Close your eyes, think of Croatia, and you’ll likely conjure up images of a sunny, sparkling seaside, rocky, dramatic cliffs, and white pebbled beaches. Throw in endless glasses of wine, delicious fresh food, plus loads of nightlife featuring international jet setters arriving by private mega-yacht, and you’ve got a country like no other. No wonder it’s become a holiday hotspot!
Choosing a favorite place there is like being asked to choose your favorite child, but on my recent first trip to Croatia, I fell hard for Korčula. The island, and the walled town on it of the same name, both took my breath away.
Here are nine reasons why I’ve got to get back as soon as possible!
1. Unique Natural Beauty
There’s no two ways about it: Korčula (pronounced CORE-chu-lah) is an absolute stunner. The only way to get there is by boat, either private charter or ferry. It’s relatively easy to reach from both Split and Dubrovnik, as well as the neighboring islands of Brac and Hvar.
The trek is well worth it. The island boasts miles of pristine, crystal-clear coastline with beautiful pebbled and even sand (a rarity in Croatia!) beaches. The water is deep azure blue and so transparent you can easily see to the bottom at shallower depths in Korčula’s many gorgeous bays. I really loved seeing the diving boards right outside the walls of the city. Folks here know to take advantage of the water!
Then there are the olive groves and vineyards, planted across the island and tended to lovingly by residents in Korčula city and in several other small villages scattered across the island. They are lovely, restful havens and beautiful to visit. Inland, vegetation can be thick and lush, especially at the Kočje Nature Park. Its stunning rock formations, caves, and surrounding forests are perfect for day hikes and exploring.
2. Fascinating History And Culture
Walled City Of Korčula
The walled city of Korčula is the island’s historic heart. Consider the Illyrians, who first settled the island. Then the Greeks, Romans, Croats, Venetians, and Habsburgs, who all ruled the land through the centuries. This melding and meshing of cultures combined to influence what is now one of the most stunning cities I’ve ever visited.
St. Mark’s Cathedral
Wandering inside the city’s walls, which were built to defend Korčula from invaders, I was struck by the narrow passages connecting the lovely, centuries-old limestone buildings.
The town’s tiny squares and chapels were dreamy little gems; however, Korčula’s historic masterpiece is St. Mark’s Cathedral. The diocese dates back to 1300, and there is evidence a church was there well before that. Construction on the current building started in the 15th century, and it stopped and started as the island’s residents could raise money for it. The result is a lovely mash-up of architectural styles within the cathedral’s four apses, with Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque all represented. Art lovers will swoon over the cathedral’s Tintoretto painting above the main altar, which dates back to 1550. (Look for St. Mark, right in the middle.)
The church’s treasury — or museum — right next door is worth a stop for its fascinating relics, and the city’s history museum, right across the square, was also fascinating and worth the price of admission.
Bottom line: This place oozes history, just as you’d expect. Soak it all up!
3. Stunning And Well-Preserved Architecture
As mentioned above, architecture aficionados will find plenty to appreciate on Korčula and in its namesake city.
The original design of the old town itself is fascinating, laid out in a fishbone shape to give residents a break from the brutal effects of the wind and sun.
Architectural styles vary in and on Korčula, but expect to see a lot of old limestone structures with gorgeous detailing and character. Take the time to look above the doorways; chances are you’ll find etched dates or little sculptures adorning them. The gates along the wall are especially well preserved, and the gardens are gorgeous as well.
4. The View From St. Mark’s Cathedral’s Bell Tower
Folks who know me know I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to heights — specifically, being on the edge of something tall or steep. But I decided to gut up and go to the place where I could see Korčula the best — from the top. I purchased a ticket to climb the bell tower at the aforementioned St. Mark’s Cathedral.
I gritted my teeth, gripped the banister, and gingerly made my way up the stone steps, with their tight turns and narrow passageways. Eventually, after a lot of deep breathing, I got to the top. Once I steadied myself and found what I thought was the most stable perch, I really took a look around.
It was worth all of the queasiness. I marveled at the red rooftops of the city and the incredible, sweeping views of the Adriatic. This was a picture-perfect payoff, and you should consider the climb if you’re able.
5. Local Cuisine
After all your exploring, you’re bound to work up a hearty appetite, and Korčula has you covered.
You’ll want to keep konobas in mind when you are making dining decisions. These smaller, family-feel cafes have delicious options, and you’re guaranteed to eat like a local if you visit one. Expect gorgeous, locally-grown greens and produce, including blitva, a type of chard that’s usually served with mashed potatoes. You’ll also find fresh-caught grilled seafood, and peka, a cooking style in which meat and veggies are cooked under an earthenware bell. The result is perfection, with meat so tender there’s no need to bother with a knife — you can cut it with your fork!
I indulged in a platter of pag cheese, made with sheep’s milk on a nearby island, and pršut — locally-cured ham similar to prosciutto. All of it was washed down with a dry Korčula white wine, and it was one of my most memorable vacation meals ever.
Plan to eat al fresco if the weather permits. Many konobas and cafes in Korčula offer outdoor seating. You’re not going to get a more stunning setting, so by all means, take that meal by the sea!
6. A Thriving Arts Scene
Shipbuilding and stone-carving have long been trades on Korčula; however, the fine arts also thrive here.
At the city’s museum, I learned painters and other creatives have long made the island their haven, and their presence is felt. As I wandered the inner streets of Korčula, I passed quite a few galleries and shops featuring stunning art. From jewelry and textiles to paintings and sculptures, these works were delightful and would make wonderful souvenirs!
During the summer, there are also numerous concerts and theatre performances.
7. The Moreška Sword Dance
Speaking of fine art traditions, Korčula’s famous and dramatic Moreška sword dance delights visitors and locals alike. It features two armies of dancers acting out a mock sword battle to save a veiled maiden. The players all wear lavish costumes and perform their seven different dances with great energy and passion.
Moreška originated in Spain and is said to describe the conflict between Christians and Moors. The dance eventually made its way down to Dalmatia and resonated with the people there, who at the time were in their own very real conflict with the Ottoman Empire.
Traditionally performed on July 29 (for St. Theodore, the patron saint of Korčula), there are abbreviated versions for tourists weekly during the busy summer months.
8. Birthplace Of Marco Polo
I know, I know, the Venetians claim him as their own. But Korčula fiercely disputes the assertion that Marco Polo was Italian. They say while it was ruled by the Venetians at the time, he was born on their island and is thus Croatian. Some biographers believe it, too.
While the exact place of his birth will likely stay a mystery, you can see where some believe the intrepid 13th-century traveler was born before he set off on his grand Silk Road adventures. There’s a museum on the site of the old loggia (though it is closed at publish time) just inside the old town walls.
9. Centuries-Old Wineries
Wine lovers rejoice: The island of Korčula is well-known for its winemaking.
The most planted and popular grapes in Korčula are pošip, which thrives inland, and grk (pronounced GURK), which grows mostly on the eastern of the island. Both grapes produce dry, finely acidic white wines which are perfect for sipping seaside as you take in the gorgeous Adriatic views. There are also a number of wineries on the island that are open to the public for tastings; consider making going on an afternoon wine tour to visit a few!
Pro Tip: Watch what shoes you wear when you’re visiting this lovely island, especially as you explore Old Town. The limestone pathways can become slick with sea spray and condensation, so make sure you’re wearing shoes with a good grip on the soles.
For more on the enchanting country of Croatia, read: