Vela Luka, Korcula 21-28 June 2017
The trip from Supertar, on Brac, to Vela Luka on the island of Korcula involved two ferries. First, we had to catch the car ferry back to Split then get another car ferry to Vela Luka. The timetable gave us a fifteen minute window to change ferries and the woman at the ticket office was confident that we would make it. The ferry ended up leaving Supertar five minutes late because they waited for a truck, which could be seen in the distance driving like a maniac towards the ferry. Next a car and caravan came screaming around the corner and it too was allowed to board. Still, we docked in Split on time and headed off at a fast hike with heavy backpacks on to consult the departures board for our next ferry. Unfortunately, we found that it was on the far side of the one we had just arrived in so we had to retrace our steps and make our way to the very last wharf in the whole complex. We arrived with about 4 minutes to spare, congratulating each other on our fitness levels but still disappointed to find there were stairs rather than an escalator to climb to the upper passenger decks. In the end, the ferry left 10 minutes late. We have caught enough Adriatic ferries by now that we no longer stand on the rails and take in all the sights of the passing islands and other seafaring craft. We sit inside in the air-conditioning and read. It’s a bit sad really.
The trip to Korcula took three hours, passing Hvar along the way. The trip was very smooth and few of the many yachts that we passed even bothered putting up sails. I was surprised by the size of Hvar Town. It seemed to sprawl along the coast for kilometers and there was even a bit of high rise building in evidence. I have been reading that Hvar has been getting quite a bit of negative publicity lately, mainly due to poor behavior by holidaying British youth, a bit like the Aussies in Bali it seems.
Vela Luka is situated at the end of a long narrow inlet and so is mostly calm and well suited as a small boat harbor. It looked very pretty as the ferry nosed into the wharf area. Once off the boat, it was a little chaotic for a while because for some strange reason, the ferry company chooses to have two ferries in at the same time, both around the same time as the fishing fleet is in and unloading. The car park was crammed with cars and trucks waiting to board for the trip back to Split and we worked our way through them to find Regina, our host. Somehow, in the jumble of cars, we found each other and she bundled us into her car for the ride around the harbor to our apartment. We were grateful that she had come to pick us up, especially as it meant time off work for her, because the walk around would be quite a trek. There is an option of a water taxi but at the time we did not know where to catch it and I doubt whether Christine would have been prepared to make the leap from the dock onto the bow of a small boat with her backpack on.
The apartment proved wonderful with an incredible balcony across the front giving a beautiful view of the harbor and town. Over the next week we were to spend many hours sitting out front reading and taking in the view. We watched the evening berthings of the charter cruising yachts and the regular put-put of the little water taxis plying their trade. We walked the long way around the harbor a few times but mostly we used the water taxis.
Vela Luka is the largest town on the island of Korcula, with a population of just over 4000. However, you would not know it to look at. There are few shops and even tourist accommodation is more of a B&B nature than hotel based. It is situated at the northern end of the island, with the much older Korcula Town at the southern end. Evidence of human habitation goes back an incredible 20,000 years and the Greeks, Romans and Venetians all had settlements and naval harbors here. However, the town itself bears little of the medieval influences so obvious in Zadar and Trogir. The buildings, although mostly built from local limestone, are mostly utilitarian and plain and date from the first half of the Twentieth Century. What gives it charm is the gorgeous harbor, safe in all weather, which is somewhat of a rarity around the islands of the Adriatic. Indeed, the name Vela Luka derives from “Safe Harbour”.
We continued our largely slovenly lifestyle adopted in Supertar. It must be something to do with living on islands. Our daily routine would often consist of rising late, lounging around until mid morning, crossing the harbor in the water taxi to buy the day’s supplies, sitting at a café for an hour, coming home for lunch, followed by an afternoon read and nap. Then we would pop down the road for a swim in the late afternoon. Day done! It was a real struggle to maintain the lifestyle.
The Croatians love their National Holidays. Back in Supertar we found the town closed down for Corpus Christi. Here we had a quiet day for the Day of the Antifascist Struggle, followed three days later by Statehood Day. Celebrations are big too. On a Saturday evening, a rowing race was held on the harbor below us, a traditional event harking back to 1933 when a crew from a British warship took on a local crew. The locals won and they continue to celebrate every June 24th. A boat carrying a full brass band opened and closed the event by doing a lap of the harbor with the band pumping out a vigorous march. Shore based Croatian pop music filled the middle part and they made sure that everyone in Vela Luka could share in the experience. As the rowed boats came across the line, the winners would break out the smoke flares to celebrate. It was quite entertaining watched from the comfort of our balcony.
We were not lazy all the time. We took a day trip out to nearby Proizd Island on a fish picnic, which is a great Croatian concept that would really take on if offered in Australia. Basically it is a boat excursion to somewhere with a fish meal cooked on board to accompany copious amounts of local wine. We booked the trip at a little tourist outlet a few days before and the young guy who sold us the ticket did his very best to point out the boat that would take us and where to wait. He kept talking about the green table and pointing across the harbor. Eventually we worked out that he had mixed up the words for “table” and “boat” and identified the boat with a green covering. It was a rather flash looking modern boat, suitable for a small group. On the appointed morning, we waited on the dock at the boat at 10am, getting a little anxious because there was no one there. Right on 10am, a guy arrived on a scooter, accompanied by a little white dog. We greeted him and got a very perfunctory grunt in return and he boarded and readied the boat. Then he took off on the scooter again, leaving the dog on board and us on the dock. We saw him visit the bakery for supplies and eventually he returned. This time he looked at us and asked, “Can I help you?” We showed him the ticket for the fish picnic but he said “No, no..” and took us over to where we had seen another much bigger and older boat some time earlier. It turns out this poor guy was just getting his boat ready for a family day out and we were trying to commandeer his day off. The fish picnic boat had departed so a series of queries, instructions, and phone calls was put in place. He left us in other hands and went back to his boat, with our thanks, while arrangements were made for us to chase the fish picnic boat in a little water taxi. We caught up after 10 minutes or so, helped by the fish picnic boat turning around and we climbed aboard to the stares of the very full boat load of fellow passengers.
