Where: Korčula town, on Korčula island, southern Croatia.
When: July 2015
Why: We visited Korčula on our honeymoon. We stayed here for two days and three nights.
Before we visited Korčula we stayed in Dubrovnik for a week, then after we went to the island of Hvar and Split and Zagreb on the mainland.
If there’s one place I’d like to go back to from our honeymoon, it’s Korčula city on Korčula island. This mini-Dubrovnik felt special – like a secret only the locals knew about – and we were able to share in their good-fortune and share their lovely town for a little while.
We arrived in the middle of a medieval festival: dancers and soldiers lined the streets as we walked from the bus station to our apartment; then we met our ‘landlady’ in the heart of the celebrations, next to the apartment we were going to stay in for the next few days. We could not have been more central.
In our time in Korčula we hardly ventured from the old, walled city, something I’d like to make up for in the future; though it was a very nice place to be stuck for a few days. With the cathedral and the main square outside our front door, we didn’t have to venture far to be in the heart of the action or to find good places to eat.
Like Dubrovnik, Korčula is a walled town that sticks out over the water, and as it is built to a leaf pattern the sea is at the end of every street.
Away from Korčula town, the island is apparently covered in vinyards and pretty villages. It has many beaches and hidden bays. I’d like to go back to explore further.
It was extremely hot during our stay in Korčula, so morning were for exploring, afternoons for sleeping and evenings were for sunset drinks and good food.
Korčula is most famous as the home of Marco Polo. This medieval world traveller is rumoured to have originated in this town and you can visit buildings and places connected to his family.
Korčula, this jewel in the Adriatic, should be a lot more famous than it is, and yet I’m glad that it’s not as it seemed to be unspoiled and a city for locals. It was such a peaceful place, so special, only occasionally visited by cruise crowds. When I think of Korčula I think of friends sat on the harbourside, drinking glasses of wine, watching the sunset, having a gossip; kids jumping in the sea, cooling down after a hot-sweaty day; Sunday lunch Korčula style: cold glasses of prosecco and ice-cold chocolate covered lychees; grandma’s grappa in the flat and the warmest welcome from our hosts; friends and neighbours crowding the fresh-fish restaurants on the sea-front. Life in Korčula is good. Hopefully one day we can go back.
Getting there and getting around
Bus from Dubrovnik
We caught a bus to Korčula from Dubrovnik. It took us about five hous to get to Korčula, including break downs and ferry crossing from Orebić, on the Pelješac Peninsula. This was one of the worse bus journeys of my life and if thoughts could kill, that driver and the people who stole our seats would not be here now. As it is, I do wonder if the force of my rage caused the bus to break down – I was letting off such evil vibes.
We started our journey by getting a local bus to Dubrovnik bus station, located over by Dubrovnik Bridge and Gruz Port. The bus station was quite old and decrepid, but there were nice cafes on the street outside and we had drinks and a snack in a cafe before we boarded the bus. We had pre-booked tickets and pre-booked seats, so we didn’t feel we needed to rush.
We were wrong. Although we weren’t the last on the bus, somehow by trying to do the right thing we ended up with no seats and I ended up having to stand for five hours. A horrible man had sat himself in our seats and was refusing to move, even though we told him it was our honeymoon and these were our pre-booked seats. There were other spare seats, but we didn’t want to steal anyone else’s seats and somehow older ladies managed to inveigle their way into these anyway – stealing them from other people. The bus driver had totally oversold the bus and he refused to get involved in any way – so I ended up sat on the floor in the cramped alley. I wasn’t the only one – there were passengers (foreigners) sat on the steps at the front, on the steps at the back, in the aisle. I know these things happen (looking at you Vietnam), but as it was our honeymoon this just made everything so much worse.
We’d prebooked our tickets from Eurolines and I thought that being a huge international company they would be legit – but here they weren’t and when I tried to complain, they didn’t want to know.
The journey was actually pretty pretty, but all I could see were people’s legs. We stopped half way for the driver to have a break and we all got off for a stretch. Not long after, the bus broke down (ha!) and the driver had to wait ages for the engine to cool down. Then he picked up some hitching police, who seemed completely unconcerned about the overcrowded bus.
