It’s an early start today – a 7.30 pick up for a tour to the island of Korcula. And at this time of the morning, Drubrovnik’s Stradun takes on a very different and peaceful personality.
I’ve opted for a small group tour, and it lives up to its name, with a total of eight travellers on board the comfortable minibus. Our guide, Andrea, is fluent in English and Spanish – enough to satisfy a mix of British, Brazilian and Argentinians. We climb out of the port of Gruz and onto a relatively new bridge spanning the Adriatic Highway, although its title suggests something more grand than a single carriageway snaking up the coastline.
Andrea tells us that there are plans for another new bridge, circumventing the annoyingly small five miles of coastline that still belong to Bosnia. This means long delays for commerce, as paperwork has to be checked for goods coming out and back in to Croatia. But it’s a poor country, and now that it’s part of the EU, Brussels will have the final say on whether the bridge will even be funded.
Just as we enter the Peljesac Peninsula, there’s a stop at the small town of Ston. Despite modest appearances – and an historic trade based on salt production, it boasts some of the steepest city walls in the country.
But it’s not just about condiments around here, because this region is home to some of the freshest oysters and best Croatian wines. More of which later – but first it’s a short boat ride to Korcula – known as Little Dubrovnik. And it’s easy to see why.
The island itself stretches for around 20 miles from east to west, though the main town itself takes less than half an hour to walk around. And it’s true beauty is seen by looking skywards. Like Dubrovnik, much of the architecture is similar to that found in Venice. In fact, the Croatians and the Italians have quite a bit in common: Korcula is allegedly the birthplace of Marco Polo. His “house” is here, as are a chain of gift shops playing on his name.
All of this history is thirsty work. So on the way back, there’s a visit to one of the dozens of vineyards in this region for a bit of wine tasting.
This kind of activity should make for a leisurely afternoon of drinking. But the Madirazza winery is very much a business – and groups are ushered through at breakneck speed for a quick glug and a quick sale. We’re in and out in less than 20 minutes.
That said, it’s a great product and Southern Dalmatia is a perfect place to make it. On the return trip, thousands of vines stretch on either side of the hills before crashing into the sea. Occasionally we see grape pickers hard at work in the September sunshine. And in the shops, there’ll be no shortage of a few thousand customers from one of these.