When Bond author Ian Fleming was out of ideas, he travelled to (then) tranquil Mahè for inspiration. Ingmar Bergman got busy in the quiet surroundings of Gotland, while DH Lawrence loved nothing more than to find himself a quiet spot under a tree and write.
So what about this fool? Well, I’ve hit up the Croatian island Hvar, certain that the vowel-averse land mass, with its pretty harbours, numerous beaches and friendly locals, will be the perfect spot to finish writing a book. As a man who thought approximate meant exact until I was 17, I should have known things might go awry.
The trip begins ominously in Hvar city. There are people, for a start. Lots of them. The Hvar I’ve read about (glam, moneyed Italian tourists with yachts) does ring true, but the place is also crowded with busy cocktail and sports bars, and throngs of people from the UK and elsewhere.
Frazzled, I find a kiosk and try to be polite by using what I think will be an approximation of Croatian. Not quite, as it turns out. “Decet Marlboro Lights, prosim.”
The woman behind the counter shakes her head, exasperated, as the sound of trashy euro pop rings out from a nearby bar. “Ten Marlboro Lights?” I try. She gets the bounty, tells me the price (in English) and I scuttle away.
My Adriatic retreat may not have gone to plan so far, but then neither did a trip to Poland last year when I went to Gatwick instead of Luton by mistake. Fortunately, things can only get better. Walking south along the coast, I meet only the occasional car and scooter, and eventually find what I’ve been looking for: the beach.
No, it’s not deserted – there are a fair few sun lovers under parasols – but it is quiet. I rent a sun lounger, lay my equipment (pen, pad, tabs) by my side and relax before tucking into that all-important writing. Which I will do. As soon as I’ve read my book. And listened to some music. And had a beer. And snorkelled for a while, looking at fish and sea urchins in the water.
Hours, some sunburn and no writing later, I make my way back into town, avoiding the main thoroughfares, meandering through the dark yet pretty backstreets towards the fortress.
Towering over the city, it dates back to pre-Christian times, and did its bit to protect the island from the Ottomans in the 16th century before being spruced up by the Austrians in the 19th. Nowadays, views are used for pleasure rather than defence, and the calm as the sun sets is a world away from my hurried arrival earlier in the day.
I look out towards the redbrick roofs and churches dotting the skyline, the mountains in the background and the Pakleni Islands a little further out to sea. Leaning against an old cannon watching the sunset, I watch for a while before descending the tree-lined path back towards the town, ready to visit the 'second city' tomorrow.
To look at Google Maps, you’d think Stari Grad (Old Town) was a mere hop, skip and jump from Hvar, but the island’s roads snake and bend in a deceptive manner I know all too well from childhood holidays in Ireland.
The journey takes longer than expected – and that’s no bad thing. The hills roll, the mountains become rugged, the sea more beautiful as the panorama widens.
More to see
Split has witnessed a tourism boom in the last few years, but it’s still worth checking out. First up, head to Froggyland. Seriously. The tiny museum may look like a repurposed strip club, but is in fact home to hundreds of stuffed frogs, pet project of early 20th century Hungarian taxidermist Ferenc Mere. His displays of frogs at school, in a swimming pool and, oddly poignant, the trenches, are fascinating. After something a bit more conventional? Ancient Diocletian’s Palace is beautiful.
On the southern tip of Croatia, Dubrovnik has been a Unesco site since 1979 and remains one of Croatia’s most popular tourist spots. The fact it remains so after the city was besieged and heavily shelled in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia ought to tell you a fair bit about how beautiful we’re talking. Renaissance palaces, a Baroque cathedral and the Walls of Dubrovnik (or King’s Landing, as Game of Thrones lovers might know it) mean there’s no shortage of things to see and do.
Finally, the bus reaches the old town, a welcome alternative to the trappings of modern life. Cobbled streets, narrow alleyways and pretty baroque churches make up the 'hustle and bustle', while boats – not yachts – bob up and down in the port. This is my kind of writer’s retreat: very few humans, abundant seafood, and little noise.
Enjoying the peace, I explore the needle-in-a-haystack alleyways, taking snaps as I go, whiling away an afternoon in a town where life is lived at a snail’s pace.
In the morning, Hvar is busy from the get go, the harbour full of day trippers queuing up for party boat excursions, some still worse for wear from the night before. I opt against David Guetta and fishbowls, instead jumping aboard a tiny boat that’s heading towards the Pakleni Islands.
When we reach Jerolim, a 'Nudists Welcome' sign gives me a cold sweat (the effects are much the same as a cold shower); fortunately, after walking through a quiet cluster of pine trees, I realise birthday suits are optional, and only for certain beaches. English mentality in tow, I keep my clothes on, find a sun lounger and relax, reading a few pages of a Murakami book I can’t make head nor tail of. I soon doze off, glad when I wake that I had the nous to put on sun cream.
I chill out a bit longer with a beer and my Marlboros (it’s very writery, at least) before taking a stroll around the island. Though tiny and close to Hvar, it’s incredibly peaceful. I amble among the pine trees, spotting lizards as they dart to and fro between rocks.
The next day, I sit on the ferry back to Split, surrounded by twenty-somethings sleeping off a party that I imagine probably only ended a few hours earlier. I head out on deck to look at the water, flat as a pancake and peaceful as Switzerland in wartime. It suddenly occurs to me I’ve done next to no writing, let alone finish a book. Screw it. I’ve had a ball, and for now, I’ve a view to enjoy.