We finally limped into Orebić, the harbour, as evening was setting in, where we had to wait for a replacement bus to take us onto the ferry.
Angry as I was, I could still appreciate that this was one of the most perfect settings and a beautiful place to break down. The bastard who had stolen my seat had buggered off and I finally managed to get to sit down and relax and wait, so I was already feeling less angry and more relaxed. There were palm trees on the sea front, the sea was reflecting the golden setting sun; kids were playing water polo in a natural pool, just off the harbour. Families were walking, people were picnicking and it was all relaxed and happy at the end of the day.
Finally another bus came and this one took us onto the ferry (with a new driver – yay!) and then to the bus station on the edge of Korčula town. From here we walked into town, accompanied by a parade of soldiers, musicians and girls in traditional dress. All there to welcome us! (Not really, it was a festival). Our accommodation was right next to the cathedral and we walked into the old city and met our lovely hosts in the heart of the celebration. What had been an extremely rubbish day ended perfectly.
Old Korčula town is mostly pedestrianised so we walked to our apartment and then walked everywhere for the rest of our trip.
The bus is run by Eurolines Croatia. You can book your tickets online. A one way fare costs 101 kuna (£12/€13.60) and the journey should take three and a half hours.
Ferry from Dubrovnik, Split and Hvar
We originally thought about getting the catamaran from Dubrovnik to Korčula, but we decided it would be easier to get the bus. However, we did later on catch the catamaran from Korčula to Hvar. This Catamaran is run by Jadrolina, and we booked our tickets in advance, online. To get to Hvar cost us 60 kuna each (£7/€8ish). The journey took just over an hour.
These ferries can get really busy in summer, but they are a fantastic, quick and comfortable way to get around the islands. Every reservation had a seat and there was a snack bar and toilets on-board.
I’ve just looked at booking a ticket and it seems this service is limited to the summer months only, starting in June. Also the price has doubled to 120 kuna per person (£14.50 /€16.20).
The buses on Korčula are run by Autotrans and they have an English website which details all of the bus routes on the island.
The island is 46km long and pretty flat, so it would be feasible to hire a bike to go explore. Apparently you can also hire water taxis to sail you around the island.
If we returned to this area I think I would personally hire a car, as the roads are pretty good and quiet and this would give us the freedom to explore further.
What we did on our holiday
Korčula city old town
So our first day in Korčula was a Sunday and the day after the festival. Most of the island businesses were closed, so we decided to treat this as a day of rest and to just go for a lovely lunch. We ended up in an alleyway restaurant, eating local cheeses, drinking champagne and eating ice-cold, chocolate dipped lychees.
After this, we had a little walk around the outside of the city and then headed back to our air-conditioned apartment to relax. It was so hot!
Like a smaller version of Dubrovik, Korčula town is a tangle of tiny alleyways, opening up onto hidden squares, surrounded by the sea. The town is shaped like a fish-bone or a leaf, with a central spine and then alleyways coming off either side, running down to the sea.
To be honest, the old part of Korčula town is pretty small and can be circumnavigated in about fifteen minutes, but it’s still a nice place to explore, to wander and get lost in, to window shop and potter about.
There are fortified walls around the city.
The key sites in the city are St Mark’s Cathedral and Marco Polo’s old house.
St Mark’s Cathedral (Cathedral Sveti Marko) is located in the centre of the city, next to our apartment. The cathedral was built in the 15th century. It has a tower which you can climb. The staircase is so narrow that they have a traffic light system to manage climbers. This made me a bit nervous and so sadly I didn’t go up myself. In fact, even though we lived next door, we never actually made it inside the cathedral. It’s a shame as inside they have two Tintoretto paintings. Entrance to the cathedral is 10KN (£1.20) and to go up the bell tower costs 25KN (£3).
Marco Polo was a medieval Venetian merchant who was one of the first people to travel the Silk Road from Europe to China, and then back. He was captured in the battle of Korčula, which was between Genoa and Venice, and then taken prisoner by the Genoese. It was while he was in prison that his cellmate (Rusticello) wrote the famous Travels of Marco Polo book.
Polo’s connection to Korcula is actually quite tenuous, but when has that ever stopped tourism? And to be honest, if it draws people to this gorgeous place then fair play to them.
