We did quite a few walking tours while on our trip this past week, and I’m not ashamed to admit it! We learned so much more than I could have hoped to download from a book, plus we always took a break with our guide for coffee, sat down and chatted about more personal things. It is in those moments when you truly get insights into the people and places you are visiting. Our best guide, Jana, was from the island of Hvar, and she walked us all through town, explaining the rich history of what is today a very popular destination spot.
Later in the day we met up with Jana a second time and she drove us around the island to see Hvar’s incredible countryside which today stands only as a reminder of the agrarian community that used to thrive here. For centuries, from the hilltops on down to the water, the farming of olive trees, fig trees, almond trees, grapes, lavender and seasonal gardens took place in this rocky but rich soil. Because the hills are slopped, previous generations terraced all this land for their growing needs and when you stand on a hillside today, and look all around you at this endless system of low rock walls, it’s just amazing to think back on what this island would have looked like through the centuries while in full production.
The most exciting thing for me (other than eating wild figs along the roadside!) was to learn that the generations of Hvar's famers never had a system of irrigation in place and that all the grapes, figs and olives only got water during the rainy months, and survived through the hot summers. So interesting!
The farmers of this land began leaving their family's businesses after returning home from the Second World War, opting for an *easier* life in town. Soon thereafter, the newly formed Yugoslavian government gave the island's people pine trees to plant along the hillsides. Eventually these pines took over and the stone barriers were hidden from view and all but forgotten. Then, twelve years ago, a great fire engulfed the countryside, burned down all the pines and left what we see today. Our tour guide said she was not even aware of this history on her island before it was revealed to her in the ashes. Today, bushes are making their way back and it’s believed that in another ten years or so and the agricultural ruins of Hvar will once again be buried from plain sight.
I found it so fascinating to stand there and to look at this endless stretch of what was once bustling farmland. The youth of today in Croatia are not interested in the hard life of farming - and who can blame them - it’s been in the their blood for generations! Then you look at us – those that didn’t have to farm growing up – and suddenly the whole idea of being a farmer is romantic again! ;)