Tag Archives: Korcula

ASA in Croatia: Medieval Mysteries

This is a story about ASA’s 2012 Croatia Flotilla. For more info on upcoming ASA sailing flotillas, click here.

Photo by Doug Motley - Vis, CroatiaSailors (and tourists of all kinds) have beaten a well-worn path through the Mediterranean, particularly in places like Greece, Italy, and Spain. These are the world’s most ancient sailing grounds, and they richly deserve their reputations for beauty and splendor. But Croatia’s a bit different. Having only been open to tourists for about 15 years, following virtually 800 years of war and strife, you might expect the place to be a bit rough around the edges. But it’s actually quite the opposite–Croatia has a vitality, hospitality, and magnificence entirely its own.

You won’t find the bright colors and baroque flourishes of Italy, or the spectacular blinding white domes of Greece. Instead, as one local told me, “In Dalmatia it is all about the details.”

View of Dubrovnik from City Walls
Old Town Dubrovnik from the city walls.

You will encounter jumbles of cascading orange tile roofs, and walls whose masonry spans 2,000 years: Originally built by the Romans, augmented in the time of Marco Polo, given a few Renaissance touch-ups, and perhaps reinforced by a tradesman yesterday. Immersing yourself in this rich historical tapestry is one of the great pleasures of a visit to Croatia.

So, when it comes to the architecture and culture of the Dalmatian coast, what should you be sure to see? Here were my favorite highlights, discovered on the 2012 ASA Croatia Flotilla.

Dubrovnik City Walls: Nicknamed “the pearl of the Adriatic,” this is Croatia’s most popular tourist destination. And it’s not hard to see why. With a huge, well-preserved “old town” district dating to the 15th century, the streets are pretty much as they were when Dubrovnik was a powerful Mediterranean city-state, rivaling Venice. Walking the city walls is a must, well worth the 70 kuna price (roughly $12). From the battlements you’ll get numerous stunning views of the town and the sea.

korcula street
Typical street in Korcula.

Moreska Sword Dance, Korcula: “You sit here,” the usher said, guiding us to the front row, “maybe you get broken nose. Maybe you lose tooth.”

If you make it to the island city of Korcula, you’ve simply got to see the Moreska Sword Dance—it’s the only place in the world where you can. The performance is elegant, violent, and real—not for the squeamish. Swords clashed and occasionally their broken blades hurtled into the audience, hence the warning (or perhaps invitation?) about getting a broken nose. By nightfall, blood had been spilled by performer and spectator alike, though no one was (seriously) hurt.

The dance recounts the battle between two kings for the love of a beautiful princess, and performing in it is a centuries-old tradition among the youth of Korcula. Shows are held on Mondays, so plan your itinerary accordingly.

Spanjola Fortress, Hvar: Another place for astonishing views. Abandoned for centuries, left “for the fairies to dance in at night,” there’s a spooky thrill to exploring this hilltop fortress. The hike up takes some work, especially on a hot day, but you’ll be glad you did it. From the walls you can see all of Hvar Town, plus the almost tropical-looking Pakleni Islands and the sparkling Adriatic. They’ve got a cafe up there, too, so you can kick back and relax.

Dome in Diocletian's Palace
In Diocletian’s Palace, Split.

Diocletian’s Palace, Split: No trip to the Dalmatian Coast would be complete without this landmark, once the home of Roman emperor Diocletian. It lies at the very heart of Split, and the city has been growing around and inside of it for 1,700 years. The palace is an entire town to itself, and full of oddities from various time periods. There are sphinxes taken from Egypt, fully intact Roman catacombs, ramshackle medieval houses, and the world’s smallest Christian cathedral, in what was once Diocletian’s mausoleum. There are “klappa” singers who perform in the rotunda with the polyphonic voices of angels, frequently reducing their audience to tears.

There’s so much more to see, of course, and more details than I could possibly describe. This should give you a taste, but the rest you’ll just have to see for yourself. Stay tuned to ASA social media for news about our next Croatia flotilla!

The Scientific Testing of Sladoleds

Continuing “Croatian Tapestry”

We woke up early in Hvar to proper gusts straining us back on our mooring ball and a half-chafed through bow line. I’d been up the whole night checking and half-expecting this, but the grim reality of having to cast off at 6am in the dark was an abrupt awakening nevertheless. We scooted across the choppy channel to Palmizana to meet up with the rest of the group (we were a bit scattered out because moorings were so scarce the night before). The wild wind on that short early morning ride got my adrenaline pumping and reminded me of our cruise down the Pacific Coast last year. It secretly felt good to have my blood pressure elevated like that again.

We tucked in to Palmizana next to the rest of the fleet at 6:30am and wandered up to the reception building, which wouldn’t be open until 8. The marina was huge and full of boats, but the early morning was quiet but for the howling wind. We walked along the shore of the densely forested island for a bit and predicted that a cozy day in from the weather.

Sure enough, when the rest of the group met at the only caffe, the majority consensus was to abandon the itinerary for the day in favor of staying out of the nasty weather. There were some who wanted to go joyriding in the channel–so they suited up in foulies and struck out to play in the spray for a couple hours. The rest of us dawdled on the docks, took much-deserved naps, and hiked across the wooded island to the far shore. At the end of our hike, I treated myself to our first ice cream–“sladoled”–in Straciatella flavor (whatever that is). It was absolutely wonderful stuff–light, creamy, sweet without being overly sugared. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t tasted it yet on the trip.

Sladoled, in fact, was one of the driving reasons we got underway at 6am the following morning, knowing that it would be a long 35 nm stretch to Korcula. Supposedly in Korcula, in the righthand corner of the main square as you’re facing the cathedral, is the BEST sladoled place EVER. Jean De Keyser, our trip leader, absolutely loves the stuff, and happens to be a very convincing salesman too (and certainly in the evening when we’ve all been drinking gin and tonics!). So with mouths watering, we wholeheartedly agreed to get up in the morning and go to Korcula–hurrah!–to continue what Jean referred to as “the scientific testing of sladoleds!”

Sladoleds aside completely, Korcula was well worth the windward passage to get there. Approaching the picturesque walled city through Korcula channel reminded me a lot of the Columbia River Gorge–Mediterranean style. Steep cliffs soared on either side of the channel, dotted with ancient castles and manors perched up in the hills. Windsurfers and kite surfers zigzaged across the water. Tacking upwind into the channel, we got great views of both shorelines from the edges of our course, and each time we turned the stunning skyline of Korcula grew larger.

My only regret from the whole trip was that we had too little time in Korcula (but there’s no use in arguing with the weather for long). I can’t complain about cocktails under the sunset on TOP OF A CASTLE. They even sent the drinks up in a little basket-pulley system over the edge! We spent the late evening strolling through the maze of stone streets, admiring coral jewelry, stopping for glasses of wine in alleyway nooks, enjoying the upward view of ancient steeples against a starry sky. And the sladoled results are in, and Korcula’s variety is empirically the best.