Marco Polo’s alleged house is on a side street, just up from the cathedral – and you can visit this for 12 kuna (about £1.50/ €1.80) (www.korculainfo.com/marcopolohouse).
There’s also a Marco Polo museum, which is on the edge of the old city. This contains seven scenes from his life and visitors are given audio-devices which tell them more about his life and travels. The museum has a website, though it is only in Croatian, and a facebook page.
Sunset cocktails in the coolest bar ever!
I’ve been to some pretty cool bars in my time but I don’t think anywhere can match Cocktail Bar Massimo: a bar on top of a fortified tower, located at the tip of the town, where they winch the drinks to you on a pulley system.
Cafe Bar Massimo is located at the tip of Korčula Town, overlooking the waterway between the island and the Pelješac Peninsula. The views from the top of the tower, over the channel, the neighbouring beaches and the sunset were simply stunning. We visited at sunset, golden hour, when the world slowed down and everyone in the city came out for a gentle stroll or a sit by the sea at the end of a hot day. Cocktail Bar Massimo was the perfect place to watch the sun sink in the sea and the boats sailing on by.
The bar is located on the roof of Zakerjan Tower. Getting into Cafe Bar Massimo was a little scary as we not only had to climb loads of stairs to get to it, but the last bit up to the roof is via ladder. It was a great incentive for us to not drink too much, knowing that we would have to descend that to get out.
To get drinks you order them from a waiter and then they send the order to the bar below by walkie-talkie. The drinks are then winched up to the top of the tower on a pulley system and then bought to your table.
It was pretty busy when we were there and we had to share a table at first, but it was such a lovely, friendly atmosphere that we didn’t mind.
The rest of our time in Korcula we just spent relaxing at the apartment, pretending it was ours, pottering about the town, eating good food and hiding from the heat. One of my favourite memories from our stay here, is of talking to a lady in the main square who was from a cruise boat. She was admiring the way the washing was hung over the streets and I was very proud to tell her that that was my washing.
I wish I could remember the names of some of the restaurants we ate in as the food, especially the fresh fish, was just amazing.
What we didn’t do on our holiday
Go on the beach and swim in the sea
Although the water is crystal clear, there’s not many beaches in Croatia. What beaches there are tend to be pebbly, so locals often relax and dive straight off the rocks into the sea. There is a small beach in Korčula though, which actually has sand. This is to the north of town, next to where the hydrofoil pulls up.
There’s quite a few sandy beaches in the south of the island. Croatia Week has a list of 10 of the best (try not to drool over the pictures).
The sea around Korčula island seemed to be very calm and crystal clear and I wish we could have hired canoes to go off exploring the hidden bays. We just didn’t have time. Korkulainfo has information about sea-kayak tours you can book.
Korcula is famous for its vinyards. They mostly make white wine on the island. You can do a walking, bike or driving tour of the vinyards. Korcula Explorer has more information on the grapes, the vinyards and some tour options.
Where we stayed
Out of everywhere we stayed on our honeymoon, this was one of my favourite places – and we stayed in some pretty nice, five star places.
We booked Apartment Brandesa via Booking.com. We knew the apartment was central when we booked it, located in the heart of the old town; what we didn’t know was that it pretty much overlooked the cathedral square.
Sanja, who owned the apartment, was the most lovely host. She met us in the main square, in the heart of the town festival and took us to the apartment – which was above her grandmother’s house – on the main town square! In the apartment, she welcomed us with wine, grandma’s rakki and a gift to celebrate our honeymoon (a model of a famous church on the island). It was such a lovely gesture and we were/are so grateful to them. We love the little church that reminds us of our special trip.
The apartment was large and had everything we needed, including good wifi, a washing machine, information leaflets, a kitchen and a large living room. There were funky trinkets to look at, but not too many to worry about breaking (I loved the huge elephant).
But the best thing about the apartment was the location. One day, I was stood outside the cathedral and a lady was admiring the way people dried their washing on lines over the alleyway. ‘That’s my washing!’, I told her; feeling very proud.
It wasn’t a five-star resort, but it was homely, cosy, convenient and friendly and I really enjoyed staying here. Had I been on the island a little longer I would probably not stay right in the heart of the old town; but for three nights of our honeymoon it was perfect.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny, unless otherwise stated. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.