There were only a couple of spots left down the back of the boat and we settled in. The tables were set with carafes of cold white wine and some of the passengers were already imbibing with gusto. The couple next to us could speak passable English and from them we learned that everyone else on the boat was part of a group of retirees from Slovenia, making us very much the hangers on that the boat had gone back for. Whoops. The host lady came up to us with a couple of shot glasses filled with a local firewater to explain the day and apologize for leaving us behind, which was our fault as much as anyone’s.
A small brunch snack was served as the boat putted out over wonderfully calm seas. We received a delicious tuna pate, some lovely salted anchovy fillets dribbled with olive oil and a very tasty tomato-rice concoction. Of course, the local white wine helped it go down. Then the singing started up with a guy with a guitar and an excellent voice leading a medley of Croatian and Slovenian favourites. The boat did a lap of Proizd, passing all the best beaches on the north-eastern side before pulling up at a jetty in a bay on the western side. Here there is a rather run-down looking restaurant, which is the only real sign of habitation anywhere, and we were given three hours or so to explore the little island and swim before a lunch at 3pm. By this time, many of the Slovenians definitely needed a time out from the white wine. A series of small tracks lead through the pines that make up the vegetation on Proizd to a series of coves. We visited four locations, finding two to be excellent for swimming and lazing around and two to be pretty but lacking any real beach. A lack of a beach does not seem to worry the Croatians who appear quite happy to clamber over rocks to get to water but we prefer the more dignified entry of a beach, even if it is made of stones and not sand.
After three hours of swimming and walking the length of the island we were well and truly ready for lunch. On our return to the boat we found the outdoor oven going at the stern and small blue mackerel cooking over hot coals. These were later served up with a delicious potato and vinegar salad followed by some wonderful local pastry and cut watermelon. Of course, all this was accompanied by an unending supply of local white wine and lots of singing. Some of the Slovenians had decided that all wine existed to be consumed and the volume of the singing increased accordingly.
We had a really great day that actually took us another day or so to get over. Although we hadn’t drunk anything like some of the other passengers the food, sun and exertions of the day took its toll on these poor bodies and we crashed as soon as we got home.
A few days after the fish picnic we took a bus to the southern end of Korcula to old Korcula Town, about 45kms away. The drive was spectacular, as most drives are in these parts, giving incredible views over to the neighboring islands and mainland as we traversed the central mountain chain. I don’t know whether I am becoming used to the mountain roads or simply resigned to the concept of death by bus accident. The drivers are certainly very skillful and I tell myself that that can do the drive with their eyes shut, which they effectively do because they are usually on the phone or texting. We passed through several smaller towns along the way, the biggest of which was Blato, which features a beautiful 300metre long central avenue of hundred year old linden trees.
Our arrival in Korcula Town gave us three and a bit hours to explore, which is ample time to take in the atmosphere. I have lost count of the number of fortress towns we have visited now and each one is unique. A beautiful walk around the walled section of the town gives some terrific views over the narrow straits to the mainland and shows why Korcula was such a strategic stronghold. The town is more remarkable for its interior, which is a maze of tiny alleyways far too small for any vehicles (always a good thing). The second notable feature is steps, lots of them at every turn and none of them constructed to match the length of a human stride. Walking turns into some crazy kind of hopping, dancing motion as you attempt to adjust your stride. It gets quite wearing. The town was crowded with tourists and prices tended to reflect the popularity of the place. Prices go up as more cruise ships visit a place. We left the main walled fortress part of the city and crossed the road and down an alley to find prices back to Croatian normal and enjoyed a really excellent pizza with a couple of beers for less than $A20.
Another more energetic excursion was a climb up a hill called Pinski Rat behind Vela Luka to a large open cave called Vela Spila. The cave is situated at an elevation of 120m and the path is around 800m long so the grade is steep in many places. The first part takes you through some back lanes or the town up many flights of steps then the path angles up through olive groves and pine scrub to the cave itself. We chose to go in the morning to avoid the heat but we failed. We were incredibly hot and bothered by the time we reached the top and the cool of the cave was a very welcome relief. The cave carries evidence of human habitation dating back 20,000 years. An ongoing archaeological dig has uncovered layers going down for over 7 metres with a number skeletons from Neolithic times and a great many artefacts from stone, Bronze Age and Greek times. As always in such places, there is a sense of awe to think that humans have shared the same space for so long through so much change.
Vela Luka is probably the least spectacular place of our recent stays yet a very easy and comfortable place to stay in. We chose the best side of the bay to stay because the beach below the apartment was so good and accessible and the views across to the town itself so good. The daily crossings on the little water taxi became part of the ritual of life and was in itself relaxing. Finally, there is no finer sport than watching other people try to bring boats alongside or pick up mooring lines. Every evening we would play the game of armchair skipper and give lots of advice, all from a distance of course, and sip on our wine safe in the comfort of our balcony.
Vela Luka marks the end of our Croatian journey and we move on south to the little country of Montenegro.