Off the Beaten Path Croatia

Getting off the beaten path in Croatia is truly the best way to fall in love with Croatia. I’m not exaggerating.  Seriously.  After spending time in somewhat well-trodden Pula in the Istria peninsula and the super well-trodden Split, and knowing we’d conclude Croatia with the “finale” of Disneyland-like Dubrovnik, my goal was to see, enjoy, and relax in the lesser known, quaint sea-side villages of the Peljesac peninsula and Korcula Island.  In addition to my discovery, we also enjoyed tastier food, cheaper prices, and easier motorhome parking. It took much research and work to find these places but in the end, it made me fall in love with Croatia.

After crossing multiple borders from Bosnia to Croatia, back to Bosnia, and then back to Croatia, we finally made it to the Peljesac Peninsula, an untouched natural area known for wine and oysters.  We finally made it to the small beach village of Trstenik, which unfortunately faced severe forest fires only a year prior.  Despite being surrounded by burnt trees, the village and beach itself were still beautiful.  We parked literally on the edge of town above the beach:IMG_3046

From our motorhome we heard nothing but birds chirping and the Adriatic sea gently stroking the rocks beneath us.

For dinner we dined at the highly regarded Konoba Maris, whose owner grows his own grapes and produces his own wine.  Not only did we enjoy the best meal we had in Croatia, consisting of black squid ink cuttlefish risotto, mussels in garlic and white wine, grilled fish, homemade bread, and locally produced wine for only 270 HRK (~$40), we ended up chatting with the restaurant owner well after dinner about his life and family.  He even continued to pour us extra wine to keep us chatty.

The following morning we headed out to Orebic, where we (and the motorhome) hopped on the ferry for a 15-minute ride over to Korcula Island.  It cost 16 HRK (~$2.50) per person and 156 HRK (~$23.50) for a 6-meter long motorhome.  Pretty inexpensive! IMG_3061

Once we arrived to Korcula Island, we immediately headed over to Korcula town.  I knew this was a popular, touristy destination considering it was basically the only town tourists came to see on the entire island, but because I heard so many wonderful things about the town I knew we had to drop by.  And I’m glad we did.

We found plenty of free parking with gorgeous views in the tiny village of Medvinjak, just a 15-minute walk from Korcula town. IMG_3066

Before stepping into the medieval, fortified town of Korcula, we marveled at it from the exterior:

Ramparts and tower, narrow cobblestone streets, old churches, and even the house of Marco Polo!

After our brief stroll around Korcula town, we set out to the far western end of Korcula island to the adorable fishing town of Vela Luka.  IMG_3113

I read about Vela Spila, a prehistoric archeological cave in town, and made that our first stop.  We made the mistake of driving up the incredibly narrow, single-lane road to the cave; we didn’t know that there was a footpath from town to the cave!  I recommend walking the 1km to the cave rather than driving the nerve-wrecking “road”.IMG_3110

Vela Spila was tiny but beautiful and it cost 15 HRK ($2.25) each to enter.IMG_3107IMG_3100

We safely drove back down into Vela Luka, parked, and set out for a walk around town.  Unaware of our future plans, we stumbled upon a scuba dive sign in the center of town.  “Wanna go diving?” I asked Chris.  We agreed it wouldn’t hurt to check out the dive shop, so that’s where we ended up next, and the next thing we knew we were signed up for the next morning’s dives.  €55 for 2 boat dives plus €25 for complete rental gear and equipment for the day–one of the cheapest dives I’d seen in all of Croatia.  (It pays to not dive from the touristy cities, believe me.)  To top it off, the divers told us we could park on the roof of their dive shop overnight. Seriously.  Thanks to the dive shop’s position beside a hill, we easily pulled into the lot on the roof and enjoyed lovely views of Vela Luka.  That night we even watched a small, celebratory fireworks show over the beach, followed by a fantastic thunderstorm.IMG_20160611_202115

Our remainder of the day was spent on the beach, just steps from where we parked.IMG_3121

Although diving in the Mediterranean cannot compare with any ocean diving, we had no regrets diving on Korcula Island; it had been almost a year since we dived in the Galapagos and it was a stress-free refresher.

After we finished diving, we left Vela Luka to explore another part of Korcula Island–Zitna Beach in Zavalatica.  It was beautiful from afar, but when we arrived to the beach shore, we were disappointed by all the trash and quickly left.IMG_3126

We returned to Korcula town, took the ferry back to the Peljesac peninsula, and drove all the way to Ston, the start of the peninsula.  Ston hardly has any European fame despite boasting the 2nd longest wall fortification in the world (originally 7 km long but now 5.5 km long).  Yep, the Great Wall of China is #1, and the Wall of Croatia (Ston) is #2.  It cost 40 HRK ($6) per person to walk the walls.

Once we were content with our exploration of the walls, we drove the 5 km from Ston to Mali Ston for a place to spend the night.  We could have easily parked in the large parking lot in Ston, but Mali Ston looked so much cuter.  And it was.  As soon as we turned into Mali Ston, we drove to the end of the main road and ended up in a residential parking lot.  Staying low-key was a must, but the views and serenity were worth it.

And that concludes our wonderful time in off the beaten path Croatia–the Penjesac peninsula and Korcula Island.  Fishing villages, beach towns, plentiful coastal parking opportunities, no annoying tourists, incredible seafood, and friendly locals.  Our experience in this region was not the Croatian vacation of raging beach parties; rather, it defined Croatia’s old marketing slogan: “The Mediterranean as it once was.”

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