As you travel to Korčula from the mainland nearby, the crowded little houses on the edge of the island seem to be pushing each other out of the way to see if you are friend or foe. Holding them in, stern medieval walls centrepieced by the slim belltower of St Mark’s Cathedral stand guard over the narrow Pelješac Channel, protecting the riches contained on the sixth largest island in the Croatian Adriatic. So lush with dark pine forests, vineyards and olive groves the ancient Greek settlers called it Korkyra Melaina (‘Black Corfu’), Korčula has managed to avoid the tourist trap tendencies of its original Greek namesake to the south.
No longer fought over by Turk or Venetian, by French or Austrian, by Partisan or German, Korčula is one of Dalmatia’s most relaxing getaways. The main town of the same name, set on the north-eastern tip of the island opposite the Pelješac peninsula, has one of the best-preserved medieval centres in the Adriatic. Historic Korčula is therefore the most popular south-Dalmatian destination after the more crowded Dubrovnik, with which it is often compared.
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Food and drink on Korčula island
Around Korčula island
Korčula town area guide
Abound with rustic charm, the medieval settlement of Korčula town has a year-round appeal. The palm-lined streets and ancient surrounding walls regularly invite comparisons with nearby Dubrovnik. And it's not hard to see why - but Korčula town remains unbothered by the droves of tourists swarming the maritime capital over the summer months. All the better for the locals, and in-the-know vistors, who revel in its laidback, Mediterranean lifestyle. Read on for our expert's guide to Korčula town.
Lumbarda area guide
Arranged around a series of small bays, the village of Lumbarda, 6km from Korčula town, is thought to be the oldest settlement on the island. A stone inscription dating from the 4th century BC (a replica of which can be seen in Korčula Town Museum) refers to an ancient Greek colony at Lumbarda – however no evidence of a Greek city has ever been found here, suggesting that the Greeks never put down firm roots on Korčula. However the Greek presence lives on in the name of the local wine, Grk, a unique dry white that flourishes in the sandy soil of Lumbarda but which can’t be grown successfully anywhere else.
Žrnovo area guide
Spread across the hills above Korčula town, Žrnovo is a sprawling settlement made up of several distinct villages, Prvo Selo, Brdo, Postrana and Kampus, each grouped around its own chapel. Occupying a hillock in between the villages is St Martin’s Church, containing some delightful, locally carved Baroque altarpieces. St Postrana is the most picturesque of Žrnovo’s quarters, with its stone houses and narrow stepped alleyways. Lying at the bottom of the coastal slopes south of Žrnovo is one of Korčula’s best known targets for bathing connoisseurs, Bačva beach, a peaceful small bay with a shingle beach and a hut selling refreshments. Be warned however that the steep and narrow access road is not for the faint-hearted – a lot of people come by boat.
Račišče area guide
Twelve kilometres west of Korčula town, Račišče is a picturesque port spread around a broad bay. Overlooking the shore is the Church of St Mary the Helper, and a small village loggia. Until World War II, Račišče was very much a seafarers’ settlement, its bay busy with medium-sized cargo boats. Nowadays the harbour is so quiet that you can swim and paddle to your heart’s content. Walk northwest of Račišče harbour for 15 minutes to find Vaja, a beach of gleaming white pebbles lapped by an indigo sea.
Pupnat area guide
The village of Pupnat is a typical wine and vegetable-growing community set at the side of a small but fertile plain. To the south of Pupnat at the bottom of a steep slope is Pupnatska Luka, once the village’s port. Accessible via a narrow windy road, Pupnatska Luka is today a beautiful crescent of fine pebble, and is arguably the best of Korčula’s south-coast beaches. There are a couple of café-cum-snack bars at the back of the beach, screened by outsized cacti. The only problem with Pupnatska Luka is the lack of parking spaces, and the constant danger that you might meet a large and cumbersome car coming in the opposite direction on the way up or down.
Čara area guide
Like near-neighbour Pupnat, the village of Čara hovers above a broad agricultural plain whose vineyards produce some of the island’s best Pošip grapes. The question of whether it is Čara or neighbouring Smokvica that produces the best Pošip wine is the subject of much local debate. South of Čara, Zavalatica cove is home to a small seaside village whose pristine waters are ideal for splashing around in.
Smokvica area guide
Smokvica is one of the most picturesque of Korčula’s inland settlements, its red-tiled houses spilling down a hillside overlooking fields that produce some of Korčula’s best Pošip wine. Southwest of Smokvica, a road descends towards the bay of Brna, which used to serve as Smokvica’s port and is now a seaside village of predominantly modern houses and apartments.
