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explorer lore

After the hustle and bustle of Dubrovnik, Korčula seemed pleasantly low-key. Located on one of Croatia’s bigger islands, the city also sits on the water and is encircled by the remnants of a thick stone wall. The historic center has several medieval stone churches, sprinkled liberally throughout the small grid of narrow streets. In essence, it has all the charm of Dubrovnik without the hordes of cruise-ship passengers.

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Marco Polo famously visited Korčula in the 13th century, allegedly bringing the marvels of pasta-making all the way from China with him. He is kind of a big deal in Korčula. In addition to the Marco Polo hotel where we stayed (and which is the only place in all of Croatia that we would not recommend to any prospective visitor), there is a Marco Polo museum (that we skipped), several Marco Polo souvenir shops, a restaurant, a supermarket, and even an ice cream store that are all named after the famous explorer.

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The guidebooks made it sound as if Korčula’s restaurants were overpriced and forgettable, so we were pleasantly surprised on this score. We mostly eschewed the eateries lining the outer promenade. Judging by their menus, they seemed to charge more for the harbor views than their cuisine. However, we found a couple of excellent establishments just inside the city walls that served homemade pasta, delicious local olive oil, fresh seafood, and homemade goat cheese.

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The old city center can be seen in just an hour or two, so we ventured farther afield on our first full day in Korčula. S’s mom had read that Lumbarda, on the island’s eastern tip, had a pretty sand beach and was home to a good local winery, so we headed there one afternoon. Someone seemed to recall reading in the guidebook that Lumbarda was a mere 20-minute walk from Korčula town. Half an hour into our stroll under the blistering noonday sun, with no end to the paved road in sight, it became clear that this estimate was woefully inaccurate.

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We were in pretty sad shape by the time we arrived at the Bire winery, a family-run business whose grk wine (so named because the grape variety was originally introduced from Greece) is one of the best whites D has ever tasted. Sadly, all of the grk produced in Croatia is consumed on the local market. The winery we visited only makes 13,000 bottles a year, and despite a strict limit of not more than 12 bottles per customer, Bire sells out of their stock in a matter of weeks.

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We did eventually make it to the beach, but the outing proved so exhausting that it dampened our motivation for further excursions, and we passed the rest of our time in Korčula at the hotel’s pool deck — the one decent thing the Marco Polo had going for it — reading, playing with Munchkin, and enjoying the views.

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