Come the summer months, the increasingly trendy Dalmatian hotspot of Hvar island is overrun with swarms of holiday-makers, so much so that the island’s population of four thousand residents swells to nineteen thousand.
But, visit in spring (May half term is ideal), and you’ll discover uncrowded beaches, pleasant temperatures (around 25C) and seas warm enough to swim in. Meanwhile, inland, Hvar’s famous lavender fields are starting to turn purple at this time of year.
Come the spring/summer months, lots of Croatian families who live in the old town decamp to the quiet villages inland, renting out their apartments on sites like Airbnb. This is good news for visiting families looking to rent flats and villas. Hvar’s old town is the perfect place to base yourselves to be close to the harbour, beaches, restaurants and activities.
If you prefer the comfort of a hotel, The Palace Hotel is perfectly positioned on Hvar Town’s main square. The island’s longest standing hotel, it offers old-world charm, comfortable rooms, a great pool and amazing views from the rooftop restaurant. Rooms cost around £113 a night.
The old town’s main square, Trg Svetog Stjepana, built in the 16th century, is the centre of life for both tourists and for locals, who call it the ‘living room’ of the island. At one end is the harbour and at the other, Hvar Cathedral from where bells ring out over the town several times an hour. The square is lined with cafes and restaurants, where rows of parasol-covered tables provide the perfect spot for people watching, or enjoying a coffee while the kids play in the square.
While there are no sandy beaches on Hvar, the island's coastline is dotted with small, pebbly beaches, rocky outcrops and stone quays where you can pitch up and spread your towels. One of the best beach spots for families is the pebbly crescent beside the Franciscan monastery in the old town. From the main square, it’s a five-minute walk south along the harbour.
The turquoise sea is astonishingly clear and remains shallow for several hundred metres. Starfish, hermit crabs and schools of shiny fish make it a nice spot for snorkelling, but jelly shoes are a good idea as there are sinister sea urchins among the rocks. The beach is close to restaurants, shops and all-important gelato stands.
For a break from the sun, head inside the monastery. The Renaissance cloister houses a museum displaying a 17th century painting of the Last Supper (but not the famous Da Vinci version). The monastery is open 10am-3pm from October to May, from 10am-noon, June to September. Entry costs £4.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy Hvar's clear seas with kids. Head to the Tourist Office on the main square to book kayaking, paddleboarding and even flyboarding sessions, as well as boat trips to nearby islands.
A short boat ride from Hvar harbour are the Pakleni islands. This archipelago of car-free, pine-scented islets offer a blissful retreat. Go independently by taking a boat taxi from the harbour, or book an island hopping cruise to the Pakleni Islands with Hvar Boat Excursion. The cruise departs from the harbour at 11am and returns at 5pm and includes stop at Mlini, Palmizana and Sv. Klement.
For adventures on dry land, head to Adventure Park in the town of Jesla. Here kids can burn off excess energy with a range of activities including child-friendly paintballing, volleyball, buggy races and archery. Activity packages lasting two hours are available for families. Prices start at £10.60 person.
For the best view over Hvar's golden roofs and ancient spires, make your way to the fortress, built in the 13th century to defend the island against pirates. From the Old Town, climb the hundred steps to the fortress on foot (this takes about 25 minutes, or longer for little legs), or take a taxi (14-20 Euro).
It’s possible to spend a week in Hvar without feeling the need to venture into the island's interior, but you’d be missing out on some real gems. Spend a day exploring the island independently by renting a car (for a fun option, rent a convertible Renault 4 or a bright orange VW Beetle). Alternatively, take a car excursion with tour agency, Secret Hvar. A Secret Havr tour can be tailored to your family's interests, and not being in a large group means you can make stops when and where you please.
Whether in a rental car on with a guide, start by driving 15 miles east from the Old Town to Stari Grad, the oldest settlement on the island, founded by the Greeks in 400 BC. Stroll through the picturesque backstreets and check out the Renaissance villa, Tvrdjalj, built by poet Petar Hektorovic in 1520 for himself and his friends (00 385 21 765068, open May-June 10am-1pm, July-August daily, 10am-1pm and 5pm-8pm).
Another picturesque village to stop off at is Viboska, in a natural bay. A canal runs though the 15th century village, the banks on either side connected by stone bridges, earning the nickname Little Venice.
Don't miss Stari Grad Plain, an ancient green field – the most fertile on the island – laden with vines and vegetables. This remarkable landscape remains intact since the 4th century BC and is, not surprisingly, a UNESCO heritage site.
Take the scenic old road (replaced by the new road in 1999) to drive between settlements. You'll notice the island's hills are a spiderweb of stone wall terraces. These were once laden with silvery-purple lavender plants, but after a series of devastating fires, some as recently as 2007, means that locals no longer risk growing these crops. Now, lavender has mostly been replaced by more resilient olive trees.
On lazy beachy days, cool down with a gelato from the stand on the harbour. Crunchy peanut butter flavour is delicious.
In a prime position overlooking the sea and perfect for people-watchers, as the name suggests, Kod Kaptena is the place to go for unbeatable seafood. The complimentary appetiser of mackerel pâté kicks things off, and the seafood stew is simple but delicious.
Climb the dozen or so steps to Plave Alga restaurant and tuck into cream of scampi soup and muscles while watching boats and people coming and going at the harbour below. Be sure to leave room for the complimentary chocolate cake (and grapa shots for mums and dads) and the end of your meal.
More suitable for older kids, Black Pepper is tucked away off the main square on a pretty backstreet and is so-called because the friendly waiters offer a different type of black pepper to compliment each dish on the menu. Look out for Granny's octopus stew (paired with Madagascan black pepper).