Korčula's a jewel

by Jenny.McKelvie

According to local legend, Marco Polo was born in Korčula and chose to enjoy his twilight years there. It's easy to see how this lovely Croatian island could have captivated the great adventurer


Every Dalmatian knows that Marco Polo was born on the island of Korčula. They also know that none of the places he visited around the globe was a patch on his birthplace, compelling the legendary explorer to return home in his later years. While these claims may be hotly disputed, there is no doubt that Marco Polo would have been smitten with the island.

This narrow isle, which measures 47km (29 miles) from east to west, but is just 7km (4.5 miles) across at its widest point, is a strong contender for the title of Croatia’s most charming island: a lush oasis that boasts verdant vine-clad slopes, dense pine forests, sleepy towns and that rarity in Croatia: sandy beaches.

The highlight of any visit is chocolate-box-pretty Korčula Town. Sitting majestically on its own peninsula and encircled by defensive walls, this compact medieval old town boasts cobbled streets and ancient stone houses that gently climb up to St Mark’s Cathedral. Korčula’s most striking building is a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles. Look out for the unusual depiction on its façade of a lone woman surrounded by monsters. Inside, an Annunciation by Tintoretto is the main attraction.

If you believe the local version of history, Marco Polo was born in Korčula in 1254. Although this is by no means certain, many scholars think he spent some time on the island. He might, therefore, have actually lived in the Marco Polo House. Plans are afoot to transform the house into a museum, but at present there is little to see. Visitors can often enter the building and soak up the far-reaching views from its tower.

The legend of Marco Polo has also spawned one of Korčula’s most colourful festivals – the annual Marco Polo Festival. The key event of the July festivities is the re-enactment of the adventurer’s return to his birthplace.

The Moreska, a traditional Croatian folk dance, also has its origins in Korčula. Performances take place in Korčula Town throughout the summer and are a real crowd-pleaser. This centuries-old dance illustrates the battle between two kings – white and black - for the love of a fair maiden. Confusingly the White King wears red.

The greatest pleasures in Korčula, though, have nothing to do with sightseeing or street parades. To really appreciate the island’s spectacular setting, follow the walkway that circles the old part of Korčula Town. Another great perspective is available at Massimo Bar; perched high above the town in an old watchtower, it might just have the finest view of any bar in Croatia. Climbing the ladder to the terrace and seeing your drinks arrive on an outdoor pulley is all part of the fun.

Outside Korčula Town, the small fishing village of Lumbarda boasts a clutch of traditional stone houses and a large sandy beach, Vela Prizna (rated as one of Croatia’s best). Its smaller sandy beaches - Tatinja and Bilin Zal - are also worth visiting.

Eating and drinking on Korčula is another of the island’s great pleasures. Boat-fresh seafood washed down with wine produced on the island is the order of the day. Regardless of what you do in Korčula, however, you too, like Marco Polo, will probably find yourself desperate to return.



Getting there
British Airways operate direct flights to Dubrovnik from London Gatwick.

Where to stay
Hotel Liburna: book a room overlooking historic Korčula Town.

Where to eat
Adio Mare: fantastic seafood simply done in the heart of Korčula Town.



Childhood holidays in Cornwall, Spain and the USA stirred my appetite for travel. Back in 1997, when I was travelling around Eastern Europe, I met my husband, Robin McKelvie, who was already working as a full-time travel writer. With his encouragement I began writing professionally a year later, combining a part-time career as a travel writer with teacher training and then my role as a primary school teacher in London. The year 2003 saw us move north, and with my relocation to Edinburgh I started writing full time. Over the past six years I have written for a wide range of magazines, newspapers and Internet sites, as well as co-authoring guidebooks and conducting market research in the field of travel and tourism for Mintel. My travels have taken me to myriad countries and cities around the globe. I have written for more than 30 publications worldwide. Favourite places: Northwest Highlands of Scotland, Croatia, Slovenia, Tallinn, Riga and Prague.