Many day tours offer little more than round trip transport to heavily hyped hotspots on the tourist trail. They are often staffed by a monotone guide who seems tired of hearing their own voice and are unable to answer questions off the script. On a recent trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia we had the opposite experience with Adriatic Explore. This company was endorsed for excursions by our Lonely Planet guidebook. Reservations can be made from their large and spacious shop right by the Onofrio Fountain in Old Town Dubrovnik.
Convenient pickup and well trained guides
Adriatic Explore offers convenient pickup in front of several spots which are spread out around various parts of Dubrovnik. While other tours have had us stop at each travelers lodging I found this to be much easier. I munched on my morning burek gazing at the mist creeping over nearby mountains. As our van approached the Franjo Tudman Bridge our guide Tomislava began her narration explaining that the structure was named for Croatia’s first president.
Guides in Croatia are held to strict certification and language requirements. They are only allowed to work in certain geographical zones. This makes them experts for their tours and this was definitely true for Tomislava. Smoothly transitioning from topics as diverse as the recent war, architecture, natural disasters, strategic diplomacy, commerce, and geography, she provided us with a great overview of the area we’d pass on the way to our first destination of Ston. Tomislava also provided the group with maps to illustrate the region. Pointing out the location of oyster farms our guide explained the importance of the sea and salt beds as we neared our initial stop.
Fortified town of Ston
We had traveled about 60 kilometers northwest from Dubrovnik to Ston, a town financed by the production and trade of salt. Ston is located on an isthmus that connects the mainland with the Peljesac Peninsula, the second longest in Croatia. Tomislava provided us with a brief tour of Ston before allowing us to explore on our own. Pointing out an impressive stone wall on a nearby mountain, she explained that this was the largest walled fortification in all of Europe and nicknamed Croatia’s “Great Wall of China”.
With some freedom to explore on our own, many chose to sip coffee or taste treats at cafes around the main square. Melissa and I made a beeline to check out some salt pans. Then we took a stroll on stone walkways through quaint corridors and tight alleys. The townspeople put effort into making their homes and shops look beautiful with decorative paint and floral accents. Our final stop was to the Rector Palace which now houses an art gallery with temporary exhibits. We had a conversation and gallery tour with award winning painter Jagoda Lasic. Coming from a family of musicians, the artist mixes vibrant colors on her canvas and fuses elements of Croatian folklore and dance.
Journey and exploration of Korcula
We continued in our modern van which played soft music. The oyster beds in the Adriatic Sea reminded me of roped swimming pools and we had a final glimpse of the walled fortifications of Ston. This part of the Dalmatian coast is known as the Croatian California because if feeds most of the country. As we rode we could view people crouching in the fields harvesting the fall bounty. Tomislava continued her detailed narration until our Adriatic Explore driver stopped for a panoramic photo-op of Korcula and Orebic with the sea in between. We proceeded down hill to a waiting boat.
After a short crossing we arrived on Korcula, the sixth largest island in the Adriatic out of 1,200. Korcula is covered in olive groves and vineyards. It’s designed like a fishbone so western streets can enjoy summer breezes while eastern roads are protected from winter winds. Throughout history this strategic island has passed through many hands but the Venetians seemed to leave the heaviest markers in the town, especially during the Golden Age. Tomislava walked us in a circle through Korcula Town pointing out key features and historical highlights.
For a small town it boasts an abundance of museums with important religious relics but the museums often close early. The Philosopher’s Street is the only one without stairs affording deep thinkers a place to stroll while peering to the sky. Many bricks in Korcula Town feature symbols representing proud masons from the area. St. Mark’s Cathedral pays homage to one of two patron saints but was being renovated when we visited. Visitors can debate the birthplace of the famed explorer while visiting the Marco Polo Museum and climbing stairs for a scenic view.
Tomislava gave us time to explore on our own. Melissa and I debated over dozens of restaurants offering sea views before settling for a pizza restaurant named Doris. We split a French green beans and pizza and then took a seaside stroll along the arc that lead us back to the meeting point.
Wine Tasting and returning to the mainland
During our passage back to the mainland, windsurfers flew passed seemingly defying gravity. We loaded back into the van and headed to the Matusko family winery. Before a tunnel was built, donkeys carried grapes from fields to processing sites. At the winery we had a chance to sample five spirits in total. First we had a red wine which is normally enjoyed by locals after lunch. As our host told us, “They dilute it with water so they can actually get some work done.” Next we sampled a red grape varietal known as black wine owing to its dark color. The third drink came from white grapes traditionally saved for the birth of a newborn or wedding celebrations. We rounded out the tasting with a strong grappa known as “the medicine” and then a sweet cherry brandy. The star of show was definitely the Plavac Mali or the “little blue one”. A grape akin to zinfandel, plavac is used in the small batch production of wines across the region. When living on Hvar Island, we got to have a more intimate wine tasting at Tomic Winery.
Our tour with Adriatic Explore was well rounded and informative. We never felt hurried and were pleased with the combination of tour and free time. We were provided with an abundance of information during the van ride which freed us to enjoy ourselves by the time we reached our destinations. Our guide possessed great English skills, pronunciation, and was well educated. Thank you to Adriatic Explore for letting us come along on the day tour to Korcula.