After an amazing stay with our folks in Split, the six of us hopped a ferry further down the Dalmatian Coast. We’d spend the next few days exploring Korcula, one of Croatia’s hidden gems on the Adriatic.
Poor Man’s Yachting on the Split-to-Korcula Ferry
With hundreds of communities dotting the Dalmatian Coast, Croatia has a robust ferry network to shuttle travelers between the larger towns on this stretch of the Adriatic. In an ideal future, we’ll have the opportunity to charter a sailboat and spend weeks hopping between these places. Or, who knows, maybe end up tooling up and down the coast in someone’s superyacht!? Unlikely…
In the meantime, Croatia’s public ferries offer what can affectionately be referred to as “poor man’s yachting.” At the end of the day, what’s boating all about? Fresh air, cruising through some beautiful surroundings, enjoying a beer or several.
Buy yourself a ticket for a few bucks on a Croatian ferry, and you can check all those boxes! As we took the three-ish hour ferry from Split to Korcula via Hvar, we hit all the yachting wickets we wanted - grabbed a beer from the ferry snack bar, stood up on the open-air top deck, and enjoyed the incredible views cruising past Croatia’s rugged coastline.
To tweak the old joke, the best boat in the world isn’t your friend’s boat, it’s a Croatian ferry!
Marco Polo, Fish Spine Designs, and a Korcula Overview
Korcula is both an island and a town. Roughly 45 kilometers from east to west and averaging 7ish kilometers wide, the island of Korcula has two larger towns (and a dozen or so smaller ones). The more industrial town of Vela Luka sits on the far western side, with postcard-beautiful Korcula town on the eastern end.
We were off to the latter.
For centuries, Korcula fell under Venetian rule. Much of Venice’s timber actually came from the island’s hills, and the Venetian architecture within Korcula’s ancient walls still stands. According to legend, the town of Korcula also serves as Marco Polo’s birthplace. While historically dubious, this hasn’t stopped the town from playing up the connection to the famous explorer (e.g. the “House of Marco Polo” museum letting visitors tour his alleged birthplace).
What is for certain is the town’s stunning layout. Situated on a narrow peninsula, the town juts north towards the mainland, protecting a key waterway along the coast. Protective walls surround this entire peninsula, with Tomislav’s Gate acting as the access point to and from the mainland.
Until the 18th century, it was forbidden to build outside these walls. Now, the settlement stretches along the coast and into the hills, but the peninsula’s layout remains the same as it did in Venetian times. Designed in a herringbone shape, a “spine” runs along the highground at the center of the peninsula, and individual “fish bones” branch off to the sides.
These narrow side streets - with steps descending towards the water’s edge - now house quaint apartments, little shops, and cafes. Strolling through the town, it’s impossible to not wander back-and-forth among these offshoots - each one just pulls you in with a I-wonder-what’s-down-this-little-stretch feeling.
You could probably physically traverse all of Korcula’s alleys in a few hours - maybe less. The walled city isn’t that big. But, to really experience the area, you’d need weeks. Each building has its own unique history, and the cafes and restaurants tucked into those shaded alleys all looked like places you could spend hours posted up, drinking local wine, and snacking on delicious seafood.
Swimming in Korcula and a Croatian Spin on Ceviche
We stayed in a restored house just outside the city’s old walls. Steps from the marina where the ferry dropped us off, it was the perfect A) location, and B) layout for our Korcula time.
Location-wise, we strolled out our front door almost directly into the old walled city - ideal for exploring and grabbing a beverage/bite. Layout-wise, we couldn’t have asked for a better set-up for three couples. The four-bedroom house (one of which was being renovated during our stay) had bathrooms in each room - almost inn-esque. But, it also had a shared kitchen, dining room, and beautiful, shaded garden courtyard - great balance of personal and social space!
