrones fans out there, Split was a key filming location. We went to the Split City Museum and visited the basement halls where the dragons were held!
Did you know there a big Jewish history in Split? It’s home to the 2nd oldest, active synagogue in the world. We walked around on the cobbled streets exploring and learning about the the city’s history with our passionate local guide. He was thrilled to give a tour as he hadn’t worked all summer.
Split is very picturesque with lots of alleys and narrow walkways. There were still tourists, just a very low percentage compared to normal. Ivana treated me to a final lunch at her favorite hidden gem in Split, called Konoba Lucac, the food was divine! They also had the world’s cutest baby grater for the risotto! I love visiting local restaurants and spots the average tourist wouldn’t stumble across.
Last stop was a cocktail at Joe’s Beach Club for a final glimpse of the ocean!
Thank you to Ivana and Z, my partners at VIA Tours Croatia for helping to plan and execute this incredible vacation! I can’t wait to get back to Croatia.
This is just one of many situations where we made travel during COVID19 totally stress-free and seamless for our guests. Croatia is safe and we know how to handle all the needed requirements to so everyone can have a safe trip. Get in touch and start planning your next trip.