After we dropped our bags off at our new temporary home we went out to explore the town. The harbor in Vela Luka is roughly shaped like an ankle and foot, at the heel of the foot is the ferry terminal, bus stop and a large shipyard that builds police boats, life boats, commercial fishing boats and small military ships such as minesweepers and landing craft. Our apartment is about 500 meters down the bottom of the foot, close to the toes and we decided to go for a walk around the tip of the toes, over the top of the foot and up the shin
. As we were approaching the ankle I noticed a sign painted on the ground that said "Vino" and had an arrow pointing ahead. It looked like we were getting close to the end of the houses in town but the path we were walking on continued along the shoreline so we decided to keep walking and see where the wine was. A few hundred meters further, there was another “Vino” sign painted at the end of the pavement and then the path turned to dirt so we continued walking down the dirt path, still following the shoreline. We walked past a couple of little rocky coves with fishing boats and sailboats tied up in them and were beginning to wonder if we had somehow passed the wine when we saw a small patch of concrete on the pathway with “Vino & Grill” and an arrow painted on it. Hey, this is sounding even better now, wine and a grill!! After walking about 2 kilometers in total through the trees along the shoreline, we saw a set of rock stairs going up the hill to a house surrounded by trees and the stairs had “Vino, Grill” and an arrow painted on them… This had to be it! There were tables and benches built under the trees, a few people sitting at the tables, an outdoor kitchen along the side of the house and a huge wood burning grill under a roof next to the house. An older fellow met us as we walked up the path to the house and said something to us in Croatian. I'm sure we had a confused look on our face and all I could think of to say was “vino?” His response was “Deutsch?” and we replied with “English?” So once we had settled on which language we were all going to speak, he gestured us towards one of the tables and brought out a couple glasses of wine
. It seemed that most of the people sitting around at the tables were family members and there were kids and cats running around the yard. It was not your typical bar or restaurant, more like a guy at his farmhouse who made wine, liked to grill fish and have family and friends over so he decided to paint signs on the sidewalk and invite everyone. It was really cool though and the wine, which he made from his own grapes, was excellent! He also grew olives which he pressed for oil as well as brined for eating and the trees we were sitting under were carob trees which he used the pods from to flavor the grappa he made. After trying his two wines and having a small sample of carob flavored grappa, we headed back in to town for the night.
One of the downsides of Vela Luka being a working harbor is that there are not many places around the town to go swimming. There is water everywhere but there are ferries, water taxies and fishing boats all over. We were told that a nearby island was voted a few years ago as having the “best beaches in all of Croatia” and there was a water taxi that went there twice a day. We packed up our towels, sun screen, books and water bottle and went out to catch the water taxi for a day on the beach. I have come to the conclusion that I really should avoid boats whenever possible. The ride out to the island took an hour and was relatively calm but I still felt like I was swaying and bobbing for a long time after I got off the boat
. We walked around the island and visited all 5 beaches trying to figure out which one of them was the elusive “best beach in Croatia” because all of them were incredibly rocky. Don’t get me wrong, they were beautiful to look at but I had (obviously incorrectly) assumed that the point of a good beach was to be able to swim and/or lay out a towel and relax on the beach which does not seem to be the point of a good beach in Croatia… We did manage to hobble our way across the rocks to take a swim and then find a slab of rock that was relatively comfortable to sit on, then we had lunch at the one restaurant on the island before heading back to Vela Luka. We headed back to the “Vino & Grill” place for supper and I had an excellent plate of grilled sardines and shrimp, Robin had a plate of grilled vegetables and we had a basket of grilled bread with local olive oil and a bowl of olives, make that a huge mixing bowl of olives and of course more of the local wine.
We spent our next day visiting the town of Korcula which is on the opposite end of the island of Korcula from Vela Luka. It was a 1 hour bus ride across the island and we passed through a number of other small towns and villages along the way. One of the towns we passed through was called Blato and the main road through the town was lined with very old, very large trees. The road was likely built in the horse and buggy days and the trees were planted right at the edge of the road with the tops of the trees forming an arch across the road
. Very beautiful to look at but not really designed for a large bus to drive down. It was a road that two-way traffic normally drove on but our bus took up the entire width of the road and the roof was scraping the tree branches as it passed by. Oncoming traffic had to pull off the road and duck between the tree trunks but one large delivery truck could not fit between the trees and ended up backing down the road for probably 200 meters before he could turn and get out of the way. The town of Korcula is an old walled town and is the birthplace of Marco Polo back in the early 13th century. We walked around in the streets in the old town and went to see Marco Polo’s house. The house itself was still there but was in very rough shape. It had no roof or floors on the second floor and was closed due to an archeological excavation that was getting underway but there was a tower that was built between the two halves of the house that we were able to go into and get a view of the town and the harbor below. We spent a few hours in the town of Korcula before heading back home to Vela Luka.
In the hills just above Vela Luka is a large cave known as “velika špilja,” which is appropriately enough Croatian for “Big Cave.” The inside of the cave covers approximately 16,000 square feet of area and had been inhabited from just after the last ice age in 18,000 BC up until the middle bronze age around 2000 BC
. There are archeological digs going on in the cave and so far only about 80 square feet of the cave has been extensively explored down through the accumulated layers to the bottom of the cave floor. The cave is normally open for visitors between 10 and noon each day and between 6 and 8:00 each evening. We hiked up the hillside on a Saturday morning around 10:30 and when we arrived at the cave, the gate was locked and there were a bunch of school age kids standing outside the gate. The sign on the gate said that the cave was only open in the EVENING on Saturdays. We were just about to head back when one of the adults in the bunch of kids unlocked the door and everyone walked in. It seemed that it was some kind of school trip that was going on so we just wandered in along with the school kids and pretended that we belonged there. I think we were about a foot taller than everyone else in the group and didn’t really “blend in” because, as much as I like to think I am still young, I have no doubts that I can no longer pass as a 14 year old. Luckily nobody said anything and we were able to get our tour of the cave without even having to buy an admission ticket.
The hills and fields around Vela Luka have a lot of different things growing on them and there are rock terraces on the steeper portions of the hills to create flat fields for planting on. We saw a lot of fig trees, grape vines, carob trees, lime trees, some kiwi trees, cactuses growing prickly pears and even a couple of pomegranate trees but by far, the most common plants in the area are olive trees
. They are growing everywhere, in people’s yards, in parks and all over the hills and fields. Olive oil is very common here and the locally made olive oil is probably the best olive oil we have ever tasted. There is a large olive oil plant on the edge of town that the local farmers bring their olives to for pressing and the plant has a museum built in the basement with old olive grinding and pressing equipment as well as a table set up for oil tastings. We decided to take a walk up there on a Sunday afternoon, knowing that it was closed but wanted to see where it was so we could go back on Monday. When we arrived at the oil plant, there was a large group of guys in the yard lawn-bowling and having a few beers. It turns out that one of the guys was the owner of the plant and some of his staff was there as well. They offered to open up the museum for us and we got a private guided tour of the museum. We also got a tour of the modern facilities used for pressing olive oil, had a tasting of the different oils they made, and got to try some dried carob pods, which it turns out are surprisingly good, much better than the nasty carob chips I remember tasting years ago.
Continuing south down the islands on the Dalmatian coast, our next stop is the town of Vela Luka on the island of Korcula. Vela Luka is more of a normal working town and less touristy than Split or Hvar which was a nice change of pace for a week. Our ferry ride from Hvar to Vela Luka was on another catamaran ferry which I am really beginning to not like. It was a rough ride although this ferry was gas turbine powered and did 70 Km/h which at least made it a fast, rough ride.