Korčula island, and the enchanting walled city of Korčula, lie just off the Croatian/Dalmation coast. It proved to be a wonderful short break destination for Anna Hyman and Rob Philpott especially as it formed part of a two-centre visit with another ancient walled city – Dubrovnik.
Seen from above, Dubrovnik shimmers at night
Every time I fly into Dubrovnik airport my memory takes me back to my first visit, now so many years ago. It was a night flight and as the plane banked over the Adriatic prior to landing the city of Dubrovnik came into view shimmering with lights as dazzlingly as a treasure trove of jewels.
But this time it was an afternoon flight and the sun was shining on the close-packed ochre-red roof tiles of the Old Town; a warm welcome to this beguiling city and indeed to Croatia for Rob travelling with me, on this, his first visit.
But Rob’s introduction to Dubrovnik would have to wait a few days longer – the first few days of our two -centre trip would be spent on the island of Korčula.
A scenic drive to the ferry
It takes about three hours to drive from Dubrovnik airport to the island of Korčula, including the little ferry crossing from Orebić . En route Marko our driver pointed out to us vineyards, orchards and oyster beds along the Pelješća Peninsular whilst trying to teach me how to pronounce a few Croatian words and place names.
Memories of earlier visits to this area came to mind – the beautiful Trsteno arboretum; the salt pans of Ston; and Ston’s answer to the Great Wall of China snaking its way up the hillside. But sadly with a ferry to catch there was no time for us to stop and explore.
We checked in to the Hotel Liburna
We made Obebić ferry port literally with seconds to spare. The crossing only takes a matter of minutes and consequently the service is fairly frequent, nevertheless Marko had to introduce us to our hotel for our next few nights, and then repeat the long drive back to his base in Dubrovnik. And no way was he going to leave us until he had made sure we were safely checked into the Hotel Liburna.
Hotel Liburna, with its terrific welcoming, helpful and friendly staff proved to be a good choice for us. Classic Collection Holidays who had organised our trip had chosen well. It was an easy 10 minute water-side walk to Korčula Old Town, and the views across to the picturesque walled city and the mainland from our rooms and restaurant terrace were glorious.
Korčula – an island and a city
We were both captivated by the historic walled city of Korčula – the city and the island share the same name by the way.
On our all to short visit we really only had enough time to explore the small city but the island noted for its pine forests, olive oil and vineyards we agreed would be worth further exploration.
It is one of the largest islands in the Adriatic and in the past was fought over by Venice, Croat kings, the Genoese and the Turk, and ruled over by sundry other countries including Britain in 1813 – 1815.
The enchanting walled city
We made our way into the walled city by climbing the rather elegant flight of steps to the Land Gate and passing through the Revelin Tower.
In the middle of the tiny city square we found the cathedral of St Mark.
It is an imposing Gothic Renaissance style building with large columns with elaborately carved capitals, a pretty rose window, and what we had both wanted to see, the altarpiece painted by the Venetian artist Tintoretto who had studied on the island.
Robert, with a better head for spiral staircases and heights than me, headed for the bell tower so he could admire the views.
The Abbey Treasury of St Mark and gift shop
He caught up with me next door to the cathedral in the Abbey Treasury. On the first floor is a truly interesting collection chiefly of ecclesiastical treasures including paintings, robes, coins and pottery.
On the ground floor alongside a small exhibition hall we discovered the small cathedral gift shop. And it was here serving behind the counter we met the delightful Renata Seretinek.
We had been admiring some lovely hand painted glass ware. It turned out that it was Renata who was the artist. Amongst religious scenes were paintings of flowers, fish and coral. The latter two she told us were inspired by the marine life of the waters of the Adriatic. How wonderful we thought to depict delicate coral through the skilful use of her paintbrush and not removing it from the water and destroying this fragile and rapidly diminishing ecosystem.
Opposite the cathedral and Abbey Treasury in one of the Venetian palaces we found the Town Museum with its varied exhibits depicting town life through the centuries.
Marco Polo and Korčula
It is open to conjecture as to whether the 13th century explorer Marco Polo was born on the island, but he would definitely have visited it and probably lived there too.
Certainly we kept stumbling across signs and placards bearing the explorer’s name.
