Korčula

Korčula is a picture-perfect town built on a promontory that shoots off the namesake island on the Adriatic.

Narrow stepped streets laid with stone form a monolith with the handsome late medieval buildings, towers and city walls. Rich architectural details attest their history. But just look. I will let the photos carry the tale.

We all learn at school that Marco Polo was a Venetian. Some believe that he was born here in Korčula, or at least was of Korčulan origin. These facts are not mutually exclusive – after all, many Adriatic isles were under the control of the Venetian Republic at the time. The sources are scarce and often contradictory but researchers do not exclude that the Polo family lived in Dalmatia before they moved to Venice itself. True or not, the “invented tradition” has caught on and was turned into gold: Korčula is brimming with Marco Polo souvenirs, there are museums and festivals devoted to him, and companies, hotels and local products are named after the explorer. The building hailed as “Marco Polo’s House” is a hoax – better to be treated as homage rather than history.

I lived in China and traveled to Central Asia, Mongolia and along the Hexi Corridor. Marco Polo’s name pops everywhere, especially in cities like Yangzhou and Quanzhou where he spent some longer time. Places are named after him and even statues are erected here and there. When you see the guy everywhere you go, some sort of sentiment inevitably develops in your heart. So, even if the dubious Polo-association was hardly the reason for my visit to Korčula, it felt a bit like a spiritual loop.

Let’s leave the town for a while.

I was with a group of friends and we had a car, which gave us a chance to go to spots that are hard (or even impossible) to reach by public transport.

It might be not so apparent by a look at the map, but the island is big. It is narrow yet almost 50 km long and rugged, so driving from one end to another may take hours.

Korčula’s rims are notched with numerous coves of stunning beauty. These are often towered by steep mountains. Parallel lines of roads hang on different levels and it seems impossible to descend from one to another to reach the inlets. Sticking your head out of the window and looking down feels like flying. I am always stunned with the possibilities of the human kind and its engineering in such places.

The interior of the island is lined with vineyards. Korčula is actually famed for its wines, made mostly with Pošip and Grk but also with Plavac mali grapes. The former is used (often in blends) in fruity whites, the latter gives tannin-rich aromatic reds, while Grk is said to be a full-bodied white with a slight hint of bitterness – but I haven’t tried this one so I can’t confirm. All are native to Dalmatia and Pošip and Grk are indigenous specifically to this very island and grown almost exclusively here. Don’t forget to try them if you get a chance.

Some visitors cruise to Korčula only to go to Cukarin, a pastry shop of worldwide fame. It was established in 1994 by Smiljana Matijaca who still single-handedly runs the business, crafting new batches of cookies day by day. Just ammonia and no modern baking powder nor baking soda is used and only she herself knows the recipes.

The eponymous cukarin (above) is a simple claw-shaped biscuit sprinkled with sugar, meant to accompany a glass of wine.

Klašun is made from the same dough but shaped like a hat and filled with nuts.

Amareta is made from ground almonds, citrus zest, figs and honey.

The funky harubica includes ground carob (that grows on Korčula) and is topped with orange marmalade and lemon rind “horns.”

I first passed Cukarin while it was still closed and when we got back from our island drive around it was evening already and I was afraid that the shop might be out of today’s stock. I sighed with relief seeing and buying the pastries. We boarded the ferry with sweet memories and sweet dainties.

A wonderful denouement to a wonderful day.


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