Tips and advice for a wonderful Croatian island holiday
Are you scouring guidebooks trying to decide which of Croatia’s more than 1,000 islands to stay on? After four nights on Korcula, to the south of the country and a 30-minute ferry from Dubrovnik, I’d highly recommend choosing this historical, beautiful and relaxing island.
Packed with great restaurants, clear blue waters and easy access to neighbouring islands, I soon wished we’d stayed longer. Korcula Town is popular, especially in August when we visited, and a trawl through Airbnb trying to find accommodation with an outdoor space took us outside of the town itself, an easy 10-minute promenade East along Setaliste Frana Krsinica (no, I don’t know how you pronounce it!).
I’m glad we did look slightly further afield as we found ourselves with an incredible terrace view, above the small, shingly Banje beach with the imposing scrub-covered Mount Ilija on neighbouring Orebic soaring above us, 961 metres high.
Arriving in Korcula Town
We arrived from Split on the Kapetan Luka ferry via Hvar. (https://www.krilo.hr). A single journey ticket for one adult is 150 Kuna, the equivalent of £18, a very reasonable cost for a 2.5-hour journey.
We’d had a difficult weekend in Split, staying in the loudest hotel I’ve ever had the misfortune to be in and so we arrived hot and tired. Slipping on my water shoes, a new purchase with Croatia’s shingle beaches in mind, we made our way straight to the water. The jade green shallows were calling us and within minutes, as we bobbed in the water feeling the high summer sun beating down, I felt the tiredness wash off me.
Where to eat
Restaurant * 1 - Hotel Korsal https://hotel-korsal.com/o-nama/
Soon, stomachs grumbling, we headed off on a search for lunch. The heat by this point was up in the high 20s and with little breeze. This kept us walking slowly and hoping to find a local place. A few metres from our apartment, a blackboard advertising fresh pasta dishes caught my eye. At first glance we couldn’t see the restaurant, then realised it was the restaurant of Hotel Korsal and that we had to take ten marble steps up to the terrace. Its elevated location, with a view across the edge of the marina, kept it secluded and, during the hour we were there, we had the terrace to ourselves.
The terrace itself had room for around six tables, two of which had an incredible panoramic view. The white tablecloths and white linen shades hanging from the wooden trellis gave the restaurant a fresh, clean atmosphere that reminded me of some of the restaurants in Sicily.
The menu was relatively small with five main courses but, as each of them seemed equally delicious, it still took a while to decide. Finally, I ordered the tagliatelle with pesto and olives and, as it’s holiday time, a glass of local white wine. As we waited for our food, we watched boats skimming in all directions and listened to the happy shouts of kids on the beach.
Our food arrived with a basket of freshly baked bread. Both dishes were very generous portions, my pasta was cooked perfectly al dente and was delicious. The waitress was wonderful, attentive but not intrusive. The bill, when it arrived, was a pleasant surprise, one we would see again and again in Croatia. For being peak season and on a busy island, the restaurants and bars are real value for money. Our meal for two, with a bottle of wine, two main courses and a bottle of water, came to KRN245, the equivalent of around £29!
Restaurant * 2 - Restaurant Dida
Despite a mixed forecast for our first full day on Korcula, we’d had glorious sun all day, perfect for lazing around on our terrace and were now ready to go exploring.
Walking back along the promenade, fully intending to visit the Old Town for dinner, we passed a bustling restaurant terrace, open to a welcome breeze from the sea. Only a few of the ten tables were available and, tempted by the generous bowls of mussels and huge platters of fish dotted around the tables, decided to try it.
The menu, as with many we found in Croatia, has an eclectic mix of seafood, meat and pasta dishes. Noticing the huge grill in the corner of the terrace where the seafood was being freshly grilled, we chose a plate of sardines as a starter and two fillets of sea bream with mixed vegetables for our mains. We’d managed to grab a table at the end of the terrace with a view onto the marina and across to Orebic. As we waited for our drinks to arrive, I settled back, looking out at the panoramic view and the clouds turning a candy-floss pink in the setting sun. When our food arrived, the sardines were plentiful and the sea bream smelled wonderful, with a charcoal tinge that I love. The fish was cooked perfectly, flaky and succulent. Too full for dessert, we asked for the bill and had another pleasant surprise. The whole meal, including drinks, was only £25 each.
It would be easy to walk past Restaurant Dida, especially if it was a little quieter as it is perhaps a little shabby around the edges and has the dreaded laminated menu with photos outside. Even so, it was one of our favourite places in Korcula Town and we visited it again later in the week for lunch.
What to see
The next day and with the heat climbing into the low 30s, I decided it was time to explore the Old Town. From the East of the town, the entrance is quite spectacular, through the medieval Venetian Land Gate (Kopnena Vrata in Croatian), topped by the Revelin Tower.
Keen to have a panoramic view of the area, I paid KRN20 to climb the three flights of stairs to the top of the tower. The view as I reached the top took my breath away. The old town’s red-tiled roofs spread out before me and, turning round, I could see back to our bay and down into the small beach to the West of the Old Town. From this high vantage point, I could also see the island stretching back to the West and, to the East, the distant outline of Badija island.