Blato area guide
Once the biggest settlement on the island (a status now enjoyed by Vela Luka), Blato was once an important agricultural centre, exporting its wine and olives throughout Central Europe. The vine-pest outbreaks of the 1920s put paid to Blato’s prosperity; thousands of locals emigrated to the Americas during the inter-war years. Nowadays, it’s a prosperous if rather sleepy-looking rural town, with a single, graceful tree-lined avenue running through the centre. Set amid the older parts of town just south of the main street, Blato’s parish church overlooks a lovely Renaissance loggia. Unusually, Blato’s streets have numbers instead of names.
Vela Luka area guide
Occupying an irregular-shaped bay at the western end of the island, Vela Luka is the island’s main port for car ferries to Split and Lastovo. Founded by the inhabitants of Blato in order to export their wine and oil, Vela Luka doesn’t have the vintage medieval appearance of Korčula town, but its sea-facing row of 19th-century houses, bordered by palms and lawns, is as handsome as any in Dalmatia. The Vela Spila cave, and the off-shore sunbathing paradise of Proizd, provide the main excuses to stick around. As in Blato, Vela Luka’s streets don’t have names, but are numbered instead.
Trpanj area guide
Not so long ago, Trpanj was home to only fishermen and mariners. Laid back and full of charm, Trpanj still has that small village feel, but now attracts tourists from all over the world. Located on the peninsula of Pelješac, it is easily accessible by ferry boat via the port of Ploče, by air, the airports of Split and Dubrovnik or by road via Ston.
Where to stay on Korčula island
This landmark opened in 1912. Behind its pristine, palm-lined exterior lie 22 careworn rooms that were last renovated in the early Eighties and haven’t received much attention since. Expect old TVs, no lift and no air-con. Locals use the café as a meeting place - as you should too.
Vela Luka’s old harbourside hotel has been more or less totally rebuilt to provide a home for this new, beautifully-designed four star, with cool, contemporary furniture setting the tone in both public areas and the rooms themselves. Rooms feature hardwood floors, flat-screen TVs and view-through bathrooms enclosed in glass windows. With a good ground-floor restaurant and a kidney-shaped pool at the back, the hotel offers quality relaxation all round. The top-floor gym and Wellness centre overlooking the harbour are a major feature.
Lešić-Dimitri Palace Korčula
Quality five-star representing the pinnacle of luxury in Korčula, located in a beautifully renovated 18th-century bishop’s palace and five medieval cottages, in the heart of the Old Town. Suites are named after stages on the Silk Road travelled by alleged Korčula native Marco Polo: Venice comes with a Venetian red ceiling and theatrically large chairs that look like something from Alice in Wonderland; Arabia is hung with flowing fabrics to give it the feel of a nomad’s tent in the middle of the desert. A recurring theme throughout the hotel is provided by the cushion-piled divans and geometric-patterned wooden screens evocative of interiors from the Middle East to the Far East. All the suites have sleek modern kitchens, espresso machines, free WiFi and flat-screen TVs, although sensitive restoration has left much of the building’s original stonework and wooden beaming untouched. As well as being home to the swish LD restaurant, the Lešić-Dimitri also features a spa with a team of Thai therapists. This is pure honeymoon material – without the crowds of Dubrovnik. A member of the prestigious Relais and Chateaux association.
Wineries on Korčula Island
Winemaker Frano Milina-Bire enjoys a growing reputation for producing some of the best Grk on Korčula, and his visitor-friendly winery, occupying a hillside overlooking the village, is the best place to taste it. Groups and individual tourists are welcome to sample the wine in a rustic stone-clad room before buying some of the bottles stacked like firewood against the cellar’s walls. The household also makes its own goats cheese and pršut to provide visitors with tasty platters to go along with their Grk. In the garden, tomato plants and broad beans sprout up among the kitchen herbs.
A family business at least four generations, Toreta winery is just below the main street that leads through Smokvica. There's a display of wine-pressing equipment used in the old days, and a selection of wines to taste and buy. Pošip is Toreta's main one, although Rukatac is exceedingly good too. Toreta's rakijas and liqueurs are simply superb.
Luka Krajančić is one of Korčula's most enterprising contemporary wine makers, producing individually crafted Pošip wines that can hold their own with any of Mediterranean Europe's quality dry whites. A lot of Croatia's top restaurants stock Krajančić's Pošip – it would be foolish not to call in here to pick up a bottle or two.