Our first morning, after a stroll around the city’s walls in the hot sun, the crystal clear Adriatic waters just looked too good. Heading home to throw on suits, we returned for a dip. On the old town’s northeastern seawall, ancient pines provide shade for outdoor cafes and the little slivers of beach beneath the walls.
Recognizing the appeal to swimming there, the city has, over the years, carved a series of steps down from this promenade to the water. We were sold. It’s really hard to picture a more idyllic place for a swim - floating in the cool, clear Adriatic while slowly making your way into the open waters and staring back at Korcula’s Venetian architecture rising above you.
Famished after the swim and inspired by the local fishmonger, we dried off and decided it was time for a bite. Jenna’s folks had never had ceviche before - which isn’t quite a Croatian delicacy - but we figured why not?
Fresh-caught sea bass, lemon and lime, onions, and chips in hand, we went home to give homemade ceviche a go - little more effort than we anticipated…
Last time the two of us made ceviche, we’d been completely spoiled with the base ingredient. On a deep sea fishing adventure, the first mate immaculately cleaned and fileted our catch on the return to port - hell of a lot harder than he made it out to look! As we hacked and ripped at our whole sea bass back home, the respect we had for this first mate grew exponentially. Not only did he casually clean and package our catch (not a bone to be found) - he did it while slamming up and down over breakers!
Eventually - much frustration later - we had enough fish pulled apart to set a ceviche base. Mixing everything together and letting all the citrus juices do their magic, we were treated to a delicious, ceviche-ish concoction. Sergii and Iryna got to try a new dish, and we gained an appreciation for how much of a pain in the ass cleaning fish can be!
Vitis Winery for a Tasting (and Bottle!) in the Lumbarda Hills
Each region of Croatia seems to have its own local wine. During our time in Motovun on the Istrian Peninsula, we drank copious amounts of malvazija. On the island of Korcula, vineyards grow two, complementary grapes, grk and plavac mali - some of Croatia’s most famous.
Grk makes a delicious, crisp white wine. But, the vines only produce female parts, meaning that grk needs to be planted next to another grape that can actually fertilize it. On Korcula, plavac mali plays that role. Producing a rich red, the most famous plavac mali is certainly Dingac, which featured prominently at President Biden’s inauguration party.
We wanted to try both of these local grapes. So, the next morning, Jeanne, Moe, and the two of us caught a cab over the island’s ridgeline to the little town of Lumbarda (Jenna’s folks opted for a relaxing day around Korcula town).
On the far eastern tip of the island, Lumbarda’s known for its wineries, with a half dozen a stone’s throw from each other. Doing some research, we settled on Vitis Winery, a family-run operation in the hills above Lumbarda’s harbor.
Sitting in a shaded patio overlooking acres of vineyards and the water in the distance, we worked our way through a delightful cheese board and the full Vitis wine tasting. Sold on the grk - and too hot a day to dive into a bottle of red (though the plavac mali was outstanding) - we bought a bottle. Once again, Chipp and Moe realized they were the slightly less responsible members of the party.
Chipp, bottle in hand, asked our host if she could open it for us.
Jeanne, distraught: “It’s not even noon - you’re not planning on drinking that now, are you?”
Chipp, with a reassuring nod from, Moe: “Well we certainly can’t let a chilled bottle of wine get warm.”
Properly “hydrated” after enjoying this outstanding bottle of wine, we said goodbyes to the host and strolled the 15ish minutes through Lumbarda’s vineyards to our next destination. Another Jenna research find, we headed to Konoba Skafetin for a post-winery seafood lunch (and a little more wine).
Run by a mom (server and restaurant manager) and her son (fisherman and chef), this restaurant is a must-visit spot on Korcula. Using only local vegetables and seafood, they put on an incredible spread. We split a bunch of starters and a seafood pasta dish that, while absolutely delicious, combined with our other morning activities to put us all in nap mode, which we embraced back in Korcula town.
Perfect day - wine, vineyard strolls, seafood lunches, and a long afternoon nap!