Posted by: viewfromtheriva | March 2, 2013

Discovering the charms of Korcula island


Above Vela Luka, with the new path leading to the oldest  prehistoric cave in the Mediterranean

Above Vela Luka, with the new path leading to the oldest prehistoric cave in the Mediterranean

Yesterday I spent a glorious day on the island of Korcula, the legendary birthplace of Marco Polo and famous for its wine and olives.  My hosts were the directors of the five tourist boards on the island–each representing a different village/town on this sprawling island.

Almost 50km long and 8km wide, Korcula is extremely diverse– marvelous beaches and bays;  dreamy villages clinging to cliffs that open to hundreds of carefully tended vineyards below; a rich cultural heritage (in 1214 Korcula town was the first city in the world to ban slavery) and so much more!

Of course Korcula Old Town, on its own peninsula jutting out into the  harbor encircled by an imposing stone defensive wall (that kept the Ottoman Turks at bay during a memorable siege that all but Korculans thought would fail) is the most visited village.

But venture out across the island to the gorgeous interior and it’s a world of bustling little villages with a surprisingly vibrant ambiance.

Let’s take Blato for example, a charming inland hamlet about 15 minutes from Vela Luka, the main ferry point on the western tip of the island.

Blato from abnove

Seen from above, the busy village of Blato has a ribbon of wonderful linden trees lining both sides of its main street–almost a kilometer long!  It’s the second longest “linden way” in Europe!

When the lindens bloom next month and in May, the whole street will be under a canopy of green!

When the lindens bloom next month and in May, the whole street will be under a canopy of green!

Maja Separaovic, the vivacious young Blato Tourist Board director, clearly loves her town and couldn’t wait to show me why.   After a terrific lunch of clove-infused homemade pasta and meat with a bottle of delicious local Plavac Blato, it was off for a tour of the town’s most famous church, All Saints, first mentioned in the 13C, and a look at a 16C painting inside with one of the earliest known images of a violin.

main altar all saints blato

The children sitting on the steps in this painting are carrying violins–one of the earliest depictions of this instrument on canvas.

Smack in the center of the island is Smokvica, with a gaggle of stone houses all bunched up on both sides of a serpentine road that drops off sharply to a sweeping view of vineyards in the valley below.

It’s here where Posip, the pride of the island is grown, and Toreta is one of the premium producers.   The fifth generation winery even has a tasting shop and wine museum–so of course we stopped!

Toreta wine

The Posip of course was sensational, but the dessert wine and the Plavac were also just terrific!  Unlike Hvar island and Peljesac peninsula vineyards, which are placed on sloping hills, often facing the sea, most Korcula wine is grown on inland flatlands.  To me wine from Korcula, especially the Plavac, has a distinctly different taste–more earthy overtones and a very smooth, clean finish.

Old winery artifacts are part of the Toreta Wine Museum

Old winery artifacts are part of the Toreta Wine Museum

My trip ended in Vela Luka, literally “Big Harbor” in Croatian.  It’s the bookend ferry port to Korcula Old Town.  Like so many other intriguing villages, Vela Luka also boasts an amazing cultural first–the oldest archeological cave in the Mediterranean!

vila spila from inside

The cavernous Vela Spila or “Big Cave” is perched at the top of the hills that surround the town and harbor.  It’s really one large open area inside with openings to the sky that are now much larger than when the cave was first inhabited more than 25,000 years BC!

Each year, archeologists from England, the US and other countries come to dig. And what makes the dig so important is that the entire cave is a time capsule of human, animal and plant life in undisturbed sediment layers that can literally be peeled back and examined one epoch at a time!

Just part of what archeologists are digging up one layer at a time

Just part of what archeologists are digging up one layer at a time

The equally young and impressive Tourist Board director of Vela Luka,
Dorjan Dragojevic, took me up for a look.  Together with a local archeologist who has been dedicating himself to the cave for years, Dorjan has attracted a lot of attention for Vela Spila–the Brits and the Croatian government have provided some funding and now a “Blue Way” is being created that will allow tourists to walk up from the back streets of Vela Luka along a concrete pathway that winds its way up the hill, complete with benches.  Local school children are now busy planting rosemary and other plants along the way to make the trek even more beautiful.

Being up in these hills, surrounded by more than 100,000 olive trees, an amazing harbor beneath me and a spectacular cave just above,  with people filled with passion about living here was a great experience.

Can’t wait to come back!

the sun sets over Veta Luka

the sun sets over Vela Luka

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Responses

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