The best holiday destinations are the undiscovered ones, and there are plenty of hidden gems waiting to be discovered in Croatia, as more tourists return every year to the former Yugoslav coast to find that not much has changed. A perfect example of the Croatian tourist board’s slogan, The Mediterranean as it Used to Be, is Jelsa, the third largest town on the sunniest island in the Adriatic.
Cafe Culture: Croissants and Cappuccinos on the Pjaca
The focal point of Jelsan life is the main square, or pjaca, a picturesque location on the waterfront, where seven cafes compete for the local and tourist business, but not too much, for this is Dalmatia where the emphasis is on taking life in its stride.
For an accompaniment to the morning coffee, Cafe Splendid offers an array of freshly baked treats – croissants, piroskas (cheese pastries), cakes and excellent strudels of the cherry and apple variety. Wireless internet is a recent addition for those in need of contact with the wider world. Across the square, Tarantela caters to the trendy crowd, while two excellent ice cream parlours guard the entrance to the square and offer the best sea views.
The square is also an excellent meeting point for people of all ages, and extremely child friendly, as local children of all ages mingle with young tourists, while parents can watch on in the relative tranquility of their preferred cafe. The best time to visit is late Sunday morning, to watch the locals emerge from the nearby church in their Sunday best for a chatter and a slice of strudel.
Dalmatian Cuisine: Restaurants in Jelsa
Dalmatia is a culinary delight and the restaurants in Jelsa do not disappoint. Although only in its third season, Me and Mrs Jones has quickly established itself as the most popular restaurant in the town, combining excellent service and an innovative menu – watch out for the fresh tuna or the snails – all washed down with a selection of fine local wines in a beautiful waterfront location.
Walking through the streets of the old town, which dates back to the 16th Century is Konoba Nono, an authentic stone restaurant with some excellent traditional Dalmatian recipes, while Restaurant Murvica behind the petrol station offers a varied menu, served with Teutonic efficiency by its German owner. Another keenly priced eatery on the water is Konoba Marko, offering some of the best fish dishes on the island.
Best Beach Holidays: Mina, Grebisce and the Coves to Vrboska
While there are various activity options and boat rental possibilities, many visitors are more interested in heading straight for the beach, and Jelsa has a good selection, all within walking distance of Cappuccino Central. The main family beach is below Hotel Mina, while the beach at Grebisce a little further on is also highly recommended. Another option is to head along the coastal road to Vrboska, where there are several small coves which tend to be less frequented given their relative distance (15-20 minutes’ walk).
Day Trips from Jelsa: Bol and Zlatni Rat
Jelsa is a small town of 1500 inhabitants, but there is enough to do for a week for tourists looking to relax. For more restless tourists, there are several places locally to discover, among them a day trip to the island of Brac and the holiday resort of Bol, best known for the famous Zlatni Rat beach, arguably Croatia’s best-known. Tourist boats offer day trips from Jelsa, leaving about 0900 each morning.
The pretty fishing town of Vrboska is a pleasant 4km coastal walk from Jelsa and is home to the main marina on the island, as well as one of its most unusual churches. There is a bus service to Starigrad and Hvar Town, but car hire or, much more fun, scooter rental, is an excellent way to discover the island, voted one of the world’s top ten by Conde Nast readers.
How to Get to Jelsa
There is a direct daily catamaran into Jelsa from Split, via Bol, leaving at 1600 (1630 on Fridays), as well as options by car ferry from Stari Grad. There are rumours of direct flights from Split Airport to the tiny airfield near Stari Grad, a flight which takes 12 minutes, but these have yet to be confirmed. If all else fails, you can enlist help from a local super hero, and all the best holiday destinations should have one – meet Lavanderman, Jelsa’s most famous son.