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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Heading to Korčula island?
Food and drink on Korčula island
Around Korčula island
Ston area guide
Ston, and its counterpart Mali Ston, sits on the cape of land connecting the Pelješac Peninsula to the mainland. Known as a salt-producing town, Ston was an important military fort of the Ragusan Republic, and the defensive wallls are world-famous. The 900 metre encircles the area for three miles - the second largest in the world after the Great Wall of China. Despite its military history, nowadays Ston is a small, laid-back fishing town, which boasts some dramatic views - think crumbling churches, olive groves and a stunning coastline. Its proving a winner with tourists, also drawn in by the superlative oyster farms (the oysters here have been commended as some of the best in the world.)
Janjina area guide
Further to the west from Prapratno and Ponikve, close to the central part of the Pelješac peninsula, you come to the picturesque backwaters of the Janjina area, and then the central and most densely populated part of the peninsula, with its well-developed agriculture. Here the main villages are Kuna, Oskorušno, Potomje, Pijavičino and Donja Banda as well as Trpanj and Trstenik, a colourful little harbour with a nice beach.
The Pelješac peninsula
The destiny of the Pelješac Peninsula has always been linked to its position. Sprawling out towards the sun of the Adriatic and the central Dalmatian islands, some 30 miles north west of Dubrovnik, it was for its Illyrian, Roman and Slavic masters a link between the Balkan hinterland and Korčula and Hvar. Later on, at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, it was important for the French troops for the same reason. Apart from bequeathing it the still-existing Napoleon Road, which runs along sheltered areas from the isthmus to Orebić, they left it the secret of producing Pelješac champagne, an excellent sparkling wine bottled in old siphons. Before that, the people of Dubrovnik had endowed it with stone-girt cities and skill in farming shellfish, the people of Zahumlje with ancient little chapels, and the Greeks and Romans with the viticulture, the production of wine and sea salt, urbanity and a cultivated estate lifestyle. And yet, in spite of the rich history and pristine beauty, Pelješac is one of the least known facets of the Croatian coastline. The peninsula is divided into several regions each with their own distinctive features. The eastern part includes Ston, Ponikve and Crna gora, together with the Ston plain, the ancient cardo and decumanus of which are still to be seen. Driving along the Adriatic coast road from Dubrovnik to Pelješac, not far from the peninsula, the first thing to grab your attention is the defensive walls on the steep slopes that join Ston and Mali St
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.