However, that early in the season the Marco Polo exhibition was not open, and the alleged house of his birth was closed for renovation – in any event this particular house, we discovered, had actually been built later!
Evidence of British occupation
For a change of scene one morning we climbed, by means of many, many steps, up into the forest to track down Fort Wellington – evidence of the one-time British occupation.
Hot and puffed we did eventually find the deserted, sturdy tower.
With nothing else to admire other than the view we turned our attention to finding our way back towards the town via the Engleska Pijaca (English Piazzeta) a terrace, a stone bench plus two– built evidently by Admiral Peter Lowen in about 1813.
Lunch with a view
Somehow we missed the piazzeta but managed to find ourselves back in the lovely medieval heart of the town and heading like homing pigeons for what had become one of our favourite lunch spots- Restaurant Café Cupido .
On the menu were swordfish steaks with a celeriac and potato mash and tomato sauce served by the charming Marijana and beautifully cooked by ‘Maggie’.
With a glass of Grk (white wine) for me and a beer for Robert, plus a dessert – with two spoons – it was a perfect lunch.
We never tired of the view from this waterfront restaurant/bar overlooking the Adriatic where from time to time the little red submarine tourist craft hove into view, adding a splash of scarlet to contrast with the blues of the sky and the sea.
Enterprising city planners
We gave up on museums and churches preferring to spend our remaining time pottering round the narrow medieval streets, marvelling at buildings which were once beautiful Venetian palaces (be warned some of the streets are steep).
The streets thanks to some brilliantly-minded medieval street planner are arranged in a clever herringbone pattern which allowed for wind-free, but cool, shady streets depending on the aspect of the sun.
We tracked down the island’s bakery Kucarin, famous for the speciality pastries, but it had closed for the day – we’ll get there earlier next visit.
We were happy
Or we lent contentedly on the sturdy, ancient walls looking out over the narrow stretch of the Adriatic separating the island from the mainland.
We thought back to moments of relaxing on a convenient stone bench with ice creams in hand; stopping for a coffee, or popping into a shop for some retail therapy.
They produce stunning olive oil on Korčula as well as wine, and interesting jewellery.
We were happy.
In fact we were very, very happy.
Hotel Liburna: Built in 1985 the Hotel Liburna is a modern four star hotel with a lift situated about a 10 minute water-front stroll from Korcula town. The views out over the Adriatic, to the walled city are glorious. All the staff were friendly, welcoming and helpful – the Reception staff in particular went out of their way to help.
It’s a spacious hotel with some 100 or so en-suite rooms most with sea views , ours were squeaky clean, a good size and well-equipped. The public rooms are somewhat on the minimalist side with contemporary style furnishings, and the large dining room where buffet-style meals are served is somewhat on the austere side.
The dining room opens onto the terrace with tables and awnings and that stunning view as a backdrop. We were there too early in the season for the outdoor bar to be open, but the indoor Aperitif Bar was open from early in the morning till late into the evening. The outdoor swimming pool looked very inviting.
The buffet –style food was plentiful with plenty of choice – we ate in on a couple of evenings but wandered a few yards down the road one evening for a change of scene to little Konoba Nona that had just opened for the season.
Konoba Nona: On the ground floor of this small, rustic konoba is a bar where, we understand live music is played later in the season. Upstairs an open-fronted restaurant offers some great sea views. Pasta and pizza feature a lot on the menu but on the evening we were there there was also some freshly caught fish.
Our fish was good and Branka our waitress cheerfully ran up and down the stairs looking after us – she also spoke very good English. Rob loved his chocolate cake, I enjoyed my ice cream and we both appreciated the sprigs of fresh mint Branka had popped into our carafe of water!
Classic Collection Holidays: Classic Collection Holidays offer single, twin and multi-centre holidays to Croatia.
A 4 night stay at Hotel Liburna, Korcula Island, combined with 3 nights at Hotel More, Dubrovnik, starts from £1215 per person this May. Price based on 2 adults sharing on a bed & breakfast basis and includes return flights from the UK to Dubrovnik (flights available from up to 15 UK airports), private transfers and ferry crossings.
Tel: 0800 047 1064; classic-collection.co.uk.