On Day 2 of her adventure, Elaine Smith encounters the charms of Korcula and samples wine made from an unusual local grape
The day begins at sea, watching the Croatian coastline slide by as our ship, L’Austral, makes its way south to the island of Korcula. Blue skies and deep blue water are prominent, separated only by an expanse of hilly, rocky land half-carpeted in green.
It is hard not to gasp as we approach Korcula: blue sky cradles the tower of an ancient fortress that once protected the red-roofed houses clustered beyond it. Palm trees line the seawall, with a bathing beach nestled below.
Korcula, like the rest of Croatia, has a tumultuous history. It was originally colonized by Greeks from the island of Corfu, who named it Black Corfu because of its rich soil. They were replaced by Slavs a few centuries later, followed by the Venetians, who ruled the island from about 1000 to 1800. When Napoleon overpowered Venice during the Napoleonic Wars, he gave his Croatian spoils of victory to the Austrian Hapsburg Empire. The various influences can be seen in the architecture and also in the food.
The town of Korcula, home to 5,000, was once fortified by walls made from local limestone, but most of the walls came down more than 100 years ago as the first tourists began arriving by sea. The towers still standing are beautiful to behold and there is a limestone sea promenade lined with cafes that allow visitors to sit and enjoy the view as a cool breeze wafts over them.
Our first stop in town: a house formerly occupied by the Bishop of Korcula, but now a museum containing religious paintings, statues and sacramental objects. One of the most interesting is a vestment embroidered in gold that is immortalized in a Tintoretto painting on display at St. Mark’s Cathedral nearby. After a visit to the Cathedral, we set off through the herringbone pattern of streets to our tour bus.
A ride to the nearby village of Lumbarde takes us up into the hills for a magnificent view of the town of Korcula below, and the surrounding bright blue waters. Our destination is a vineyard where a local family makes Grk, a white wine whose grape grows only on Korcula, as well as various liqueurs grown from local oranges, lemons and cherries. Long wooden tables and benches laden with bread, local goat cheese, anchovies and olives await us in a rustic building that serves as the small winery’s display area. We eat, we drink and we toast our good fortune to have an opportunity to explore such a picturesque part of the world.