A World in Miniature
By Lead Travel Writer, Renee Fontaine
“Our world is made up of a myriad of microcosms, of tiny worlds, each with its own habitués, every one known to the others.”
—Louis L’Amour, Education of a Wandering Man
Islands hold a certain enchantment. As children, we fantasize about such places as being mystical and bearing great treasures. In fact, there are more than two million islands in the world, of which 100,000 are inhabited. Each is a world in miniature with its own story to be told. A product of its own history and social structure, each island holds a unique existence to a small group of people. Their beautiful and distinctive lives are often left unnoticed by the rest of the world. But great knowledge and adventure can be gained from visiting these small microcosms.
I recently had the opportunity to review a luxury rental property on such an island off the coast of Croatia, known as Korcula. This island is the epitome of a world in miniature. According to legend, the island was founded by the Trojan hero, Antenor in the twelfth century BC. Rich in history and beauty, the economy of Korcula has thrived on the production of wine for more than two thousand years!
Traversing the Sea
“… everyone knew that all islands were worlds unto themselves, that to come to an island was to come to another world.”
—Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana
A light rain was falling on the day of my departure from Split to Korcula. As my good friend Deborah and I waited in line to buy our ferry tickets, our host and good friend Gordon kept us entertained with his good humor.
Having thirty minutes to spare before the boat departed, we stopped for an espresso at a nearby café. While sipping our warm beverages, Gordon gave us a quick history lesson about Korcula. He explained that there is archaeological evidence found in a cave on this island that dates the civilization back more than 20,000 years. Waves of subsequent settlements came with the Illyrians in 1000 BC, the Greeks in the sixth century BC, the Romans in the third century BC and later the Slavs. Evidence of these early civilizations can be found throughout the island in the numerous old
stone buildings and fortresses left behind.
As the time of our departure drew near, our history lesson ended. We finished our espressos and went to board the ferry. Gordon wished us well and informed us that his property manager, Matko was waiting at the dock when we arrived at the port in Vela Luka, Korcula. We took our seats on the upper deck. Settling back, we watched the view of Split’s port and ancient architecture fade into the distance as the ferry headed south. Crystal clear water and beautiful islands passed into view as we made the relaxing journey across the sea. After a brief stop at the island of Hvar, we arrived at the port in Vela Luka. Set in a quiet bay surrounded by mountains, the town’s beauty was undeniable.
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
— MaryAnne Radmacher
Matko was standing by the dock as we disembarked the ferry. Tall, fit, and with a large smile, he resembled a photo out of a Ralph Lauren advertisement. Yet, his modest character was soon to be revealed.
After a short stop at the grocery store, we were on our way to Luxury Villa Korcula. As we drove along the winding country roads, Matko explained how he had grown up in Korcula and was happy and content with his life on this small island. He had no dreams of big cities or a metropolitan lifestyle.
Peering out the window, I noticed that the steep, sloped land had remnants of ancient stone terraced walls. Matko explained that the entire island had once been terraced to grow grapes for the production of wine. I marveled at the idea that the early inhabitants had the determination and ability to make the optimal use of the land to ensure that their economy thrived.
As we turned the last corner, the terracotta and orange luxury villa came into view. Situated majestically on a hill facing the sea, the villa is framed by stone walls. The effect is impressive with the stone walls mirroring the remnants of the ancient terraced landscape. Glass doors and windows dominate the seaside of the villa providing views to the sea and large swimming pool below.
Inside the villa, I meandered my way through the home. A spacious living and dining room are the focal points of the main floor with breathtaking views of the sea, pool, and gardens. On each side of the main living area, I found two oversized master suites with king size beds, sitting areas, and grandiose luxury bathrooms. Heavy satin curtains frame the windows.
Facing the hillside of the property on the main floor is another master suite with en-suite bathroom and a children’s room with twin beds and private bathroom. Each is decorated in the same tasteful luxurious style.
Finding my way to the lower level, I discovered the chef ’s kitchen — the house is rented with private chef to cater to the guest’s specific culinary preferences. Also, on the lower level is another master suite facing the pool and sea with its own private living room. Back on the main level, I got settled in one of the master suites. As I gazed at the sea, while the sun set as the moon rose in perfect synchronicity. The moonlight reflecting on the surface of the sea cast shadows from the bordering hillsides. While basking in the beauty and serenity of the moment, I felt as if the ancient history of this world in miniature emanated from the landscape around me.
A World of Wine
“It was a brave old world.”
— Mark A. Rayner, The Fridgularity
The following morning Matko arrived with dark chocolate filled croissants ready to escort Deborah and me on a tour of some area vineyards. After enjoying the chocolate croissants, we were on our way.
On the way to the vineyards, Matko explained that, for millenniums, irrigation for grapes and vegetables on the terraced land was done by hand. Workers hauled heavy water buckets on their backs up the hills. In 1911, a wetland area in the town of Blato was drained to allow sufficient area for the island’s agricultural needs. Thereafter, many of the terraced areas fell out of use.
We followed the scenic winding island roads and arrived at the town Smokvica. Perched on the side of a hill overlooking a valley, this quiet, ancient town exhibits impressive views of the vine rows below. Passing through a heavy wooden entrance door to Toreta Vineyard, I felt transported to the past. The original stone walls, wood beams, and an antique wine press created an impression from another era.
