Obonjan & Hvar

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On the surface, at least, the Croatian islands of Obonjan and Hvar could not be more different. Obonjan is a pioneering new venture, a “wellness island” or, as Elle called it, a “restival”, where yoga, crystal-healing and juice consumption take place on the sun-soaked island of Obonjan; on the other hand, Hvar is a party island with the infamous Carpe Diem club No.1 on everyone’s list of recommendations. And yet, in the end, the disparities were few and far between.

First up, Obonjan. I visited Obonjan with a galpal for a 4-night press trip with Bird Travel PR. To reach the island, you fly to Split and then take a 1 hour transfer to the port of Šibenik, before hopping on a boat across to the island – it took us 20 mins on the way there, and an hour on the way back, so timings are totally dependant on the whim of the pilot.

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Obonjan opened for its debut 6-week run earlier this summer and it would be fair to say that it’s been behest by problems, causing a delayed opening. Because of this, I was asked if I wanted to postpone my trip to next year – I’m glad we didn’t. The teething problems are to be expected: the project, executed by the team behind Croatian festivals Hideout and Unknown, is a hugely ambitious one. To set up a festival on an island is not, perhaps, the most daunting task in the world. To set up a luxury festival – where the key is in the details and excellency is demanded – is a mammoth endeavour. Indeed, for old fogies like me who have seen one too many Secret Garden Party, a luxetival (does it work? Dunno) is the only way to go. I want a bed. I want running water. I don’t want someone who hasn’t slept for four days, wearing only glitter, to piss on my tent and then rack up a laughing gas at 6am.

At a glance, Obonjan is sexy as hell. She’s flawless and glittering, set atop the Adriatic sea and she knows it. The bell tents and lodges are super chic (with a fridge and over-sized dreamcatcher to catch all your wellness dreams) and very well-priced (£56 for a bell tent, without a shower or £77 a night for a forest lodge, which I would fully recommend as being worth the extra £20 a night), given that you don’t pay for an actual festival ticket. We were in a 4-man lodge, which would have been cramped for 4 people, but was perfect for two. The shower is exceptional and there were two deck chairs on which to watch the world go by. Most innovatively, you do not pay for anything with cash; you top up a wristband which works like a chip and pin, using NCF payment. You just ‘tap’ each time you buy something (though topping up can be a bit of a pain as there’s only one place to do it.)

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Many of my friends laughed at me for going to a “wellness” island; I am not very “wellness.” I like smoothies, but I love coffee. Yoga, meditation and crystal healing (just some of the impressive roster of classes on offer) sound interesting, but you’re more likely to find me having a massage (Obonjan teamed up with Skin & Tonic for outside massages – which were excellent) or resting on the shore of a little beach enclave. I soon realised that you don’t have to be “wellness” to love Obonjan. The views are spectacular; the sea is beautiful and because because this was the festival’s first year, there were only 300-400 people there (how to grow it without losing that sense of ‘space’ is something they will have to consider, heavily) it felt very much ‘my own’. There were never more than 5 people on the little beach that we spent our days on, below. Hea-ven.

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So, I can’t tell you much about the free classes – although I do regret accidentally missing my friend Xochi Balfour’s meditation classes, which she does under the moniker The Naturalista with her husband, as they received great feedback – though my travel buddy reported good things on the yoga. If you so choose, there is plenty to do on Obonjan: boat trips and lots of talks and whilst we were there, a comedy night (to be honest what we heard was pretty dodgy) and, of course some great music. Much has been made of the talent lured over to the island: Erol Alkan and Gilles Peterson amongst others. I don’t know shit about music but I really liked British singer Shula and the Norweigan duo Smertz, which we listened to in the mini ‘amphitheatre’. While we were there Mr Scruff played in ‘the forest’ (another venue) though sadly he only DJ’d, rather than playing any of his own vintage goodies that remind me so much of university.

Also shining: the fresh-water pool, which was vast and looked more like a 5 star hotel pool than an, er, festival island pool, and the island store, which I expected to be shit – like most festival stalls – but which was excellently curated. Think macrame plant hangers and wares from small labels like Prism and Pampelone plus a strong vintage selection.

The exterior of the shop had a jaunty makeover courtesy of hip London artist Camille Walala; there’s no doubt that the Obonjanians are well-connected on the creative side and think carefully about the kind of people they want to collaborate with. There is nothing remotely naff about Obonjan; if anything could be said about it, loud or otherwise, it’s that it is all incredibly tasteful.

Downsides? Obonjan’s No.1 issue is, undoubtedly, the tension between the music and the wellness; or the purists and the partyists, if you will. If you come for healing and energy balls, you might not want to get stuck into the beats until 3am; conversely, if you are bang into the music, you don’t really give a fuck if someone’s paid £200 for a transformative ‘body work’ treatment, in the hut next to you. This would all be fine were there a way to avoid the music, but there is not. Obonjan certainly has that in common was other trad festivals.

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The lodges and tents are beautiful, but being a windy island (they have suffered a fair few storms this summer) they get buffeted to hell and back, if you are near the sea. It sounded like a helicopter was landing on us, one night. So: buckle up and note that ear plugs and an eye mask are a ‘must’. I’d also recommend bringing a blanket of your own and thick jumper as it’s hella chilly at night. That said, during the days when it’s hot, it’s seriously spoiling to have AC inside your lodge.

