It may not have the rep of Hvar or Brac, but Korcula is set to be the next hot island in Croatia. It already has a Relais & Chateaux hotel, excellent restaurants, decent sandy beaches and something extra few islands offer – exquisite architecture and the rich culture of layers of ancient civilisations.
Prehistoric people were here, followed by the Greeks, Romans and Slavs, but it was the Venetians who ruled for centuries and bequeathed the island its architectural beauty. The Hungarians, French, Austrians and Russians have all ruled here too for good measure.
Blame the fact Korcula has been a well-kept secret on the wars which brought conflict to Croatia, and only opened up tourism on the island in a serious way some 15 years ago. Sure, there was an early grand hotel built in 1912, currently under renovation, but in the half-century following World War II there was only a single restaurant not attached to a hotel.
That restaurant, Adio Mare, still stands at the top of Korcula Town, a jewelled maze of ancient alleys ringing the Adriatic, and serves excellent seafood. But it now has serious competition from the new kids on the block – restaurants with terraces on the sea wall enjoying fabulous views. The best of these is Filippi, serving dishes like the home-made macaroni for which the island is famous with a modern twist – go for the smoked ham and roasted tomato sauce or the duck ragu.
Almost next door is LD, the restaurant of the aforementioned Relais&Chateaux Lesic Dimitri Palace, an idyllic bolt-hole for the deep-pocketed with its exquisitely-furnished apartments marching up the hill, boasting private terraces with fabulous views. LD serves serious gourmet fare; here the home-made pasta may be sauced with grey mullet roe or wild young asparagus.
Ships serve Korcula from Split, Dubrovnik and other islands, negating the need for a car, but it would be a shame not to travel inland to enjoy the sandy beaches of Lumbarda. Just before you reach the cove, the Maslina Roadhouse offers local dishes made by no-one else – pogaca, flattened foccaccia topped with roasted vegetables, melted cheese and herbs run into the wood-fired oven – it beats any pizza you’ll ever taste. Another speciality is pasticada – slow-cooked beef stuffed with carrots and bacon, marinated in red wine overnight and garnished with stewed plums.
It’s worth heading inland to Pupnat just to eat at Konoba Mate, where Biba, a former chef at LD, makes simple but memorable dishes entirely with the family’s own produce. You won’t forget her omelette with wild asparagus, home-produced ham and pecorino, or the macaroni with wild fennel.
More than just an island to eat and laze about on, Korcula also produces fine wine – try the Grk named for the Greeks it’s believed introduced viniculture – and offers spectacles like the moreska, a fierce sword-dance performed in spectacular costume, as well as periodic candle-carrying processions by the ancient brotherhoods related to the church. No festivities take place without traditional cakes from the superb Cukarin bakery(pronounce it tsu-ka-rin), founded by a granny who has made it her life’s work to keep ancient pastry recipes alive.
Thanks to Cukarin and the many excellent eateries, idyllic Korcula has an insider rep as an island for hedonists – which is why Prince Andrew has already been a visitor and Bernie Ecclestone is often seen shopping in the morning fruit market. The Beautiful People are bound to follow once the secret gets out.
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Korcula is included in several Croatian itineraries operated by insightvacations.com