It’s hard to believe it is the last day of our magical cruise along the Dalmatian Coast. A visit to the beautiful island of Hvar, the “lavender capital” of Croatia, was the perfect way to end our voyage. Sea Cloud slipped through the narrow channel between the Pakleni Islands and dropped anchor just in front of the old Venetian harbor of the town of Hvar. We tendered into the pier for an early morning walking tour of this delightful town full of Venetian-inspired Renaissance palaces with pointed trefoil windows and ground-floor loggias. Cafes, bars, and lavender stands lined one side of the quay, while yachts and catamaran ferries from the Split jostled for position on the other. Our guides took us along the seawall and out to the Franciscan Monastery to see their little physic garden with its 500-year-old cypress tree and the impressive 16th century painting of the “Last Supper” that dominates the monk’s refectory. This magnificent work was done by a Venetian artist of the school of Paolo Veronese. The artist was shipwrecked on the island and nursed back to health in the monastery. We wound our way back to the main square, then climbed up through the narrow Porta Maestra that was once the main entrance to the fortified section of the town. We stopped in front of the small Benedictine convent, where five cloistered nuns still make lace from the fibers of the agave plant. After a visit to the basilica of St. Stephens on the main square, some of us fanned out on our own to explore the alleyways leading up to the Venetian fortress that protects the city, while others chose to buy a few lavender products or just sit and enjoy a cool drink in one of the many bars along the quay. All too soon, the tenders arrived to shuttle us back to the ship so we could partake in the famous “parmesan wheel” pasta feast on the Lido Deck. As we moved away from Hvar, the captain had the sailors go aloft for one last afternoon under sail.
For our last full day aboard the Sea Cloud we sailed through some of the hundreds of islands located off the coast of Croatia. We headed for Hvar, an island which has been inhabited for around three thousand years; Indigenous Illyrians, Greek colonists, and the later Roman Empire have all left their mark on the landscape. Eventually Slavic peoples migrated into the area, and later still Italian merchants left a lasting imprint on the local culture, most evident in its architecture and cuisine. Hvar’s elongated topography is typical of this region; it is forty miles long but averages just two miles wide. It is separated from the mainland and neighboring islands by narrow straits. Rugged limestone formations rise from the seabed, capped by clusters of trees and shrubs. While this fragmented landscape presents numerous sheltered harbors, it also provides cover for more nefarious operators — the Dalmatian Coast was plagued by pirates for centuries. After tendering to shore, we took a walking tour of old Hvar. The town is built from locally sourced limestone, its pavements polished smooth by generations of pedestrian traffic. In the 13th century Hvar became part of the Venetian Stato da Mar, having requested their protection. Venetian rule brought with it substantial urban development, including the hilltop fortress, city walls, and the Arsenal. The Franciscan monastery is another institution of this era, providing shelter, provisions, and medical aid for the Venetian galleys that passed through. After returning to the ship, we set course for our destination in Dubrovnik. In the afternoon our cultural specialist Zrinka Sapro talked us through the sometime complicated history of the Balkans, from ancient times to the 20th century. As the day drew to an end, we gathered once more at the lido bar for Farewell Cocktail Hour, the guest slideshow, and the Captain’s Farewell Dinner.