Natural wonder in Hvar

By Ross Forbes | 18 Feb 2022 | Travel

We explore the untamed heritage and hidden luxury of this spectacular Croatian island

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Despite the trials of the past two clear how magnificently intertwined the years, for many of us there has been a sudden and necessary opportunity to regroup with nature. I feared this reconnection might end once life had become more ordinary again, but the benefits of being more at one with nature have never been clearer. Much to my joy, it is this notion that sits at the heart of the Maslina Resort, a luxurious escape on the small island of Hvar in Croatia.

A short boat journey – complete with a glass of champagne – takes us from mainland Croatia to the coastal edge of rustic Stari Grad, the oldest town of this spectacular, secluded oasis in the Adriatic Sea. After a further short drive, I was surprised to arrive at our destination, which is so seamlessly blended into the natural surrounds that, at first, I didn’t even realise we had arrived.

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The resort completely respects the area in which it inhabits, and it quickly becomes design is. Natural stone and wood colours blend with the lush greenery, creating a modern spectacle that should stand out more on such a historically preserved island, and yet instead does a wonderful job of fitting right in.

The design doesn’t cease to amaze there, however. Walk into the reception and you’re greeted by a huge rough-hewn white stone weighing in at 12 tonnes and used as a stylish reception desk. It’s quite the centrepiece – so much so that the hotel was actually built around it.

Elsewhere, classic Mediterranean style is infused with French touches throughout the interior, with everything you see locally sourced, right down to the herbs and vegetables used in the restaurant’s food and spa’s botanicals – all grown in Maslina’s ever-evolving organic garden. This is a resort with much more than just good looks: it’s got meaning. It’s got purpose.

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Part of the Relais & Châteaux group, Maslina features 50 rooms as well as three private villas. The panoramic suite offers grand Adriatic sea views from its private terraces as well as an abundance of space inside. While the rooms are a continuation of the hotel’s earthy looks, they are full of thoughtful technical touches, such as smart lighting with mood adjustments and multiple access points – no fumbling around out of bed to find the switch – and custom-built Japanese-inspired bathtubs big enough to fall asleep in.

The resort is also home to the Pharomatiq Spa for a healing environment inspired by Hvar’s natural resources, heated pools and private sandy beaches. And although it’s a thoroughly modern hotel, it pays true homage to its surrounds – the name Maslina means olive tree, named for the surrounding olive groves.

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For cuisine, the simply named The Restaurant embraces the Mediterranean diet with a contemporary flair. The kitchen is led by Michelin-star chef Serge Gouloumès (of Le Candille in Mougins, France), who offers seasonal dishes with local ingredients: an authentic recipe for excellence. My favourite dish, the Peka-style lamb, is a 28-hour-cooked lamb shank with roasted carrots and apricot and cinnamon confit, while an honourable mention must be given to the Buzara-style lobster risotto, which could delight even the harshest of food critics.

While I could quite happily sit all day in the bar drinking cocktails created by the brilliant Chris Edwardes, grabbing a bite here and there at the wonderful restaurant and finishing it off with a swim by the sandy beaches by the bay, there is one thing for certain: for everything this resort provides, the location can top it.

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Hvar is home to six Unesco-recognised cultural heritage sites – the most of any island in the world.

Among these gems is the beautiful city of Stari Grad – a city so old it was celebrating its 2,405th anniversary when I visited at the end of 2021. And it’s absolutely brimming with history.

Stari Grad has remained practically intact since it was first colonised by Ionian Greeks from Paros in the 4th century BC, and new discoveries are being unearthed even today. During our visit, we managed to spot a team of archaeologists excavating the cathedral square, unearthing more stories of the past.

For more historical sites, head to Jelsa, on the east of the island, where you can find out about Croatia’s history of wine at the Dubokovic Winery, or head west to Hvar town to enjoy a hike up to the 16th- century Tvrđava Fortress, which offers an unbelievable view you’ll be pining to see again for years to come.

Hvar’s legacy is its well preserved and truly authentic nature – both in its design and way of life.