The Croatian island of Hvar, famous for its beaches, vineyards and raucous nightlife, is now home to southern Europe's first International Dark Sky Community.

More than 195 places around the world have been designated as pristine stargazing spots by the International Dark-Sky Association. Wild areas like parks and reserves are most commonly accredited, but towns committed to diminishing light pollution are also recognized by the association.

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The quaint harbor town of Jelsa, the second-largest town in Hvar, is the latest place to achieve International Dark Sky Community status; the first town in Croatia and indeed southern Europe to be regonized as such.

What this means is that the town has some of the best opportunities for stargazing and planetary observation in this part of the world, and it opens the door for future astro-tourism events such as night sky safaris, full-moon hikes, astralphotography and stargazing festivals.

Elevated view on the town and harbour of Jelsa, Hvar (Croatia)
The harbor town has been working hard to diminish light pollution © Getty Images/iStockphoto

This didn't happen overnight. For two years the town has been working hard to become a proper stargazing community by working with the Croatian Astromonical Union to make 82% of public lighting environmentally friendly. It also engaged with the public by hosting talks and events on the issue of light pollution and installed a permanent meteor observation point which led to the discovery of a new meteor system in 2021, called the October son-in-law of Perseids.

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As a result, the town is remarkbly dark at night, particularly in the pine forest and lavender and rosemary fields that surround it. What's more, wildlife is safer, energy consumption is lower and people now have first-class seats to viewing the Milky Way above southern Europe.

"I’m very happy that Jelsa succeeded in getting the International Dark Sky Community designation and hope that this gets us a step further on the road of making Jelsa an astro-touristic destination and branding Jelsa as a dark sky friendly tourist destination," said Marija Marjan, director of the Jelsa Tourist Board, who led the stargazing initiative.

Main square in Jelsa in Croatia
Jelsa's International Dark Sky recognition is a big win for conservationists, astronomy enthusiasts and tourism officials © Getty Images

Where to find other International Dark Sky Communities

Jelsa is now part of 22 International Dark Sky Communities around the world, 15 of which are in the US, with others located in Canada, Denmark, Germany, Scotland, and the UK.

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What to do in Jelsa

In between gazing at the stars, you can also hike two of Hvar's tallest mountains, St. Nikola and Hum. Jelsa is also home to great beaches and historical sites such as the 17th-century Baroque chapel of St Mary and the anicent Greek fortress of Bur, which was built in the 4th-century BC. Jelsa was once the wine capital of Dalmatia and is a popular wine tourism destination with tours and wine tasting available via its vineyards. 

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