The first island destination on our Croatian journey was Korcula Old Town, a fortified settlement across the bay from the Orebic peninsula. It shared the same medieval feel as Dubrovnik, with a network of narrow stepped streets surrounded by the same ancient walls and white stone towers lined with battlements. As the sixth biggest island in the Adriatic, it played an important role in maritime history and was sought after by the whole of Europe. The island changed hands five times in the first fifteen years of the 17th century alone, being passed from the French to the Montenegrin Forces and back to the French, before the British invaded and seized the island in 1813. After the British left their mark on the town through various new walls and towers, the island was subjected to yet another period of change during the First World War, briefly existing under Italian and Yugoslavian rule before finally joining the Republic of Croatia in 1992.
After all that, it seems that Korcula is here to stay in Croatia. But everything about the Old Town resonates with its eclectic history. From the Italian-esque Dalmatian cuisine and Venetian Renaissance architecture to the strangely familiar yet unfamiliar language, you will find yourself lost in a European fusion of history and culture. Three or four days is enough time to find your favourite restaurant and a few souvenirs, but if you’re eager for more then a week will allow you to discover the rest of the island.
How to get there
We got the ferry from Dubrovnik, which takes around 2 hours and arrives from the harbour in the Old Town. Although we didn’t have any problems with our ferries, be aware that they can be cancelled in bad weather. Depending on which ferry you choose, the price for one ticket is between 50 and 100 Kuna from Dubrovnik. The ferries get booked up pretty quickly, especially in high season, so make sure you buy your tickets at least a day in advance (ask at the tourist information about where to buy them, but there is usually a kiosk at the harbour). The island is pretty accessible, with routes from the mainland (Split and Dubrovnik) and also from nearby islands (Hvar, Brac and Mljet). Because it is so close to tourist hot-spot Dubrovnik, making a day trip from there to Korcula seemed to be a popular choice amongst other travellers we met.
Where to stay
There were more apartments than hotels in the Old Town, so we rented a room in a local family’s house up a stepped street set back from the harbour. Our host met us at the port when we arrived by ferry, so finding the house was easy. She did not speak much English so communication was strained, but with Airbnb all of the reservations and payments are sorted out before your arrival so this wasn’t really an issue (until the husband gave us the Wifi password when we asked for more cups, despite using our finest pidgin English/sign language).
What to see and do
For a while we were cooped up in our tiny room after a violent outbreak of storms erupted, braving the thunder crashes and lightning flashes only to dash out to the local bakery to grab some breakfast. When the sun finally did come out, we went in search for a sandy beach (there seemed to be a distinct lack of these along the Dubrovnik-Neretva County coastline). A short taxi ride away through pine woods and olive groves lay the golden beaches of Lumbarda, a small fishing village surrounded by sandy vineyards. We spent the day lounging on the shore, only getting up to order juice from the beach bar. I don’t actually know the name of the beach we went to; a simple “take us to the beach please” got us what we so craved for (sand). Although having returned to our room feeling itchy and gritty, we found ourselves pining for the smoothness of a typical Croatian ‘beach’ again (rocks).
My favourite thing to do was to take a walk along the harbour in the evening, find a spot to sit down and then wait for the sky to transform into a kaleidoscope of deep violet, blushing pink and dusty yellow hues. The sunsets on Korcula were some of the best I’ve seen in my life, watching the sun sink behind the peninsula, basking the stone walls in a golden glow before casting a blush of rose across the bay.
Korcula Old Town has been rumoured to be the possible birthplace of famous world traveller and writer Marco Polo. You can visit his alleged birth house, which is being turned into a Marco Polo Museum, and enjoy a panoramic vista of Korcula from the tower. Whilst you are in town, lose yourself up narrow passageways and indulge in some retail therapy in the many boutiques built into the stone walls. I could have spent hours (and hundreds of Kuna!!) in Seba Dizajn, a small boutique selling bespoke, hand-crafted silver jewellery. The family-owned shop is run by a wonderful Croatian/New Zealand couple, who were very patient whilst I tried on dozens of filigree rings, each one unique and hand-made in the shop.
Although it is quieter than the more popular Dubrovnik, the Old Town still boasts an impressive restaurant scene. I’m pretty sure we spent most of our time there eating. And drinking. Then eating some more after drinking. (See my recommendations below).
The Old Town is just a tiny corner of this large island, and we didn’t get to explore beyond the island’s eastern coast. We missed out on the caves and paradisiacal Proizd Island of Vela Luka, which were on our list but we just didn’t have enough time to plan a trip there. If you’re planning on travelling north from Korcula, to Hvar or Split for example, then it might be a good idea to catch a ferry from the port in Vela Luka and give yourself some time to explore the beaches there.
Where to eat and drink
Zakerjan Tower for drinks with a view. We discovered this bar one night when we noticed some heads hidden behind the battlements of the tower’s turret, and went in to investigate. The bar is only accessible by ladder (mind your head on the trap door) and cocktails are brought up by pulley. Getting up there there is fine; descending after a few mojitos is another story.
Seafront restaurants lined the length of the stone wall that rises up from the rocky coastline and surrounds the town. We ate at a few of them, and they all seemed pretty similar in terms of choice and price; amazing fresh fish and equally amazing prices.
Konoba Marco Polo for a great atmosphere and delicious Dalmatian cuisine. After traipsing around one evening, starving but uninspired by the tourist restaurants, we found this hidden gem nestled in a charming little square at the core of the Old Town. There are tables indoors and dotted around the square outside, which made for a romantic candlelit dinner. Seafood was a speciality, but I was persuaded into trying a pasta dish which was apparently an original recipe by Marco Polo himself. I’m not sure about that, but it was very enjoyable nonetheless! We thought we’d pretend we weren’t broke backpackers for the night and ordered a three course meal and a glass of wine the size of my head…
Fundamentum doesn’t the name alone make you want to go, like, NOW? Look how FUN it sounds! We stumbled upon this wine bar whilst getting a little lost in the dark. I saw the sign and pointed frantically exclaiming “Look! Doesn’t that look FUN!”. Okay, enough with the wordplay. We sat down at one of the few tables that lined the narrow street it occupied and shared some tasty tapas. I couldn’t tell you where we found it, but I’m sure if you looked hard enough (and deemed yourself a fun-loving guy) you’d find it eventually.
Maksimilijan Garden calls itself a lounge and beach bar, but it’s so much more than that. The setting of this garden restaurant/beach bar/lounge is just superb, perched on the rocks and hidden beneath a canopy of trees. It is hands-down the best place to watch the sunset from, whilst sipping an exotic cocktail and feeling pleasantly satisfied with the fresh fish dish you ordered for dinner. We only went for the evening, but I’d like to go back in the day to soak up the sun on its seafront terrace, or relax on a sunbed in their shaded garden. You can also admire some Croatian artwork inside the Memorial Collection of Maksimilijan Vanka, a famous 20th century painter. Discover this little oasis just a 5 minute waterfront wander away from the Old Town.
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