The pre-pandemic stories of Dubrovnik being overrun by tourism (which it certainly was) may lead one to think that the Dalmatian coast is too touristy to give a feel for what Croatian local life is all about. To that, I’d say visit Solta and Korcula, two islands with different landscapes and histories, but both still authentically Croatian and blessedly lacking the hoards that descend on Hvar and Dubrovnik in summer.
Solta is the place to go if you want to feel like you’ve stepped back in time to experience local life as it was decades, if not centuries, ago. A place where everyone still makes their own grappa (offered without fail to each new guest in their home), barters goods and services with their neighbors and where life really moves in a slow rhythm.
We spent a perfect day visiting the home and tiny winery of the charming Vicko (pronounced Visko), where we learned about the ancient Dobricic grape. Vicko’s wife makes the best green and black olive tapenades I’ve ever tasted. Vicko makes wine, only about 500 bottles a year, so don’t expect to send home a lot of it!
After a snack and a glass (ok a couple of glasses!) of wine, we stopped at Tvrdic honey where we learned all about the bees of Solta and the traditional honey gathering process. Just like at Vicko’s, there’s not a lot to buy to bring home (beekeeper Goran wants you to enjoy your own local honey). Enjoying life on Solta isn’t about money, but about the people and connections you create – a vital reminder of what’s really important in these modern times.
Where Solta was dry and dotted with olive groves and vineyards, Korcula is covered in pine trees, which provide great shade cover for hikes. Our guide shared that, according to local lore, the forest we hiked through was protected by mossy faeries. It wasn’t faeries that made the amazing olive oil we sampled at the small farmhold at the end of the trail, however. Served with local figs, honey and fresh cheeses and with plenty of friendly cats and dogs nearby, it was a perfect ending to a walk in the woods.
The walled town of Korcula is utterly charming, once having been ruled by the Venetians (and rumored to be the true home of Marco Polo). It looks at first like the many walled cities that dot this coastline, but is preserved as if it were built just yesterday. It’s truly a place where everyone knows each other (and everyone’s grandmother seems to keep watch through their street-front windows). The narrow streets were arranged to cool the town in the summer and protect it from hard winds in the winter, making you feel safe and snug inside the walls year-round. Dotted with cute jewelry shops and family-owned restaurants with hardly a tourist even in August, it’s hard to not be seduced by this quaint little town. Dinner on the rooftop of Adio Mare restaurant with views of the cathedral bell tower is the perfect way to end your day here.
Take note though that this island in this very Catholic country takes its saints’ days seriously. This can mean a treat for visitors who get to see the elaborate costumes of the processions but it also means that if you’re here on Assumption day, the church bells will start ringing at 6 am and won’t stop for hours. Bring your earplugs!