Can there be anything more uplifting than strolling through an endless sea of lavender on a hot summer’s day, when purple fields meet blue sky?
Better still, is there anything more relaxing than to smell the gorgeous scent that drifts from the stems as you brush against them?
The sights and smells of lavender will surround you on Hvar, the colourful Croatian island where dry, chalky soils and long sunny days provide some of the world’s most perfect growing conditions.
Purple reign: The sights and smells of lavender will surround you on Hvar Island in Croatia
Better still, Croatia and its islands are now firmly on the UK’s green list, so you can visit without having to quarantine on your return.
Just outside the charming town of Stari Grad you’ll find Old Road, a stunning route across the island which is flanked by lavender and rosemary and dotted with vineyards and rugged olive groves. Explore beyond the narrow winding paths and you’ll find yourself in remote hilly villages and fortified towns displaying the most heavenly crops from June all the way through to the end of August.
One place that lures lavender aficionados and novices year after year is Velo Grablje, a 15-minute drive from Hvar.
Croatia and its islands are now firmly on the UK’s green list, so you can visit without having to quarantine on your return. Pictured is Hvar’s pretty harbour
Lavender has been flourishing here for more than 100 years, and back in the 1960s this tiny village alone accounted for one per cent of the world’s entire lavender production.
Velo Grablje dates from the 15th Century, and with just 14 residents living in its old honey-stoned houses, it feels as if the modern world has been kept at bay.
It is now protected as an ‘Ethno-Eco Village’ – a project launched by local authorities in 2005 to care for the remnants of ancient Dalmatia and restrict development.
Devised to retain and promote Velo Grablje’s cherished heritage, the annual two-day Lavender Festival is now in its 13th year and attracts visitors from all over the globe to celebrate all things lavender. It usually takes place to mark the start of harvest time – but here lavender is celebrated all year round.
The cultural immersion in traditional lavender production begins at the crack of dawn with what villagers call The Picking, on a hillside carpeted in swathes of violet.
Strong whiffs of lavender permeate the air and bees buzz around as tourists put their hand to the plough and mimic cheerful villagers such as 88-year-old Nikola Zaninovic Malabonkin. He demonstrates the old harvesting technique of grabbing a bunch of lavender stalks with one hand and using a sickle in the another to swipe and cut them off.
The cut stalks are stuffed into a giant sack, then transported to the village’s distillery, which was built in 1905.
Sniffing out a bargain: A stall at Velo Grablje’s famous Lavender Festival, which attracts visitors from all over the globe
Here visitors can watch the traditional distillation of lavender and rosemary oil being processed in old cauldrons, which were the first of their kind in Croatia and are still in use today. Locals revere the distillery as a rare monument to be preserved, as it’s one of the last places where you can truly smell the scent of ancient Hvar.
Unlike the wide-open herb fields of Provence, for example, the rocky landscapes of Velo Grablje has been cultivated in a network of dry-stone walled terraces. This makes it incompatible with modern machinery but is ideally suited to the traditional handpicking method of collecting lavender.
While it means the harvest these days is comparatively modest, the villagers are incredibly generous with their crop, and once The Picking is over, each visitor is gifted with a fresh posy of lavender.
For a wonderful historical perspective, head to the centre of town and spot a terracotta-coloured house where a plaque commemorates Barba Borto, the first man to plant lavender in Hvar, in the 1920s. His grandson Bartul Tomicic now lives in the house and welcomes visitors to view his archive of manuscripts that chronicle Velo Grablje’s unique role in Hvar’s lavender history.
Another local hero to look out for at the festival is Lavenderman, the village mascot, a purple-robed comic superhero who is armed with a sickle, a stalk of lavender and with superpowers that include fighting… moths.
Aromatic fix: Expect to find menus featuring lavender cheesecake, lavender honey and lavender marmalade in Stari Grad
To really get your fill of lavender, make for the bazaar where you’ll find wonderful hand-made oils, soaps, perfumes, creams and pretty lavender-scented pillowcases.
You can also taste Hvar wines, olive oils and local treats such as honey-flavoured biscuits. And don’t miss the Crobucha Kombucha stall selling a delicious Croatian version of the popular fermented tea drink concocted from local lavender. A portion of the profits goes to Velo Grablje.
There are also workshops led by medicinal herb experts, informing visitors on the future of lavender cultivation, new technology, analysis and research. As the day closes, the real fun begins as local performers take to the stage for a concert.
This little island with a big welcoming heart remains open for visitors to explore even without the sparkle of the Lavender Festival, and the cobblestoned streets of Stari Grad are your next best bet for an aromatic fix.
Generations of Hvarians have been blessed with a comfortable livelihood thanks to lavender, and Stari Grad has pushed the brand to the limit so every stall and souvenir shop is laden with purple goods. Even menus are created around the fragrant herb so you can pick up lavender cheesecake, lavender honey and lavender marmalade.
In this gastronomic corner of Hvar, both bistros and authentic konoba-style restaurants (rustic, taverna-style eateries) offer treats and drinks infused with it. At Bistro Kod Damira, you can indulge in traditional lavender cakes which can be nicely paired with a glass of lavender champagne – along with lavender ice cream, it’s something you have to try, but you’ll either love it or hate it.
Pictured is is Maslinica, home to the five-star Maslina Resort where the focus is on ‘mindful luxury’
British Airways, easyJet, Tui and Jet2 have flights to Split from £110 return. Ferries and catamarans from Split to Hvar take about an hour and cost roughly £10 each way. Get timetables and more information at ferrycroatia.com.
Whatever your verdict, do savour the taste as it will remind you of a holiday on one of the most beautiful islands in the Adriatic.
Beyond sun, sea and shopping, Hvar has been recognised as a destination for recovery and wellbeing since 1868. Herbal treatments are popular and can be enjoyed in many of the area’s wellness hubs. The most well-known is the five-star Maslina Resort on the bay of Maslinica. Book into its Pharomatiq spa and you’ll find a treatment menu with a garden-to-skin inspired concept. Expect only hand-picked herbs from the resort garden, such as lavender, sweet wormwood and rosemary, infused in local oils and used in tailor-made treatments.
The Adriatic Rejuvenation treatment and the Intuitive massage are energising and will take your senses on a relaxing journey through the world of the region’s aromas. Try the Sound Healing techniques, which help contribute to a deeper state of relaxation, and you may, like me, find you’re asleep in no time. Or kick-start your day at 9am with a zen-filled outdoor yoga session.
Maslina is all about ‘mindful luxury’ – travel buzzwords that translate as expensive but low-key sophistication. The architecture incorporates Brac Island stone and Iroko wood which melt into the natural surroundings. This makes for a sublime hideaway for both solo travellers like myself, and families. Guests are cocooned in two acres of land naturally decorated with olive and pine trees, with a backdrop of the Adriatic Sea, pearly white rocks and a dense green forest.
The property is secluded, with only 53 rooms and three villas with amazing sea views. The restaurant is headed up by French Michelin-starred chef Serge Gouloumes, who has created a farm- to-plate menu with traditional Croatian fare such as gregada fish stew, a tribute to Croatia’s coast, fresh seafood such as langoustine with a cauliflower crumble, and classic Mediterranean favourites.
Beyond the beach bar, the two pools and the library, the Experience team can curate a bespoke itinerary for you, whether you fancy a cultural tour of villages, a cycling day out or wine-tasting at the best vineyards in the region.
And of course they can always tell you where to find the best lavender, so no matter where you go, you’ll never be far from this heavenly scent of purple reign.