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As reported by various press outlets (none of whom visited the island themselves, mind, relying on a degree of hearsay and clutching of pearls), Obonjan has suffered from dodgy service in its first summer – working out the flow of produce from mainline to island is one of the biggest hurdles, I imagine – and we did experience some food shortages while we were there, but it was a huge improvement on the week before, according to friends who were there before us. So, they’re learning incredibly quickly. What we did eat was excellent. The Sri Lankan food was the best I’ve had and the two Obonjan restaurants The Kitchen and Bok were delicious, with masses of super-nice (and, incidentally, super-hot) waiters. The Green Bar, which served a small selection of wellness treats including spirulized salads, juices and energy balls and the pizza joint were both run by exceptionally surly, fairly unhelpful individuals, but that’s most likely because they weren’t Obonjan staff. The Obonjan staff themselves were excellently recruited, and that’s something that really shone out from the island.

All in all, a hugely positive experience for an island which has suffered it’s fair share of bad weather, both in literal and lyrical terms.

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From Obonjan we took a boat back to Split, and a catamaran on to Hvar. Hvar is stuffed to the gills with people wheeling wheely suitcases, to-ing and fro-ing for a few days, exactly like we did. It’s very small and surprisingly pretty — surprising in that it reminded me a lot of St Tropez, with elements of Amalfi (the winding cobbled streets which led up and up to the various adorable restaurants), and so unlike the port of Split – which is really rather revolting and smells of eggs – but also unlike Dubrovnik which is sweet, but less chi-chi, less thought-out.

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Hvar is not cheap, but there are ways to do it without spending a gazillion bucks. There are two big hotels which many people opt to stay at, for convenience – Amfora and Adriana Hvar Spa and also one boutique hotel which I longed to stay at, called Green Bay, but it was expensive so we opted not to. I’m actually so glad that we rented an Air BnB because it was excellent value and exactly what we needed and in truth, because the sea is so beautiful, we were hardly there. Please contact me if you want to book it and I will give you the details. For £50 each a night my friend and I got a big double bedroom to ourselves, with a shared bathroom, a huge patio, double glazing and double doors (which blocked out all of the music – hurrah! Sleep at last) and it was a 15 minute walk to town, with a lovely route. We were also right opposite a supermarket which is highly convenient as we were unsure if we could drink the tap water.

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There are several things that people will tell you, when you say you are going to Hvar: stay up and watch the sunset at Carpe Diem (pics below) – in short, it’s incredibly expensive, with a £25 transfer and entry. Get wasted at Hula Hula Bar, arguably a poor man’s ‘Beefa, is another. And yes, they are both fun (particularly, if you are/I was single.) The drinks at Hula Hula are hilariously strong and the people-watching is most excellent. But I’d actually say that Carpe Diem is better during the day and we actually preferred the next door island, the little talked about sister island of Jerolim.

Both are reachable by water taxi, for a £4 return, roughly. Jerolim is also a nudist island and I spotted some hoary low-slung human fruit (why is it that old people are always nudists? Is it that they just don’t care any more? That their bodies are functional rather than something to be preened upon? Whatever it is, I rather like it. There’s something rather heart-warming about balls that dangle happily to the knees and boobs that swing pendulously around the belly button) but really, you don’t have to take your togs off if you don’t want to. The water is heavenly, though I strongly advise bringing some shoes to swim in because there are sea urchins everywhere and they are lethal.

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If you want something a bit smarter, there’s a ritzy spa called Bonj Les Bains, where you can rent a pontoon with a sun-bed and champagne and look out onto the ocean (below) and if you’re on a romantic splurge-a-thon, then £295 for the day is probably a very lovely thing to do. But we actually had a gay old time on £4 a day rickety plastic beds, positioned tremulously on the rocks right by the sea (see pic below, in my black Pandora Sykes x Hunza G Denise costume), reading books by my beloved Meg Worlitzer. It doesn’t have a name – it’s run by an old couple who I think just got savvy about the amount of available rock space below their apartment – but you’ll stumble across it if you head towards Amfora hotel, from the town.

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Thank god for Twitter and it’s human-to-human holiday recommendations, which threw up lots of lovely dinner spots: Konebo Monego, Passarola and Macondo are all worth a visit for the excellent seafood and lovely atmosphere. It’s also nice – if a little touristy – to sit around the square one night drinking aperol spritzes. For breakfast, we found a healthy eating joint near the harbour, where we ordered smoothies and breakfast burritos every morning whilst watching the Russian chicks emerge from their super yachts. One person wrote on my Instagram that Croatia is ‘the Russsians’ Riviera’ and she’s totally right. There’s something fascinating and hugely vulgar in equal measure, about these super-yachts. It’s lucky that I hate boats; because I’m not sure my future has a super-yacht in it. Somehow, I suppose, I’ll gain the strength to muddle through.

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Photos taken around Obonjan and Hvar. I went on a 4-night press trip (flights excluded) to Obonjan with Bird Travel PR, with all opinions my own.

Clothing credits: Pandora Sykes x Hunza G Tracey bikini in yellow | Zimmermann Roza blouse and shorts, The Row sunglasses and Acne slippers | Pippa Holt kaftan, ASOS belt, vintage sunglasses and Superga classic plimsolls in ecru | Pandora Sykes x Hunza G Denise swimsuit in black | I.D. Sarrieri red swimsuit, blue Gap shirt and Rouje sandals | Equipment x Kate Moss slip dress, The Row sunglasses and Acne slippers | Caroline Constas gingham Bardot dress and Castaner espadrilles.

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