Coming back down to earth, I entered the Old Town. The stone archway brought me onto a cobbled thoroughfare that runs through the town and leads you to St Mark’s Church. The four-storey high buildings that pack the town and overlook the winding, narrow streets create a welcome, natural shade. I’d also read that, when the town was built between the 13th and 15th centuries, the streets on the West side were built straight to allow a breeze to pass through in summer and, to the East, they are curved to blunt the cold winter winds.
Meandering through the streets, it’s impossible not to marvel at the history that surrounds you and imagine what the town would have been like in the 15th Century. All of the streets I explored had something interesting to see, whether it was the town’s motif, a winged lion, on many of the stone exteriors of the buildings, or the outdoor garden I came across, lit up in the afternoon sun.
To hide from the August heat, you’re spoiled for choice with cafes, bars and restaurants dotted all around the Old Town. The two restaurants our Airbnb host Gina recommended were Konoba Adio Mare https://www.konobaadiomare.hr and LoLe Wine and Tapas Bar (no website). When we did try and visit both of these restaurants, and in fact find any restaurant in the evening, we struggled without a reservation in the high season. If there’s somewhere you really want to eat, my advice is to book in advance.
Further afield - a boat trip to Vrnik Island
Island hopping was high on my list of things to do. I love being in or on the water and jump at the chance to be on a boat. Luckily for me, you’re never far from a boat in Croatia! Next to the East port ferry terminal, at the entrance to the Old Town, there are several boat operators offering hop-on/hop-off island transfers between Korcula, Badija, Vrnik and Lumbarda. The boats leave regularly throughout the day (last departures around 6pm) and one adult return ticket seems to average at around KRN120 (£12).
Lumbarda is often suggested as a day trip from Korcula Town, mainly as it has one of Croatia’s only sandy beaches. While the town itself looks lovely, with tempting restaurants lining the waterfront, the beach seems very narrow. We decided it would be too busy for us on a hot August day and headed to Vrnik Island instead.
First stop on the journey was Badija island which apparently has a nudist beach. The approach to the long, protruding jetty brings you alongside a wide, four-storey brick building which we were told is a Franciscan Monastery and still in use today. The water here was an incredibly clear, deep emerald green. I managed to resist jumping in and we were soon on our way again past tiny, uninhabited shrub-covered islands.
As we approached Vrnik, we could see a line of low, brick-built houses with a pine forest rising behind and up a hill. A church tower and bell peeked through the tree line to the left and overlooked a small shingle beach area with sun loungers and umbrellas dotted around. As we clambered out of the boat onto dry land, we saw these could be hired for KRN100.
I always prefer a more secluded spot and, as it was only 11 am but most of the loungers were taken, we decided to head East along the pebbly pedestrian path to investigate. Vrnik was known as a quarry, used for this purpose since Roman times, and, after only a few minutes’ walk, you can see, and feel, this legacy for yourself. The paths are covered in grey stone and pebbles and, after a five-minute walk, we started to encounter abandoned and crumbling stone cottages.
Only a few families live on the island now but, when the main quarry was open, these cottages would have housed the workers and their families. It must have been a bustling, busy place in contrast to the quiet area we were passing through. All along the waterfront are numerous stone jetties that are open to the public, most filled already with sunbathers, with incredible views over the water and onto Orebic.
Eventually, our path steepened and we were climbing up into the pines. Just as I thought it was too hot to continue, I saw a path to our left that seemed to lead to a flat area, just big enough for two, at the very edge of the cliff and surrounded by pine trees. We settled down with our picnic lunch, our only companions the cicadas with their constant thrum, and watched motorboats speed across the crystal blue waters and couples kayaking past us down below.
After an hour, we felt the call of the water and picked out a route down the rocky, unstable path before finding a flat area on the rocks, metres from the water. We spent the rest of the afternoon here, reading, writing and napping, disturbed by barely a soul. It will be a long time before I forget how beautiful it was to sit here, taking in the view across the Korcula peninsula to Orebic and the small, scattered islands in between. The uphill walk and scramble over the rocks wouldn’t suit everyone but, if you can, I’d absolutely recommend making the effort to find this secluded little corner of paradise.
It’s approaching Winter in London now and, when stuck on my commute, I sometimes look back over my holiday snaps on my phone. The clear blue sky and wonderful refreshing swims soon come to mind and I wish I was back, on our terrace in Korcula, watching the sun sink over the horizon.
Drink the local booze! The Croatian wine and beers were ridiculously cheap and, just as importantly, delicious.
Take some water shoes. There are very few sandy beaches in the whole country and, having used mine for the first time, I can attest to how much easier getting in the water is with them on.
Split airport isn’t great for food. We arrived expecting to sit and have a hot meal before our flight but, in the departure hall, there are only two kiosks both selling similar food, basically sandwiches and rolls. A disappointing end to an amazing holiday.