Proprietors Ivona and Frano Benicevic were expecting my visit. They were also expecting a baby. Ivona was in her last trimester of her pregnancy. Like Matko, this young happy couple is content living a quiet life within their own small world.
Frano explained that he is the fourth generation owner of the vineyard. He stated that they produce wine from two grape varieties: Posip and Rukatak which are only found in Croatia. These grapes produce a semi sweet crisp white wine. Rightfully proud of his ancestry, Frano explained further that the Phoenicians and the Greeks were the first to bring wine production to Korcula more than 2300 years ago. In the seventh century, the Croatians came and continued the tradition.
He gave me a tour of their ultra-modern facility that was anything but ancient. Large stainless steel holding tanks store the wine during the aging process.
Toreta produces 40,000 bottles per year which are sold to hotels and restaurants within Croatia. Back at the tasting room, we all shared some samples of each variety. Outstanding!
We continued on our way following along the winding roads to the town of Lumbarda. Owner Frano Milina and his son warmly welcomed us and gave us a tour of this 300 year old family business, the Bire Vineyard. The vineyard is a combination of several rustic, stone buildings each with its own purpose in the production process. Between the various cottages are vine rows and lush flowering gardens. A view of the sea is seen in the distance — a breathtaking setting!
We concluded our tour in the tasting room. Oak barrels and rows of bottled wine lined the stone walls. While sitting at a long plank style wooden table, Frano explained that they produce their specialty white wine with a very rare grape variety known as GRK. This small green grape variety grows only in Lumbarda and is not found anywhere else in the world. He explained that the vine was likely brought to the island by the Greeks about 2300 years ago. I took a sip of this aromatic white wine with a hint of pine flavor. I savored the moment thinking of the long history that went into producing this rare delicious white wine.
“When you live in love and light, you will not go unseen; ignite the world
with every flame of your being.”
— Alexandra Elle, Words from a Wanderer
Each morning Matko arrived at Luxury Villa Korcula with a gift of chocolate filled croissants. Matko was cordial host ready to show us all the treasures of this world in miniature.
One day, we visited Barilo, an ethnographic museum in Blato which is housed in a series oftraditional stone buildings. I was welcomed by hostess Vesela whose ancestors had lived in the dwellings for hundreds of years. She escorted me room by room showing me artifacts from the island’s history. In the first room, I saw a wooden container with backpack-style straps. Vesela explained that agricultural workers used these containers to carry water to the terraced gardens on the hillsides. I envisioned how difficult the life of these early inhabitants must have been.
Continuing our tour, Vesela guided me on a journey through time. The displayed tools, household items, paintings, photographs, musical instruments, and clothing beautifully depicted the cultural changes from ancient times to the present day. I was touched by Vesela’s depth of knowledge and her kindness.
Later in the afternoon, Matko brought us to a local olive oil producing facility. The tasting room had an extensive display of antique olive oil producing machinery. Informational signs provided a history of production methods dating back thousands of years.
Our hostess Srebrina, tall, beautiful, and with a strong Slavic accent, explained the distinction between virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. The difference relates to the acidity of the oil. Extra virgin must have an acidity of less than one percent. Virgin olive oil typically has acidity between one and two percent. Srebrina explained further that the quality of the oil is determined after it is pressed and tested in their lab.
Other days, we basked in the sun by the pool of Luxury Villa Korcula or explored the towns of Vela Luka and Korcula; which is considered the miniature Dubrovnik. Ancient buildings, quaint cafes, small shops, and restaurants were found along each narrow passageway. I felt the long history of this ancient civilization around every corner.
The day before our departure, we visited the caves overlooking Vela Luka. The view of the city and bay below were magnificent. Walking through the caves, we saw that archeological explorations were currently underway. Strings in a grid style pattern marked different areas currently under excavation. Signs detailing the findings were hung above. We read that the oldest excavated layer shows human habitation from approximately 20,000 to 10,000 BC. The depth of the artifacts found corresponds with their age. For example, objects at a six meter depth are from 10,000 BC. In my mind’s eye, I imagined the life of this ancient civilization, living on this lush island paradise in harmony with nature.
Memories of an Ancient Past
“The world is shaped by two things — stories told and the memories they leave behind.”
— Vera Nazarian, Dreams of the Compass Rose
The evening before my departure, I sat on the back terrace of Luxury Villa Korcula and gazed the sea and landscape around me. Korcula, although small in size, is a world in miniature. From ancient cave dwellers, to Phoenicians, to Greeks, and to Romans, this island has the history and facets of a large nation. The stories of the past are captured in the hearts of the people. Their pride in their ancestry combined with their modest character make them the true treasure of Korcula.
For reservations, please call Lauren Berger at (888) 522-1099, (239) 671-2920 or (646) 629- 9669 or Gordon Svalina at 385 (0)21 223 396 or 385915600457
This property was selected for the Vacation Rentals for the Wine Connoisseur category due to lengthy history of wine production in Korcula and the importance to its economy. This property is also suitable for the categories of Family Friendly, Ultra Luxurious, Super Romantic, and Beach Area Vacation Rentals.
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