...The heart of every islander

For all its tourism, fabulous beaches and endless sunshine, if I had to pick one thing which defined the lifestyle and soul of people here, it would be olives on Hvar.

Hvar olive oil is excellent and an essential part of the island diet (which, let's not forget was awarded UNESCO Intangible Heritage in 2013), but as delicious as it is, the whole tradition of olives and the olive harvest play just as important a role in island life. 

A few years ago I was doing a presentation in Zagreb to the senior management board of one of Croatia's biggest companies, whose CEO just happened to be from Jelsa. The presentation over, we turned to some small talk over coffee, and he told me how much he was looking forward to coming to Jelsa the following week for the olive harvest. His urban colleagues were laughing at him for taking annual leave to spend time in a field in October, but I could see it was important for him.

And so he came, along with various members of his extended family spanning three generations, picking his olives for several days, before we had a coffee the day before his Zagreb departure. 

"I feel alive and refreshed. I really need to have this connection to Jelsa and the field each year."

It is something I see a lot here on the island. Islanders who grow up on Hvar and then leave for university or work to the mainland, but the calling of the field never leaves them, and a day in the field is an obvious choice for many to de-stress from the pressures of life in the big city. 

Nowhere is this more prevalent than during the olive harvest in October and November. The tourist season is over, everyone is much more relaxed, and families come together to pick the annual crop. Olive picking, more so than grape picking in my opinion, is a much more social event, with several people picking from the same tree at any given moment, and rather than bending down to the grapes on the vines, one is mostly standing upright. With not much else to do all day apart from pick and talk, it is perhaps the one time of year when some extended family members catch up properly. 

And the olive picking is usually accompanied by a fine lunch in the field for the workers - a grilled feast of meat or fish, washed down with the domestic wine of the family. It is a wonderful opportunity to catch islanders in their true natural habitat, and tourists who happen to be on the island at that time are more than welcome to take part, gaining an insight into this important aspect of life on Hvar in the process. 

I once tried to calculate the actual cost per hour in picking olives when you have up to ten people picking full-time for five days to end up with 200 litres of olive oil, and while the maths and economics did not add up, in terms of the experience, it was priceless. 

*Author - Paul Bradbury
*Photo Credit - Majda & her iPhone