Korcula itself is the natural beauty queen – Sunday Mirror

Make your Marco in Korcula – See explorer’s sunshine isle, the article written by Owen Davies was published in today’s Sunday Mirror – read below:

Oh what a view. On one side a medieval walled city with a pretty harbour jutting out in a glittering sapphire sea. Onthe other, a crowd of stunningly beautiful models in swimsuits.

The girls, all contenders for the title of Miss Bosnia & Herzegovina 2008, had come over to the Croatian island of Korcula to find a picture-perfect setting for a photo-shoot.

They and their entourage of primpers and preeners shared a buffet and hotel poolside with holidaymakers from all over the world.

Sadly, the girls aren’t guaranteed for every visitor to Korcula – but you can feast your eyes on that other stunning view from the four-star Marko Polo Hotel.

Looming over it all is the immense St Ilia mountain. Threatening clouds often swirl around its peak but during our stay they managed only one light shower – and the island gets 3,000 hours of sunshine per year.

Sardine-shaped Korcula, the most populated of Croatia’s thousand offshore islands, sells itself to tourists as the birthplace in 1254 of Marco Polo, the explorer who was first to map China, discover oil, coin the word million, and bring back silks, spices and treasures from the East.

When he was 44, he scrambled a Venetian armada to protect Korcula from the Genoese, lost the battle and was slung into prison. And it all happened at the precise spot where the ferry takes passengers across the channel to Korcula from a grand seaside town called Orebic.

Our hotel, a renovated modernist monument in red, silver and white, was built in Marco Polo’s honour in 1972, and his portrait hangs in reception.

Korcula’s old town is Dubrovnik in miniature but, unusually for craggy Croatia, there are white-sand beaches with perfect shallow bathing on the island and its tiny islets, a £10 water taxi ride away.

Some are a trek from the nearest bus stop but you feel you’re stumbling on some of nature’s best-kept secrets when you reach a quiet little sunshine cove through dense aromatic forests, past ornate little chapels and sun-kissed vineyards.

Przina beach, a 15-minute bus ride (£1.50 each way) from Lumbarda, was our top spot after a visit on the hottest day of our holiday.

There are enough bars and trinket shops to get by on Korcula, but no giant developments.

The most het-up it gets is when the unique Moreska sword dance is performed near the main gate of the old city on summer Thursdays.

Two sides, black versus red, fight over a veiled beauty who somehow evades the blades while standing in the middle of the whirling skirmish.

The old town has clung on to its treasures. You can see Dalmatian art masterpieces for a £2 fee at the Abbey Palace treasury, while the cathedral opposite (free entry) has Renaissance paintings by Tintoretto.

For lunch or dinner, you can’t go wrong with Pizzeria Caenazzo in the cathedral square, where the deep-crust pizzas (£3-£4 each) rival the Italian masters.

Or try friendly Konoba Mareta in a shady street just off St Marka’s Square for a salted sardines starter (50p) and small Karlovacko beer (£1.50).

Other specialities include prsut, a smoked ham wrapped round sheep’s cheese, along with brandy and raisin dough balls called fritules and dough strips called hrostules, which make great sweet snacks.

There are plenty of places to explore, though Vela Luka at the other end of the island hasn’t much to offer apart from the scenic bus ride there (£3 one-way).

The bus cruises along the spine of the island via the highest summit of Klupca, with forests, citrus orchards and dry-stone terraces stretching down to the sea.

We fell hopelessly in love with the village of Racisce, 10 miles along the coast from our hotel. It had one cheerfully rowdy bar, where a gang of bikers were drowned out by boisterous old men playing cards.

The other side of the little bay was quiet, sunlight dappling the water as travellers swapped tales with villagers while we watched a lone cat successfully fish for its own supper on the shingle shoreline.

Our seven-year-old daughter Bridie’s holiday highlight was the beach and our hotel’s three pools – plus the sunken pirate ship adventure playground down the road. Simple pleasures are usually the best.

Those Miss Bosnia contestants may have dreamt of become Miss World. But Korcula itself is the natural beauty queen.

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