Thursday, 13 August (53.3 km). We took an early ferry from Korčula to Orebic. As we debarked, a carload of Polish tourists dickered with the crew of a fishing vessel trying to offload their catch into a waiting truck. I remember buying fish that fresh when we lived in Gaeta.
The day began with a challenge as soon as we got off the ferry. Climbing the incredibly steep grade to the road 400 m above the harbor would wear us out before we even began riding the ridge line back to the mainland. Bright idea: catch a cab. However, the only van taxi that could take our bicycles refused us. A man standing outside the tourist information office helped us look for some other solution. Soon we were climbing the cliff in a small rusty pickup truck held together with epoxy and faith. Our bicycles lay on top of the odds and ends and firewood in the back, and we squeezed into the front. The driver only charged us the regular taxi fee. He left us on the level of the ridge line, from where we rode Highway 414 toward the main coast of Croatia. After the intersection where the Milanese mountain climber had said goodbye two days ago, we found ourselves riding through a broad, fertile valley.
The town of Potomje seemed familiar, and the reason came into focus when we passed a sign for the Maturško winery. We had tasted their finest at a wine bar in Split (finished the bottle, actually). Dinjac Reserve was so rare, the bar owner told us, that he had to drive to Potomje himself to buy it. We turned off the highway and visited the winery. They had a tasting room and a very impressive cellar, which we were free to wander.
Dinjac is a unique grape, which only grows on the Adriatic side of the ridge across from Potomje. A tunnel near the winery provides the only access to the area. Maturško harvests the Dinjac grapes from a strip of coast about 1200 m long, and the grapes for Dinjac Reserve come from the center patch – a very small crop, hence the scarcity of the wine. To this day, it remains the smoothest red wine that I have ever tasted. I bought a bottle for a special occasion, which I was sure that we would find soon on this wonderful tour.
By afternoon we were in Ston, which Cheryl had told me was special, but which I had not really understood until I saw the place. Ston has a fascinating history. Its ancient salt flats still operate today, one of a handful of places still harvesting salt by hand. The lords of Ston controlled the entrance to one of Europe’s most valuable gold mines. In the process of protecting that asset, they erected the longest wall outside China. Using a UNESCO grant among other resources, the Croatians are restoring the wall, which not only circles the city, but carries around the mountain to Mali Ston, the port almost two kilometers away. One can walk the inner part today, and periodically the whole thing is opened up for special events, like marathons. We walked the wall, which may not have made sense after riding there, but the view justified the exercise.
That night we rode to Mali Ston along the bike path by Highway 414 (not the wall). Mali Ston has a respectable little historic center of its own. We had dinner in a seafood restaurant in a medieval salt warehouse. The incredibly thick walls would keep the salt fresh and dry while awaiting transport from the marina.
We spent Friday in the saddle. The scenery from a bicycle easily topped what I could see from the bus going north two weeks earlier. We bypassed Dubrovnik on the new highway above the town and continued south. Cheryl found us an apartment in Cavtat, a yachting harbor and resort marina south of Dubrovnik. A steep road off the main highway took us there, and it took a while to find the place. It proved to be clean, charming, comfortable, and only a block from the marina. A brick patio garden gave a sense of peace, like the cloister of a monastery. A garden hose allowed us to wash and oil our dusty bikes, an essential piece of maintenance, which becomes all too infrequent on tours like this one.
We had discovered something as we foraged for supper in the islands and along the coast. If you want good food in the restaurants, and well-stocked shelves in the grocery stores, look for yachts in the harbor. While you won’t get bad food in a fishing village, if the place is frequented by the people who arrive in mega-yachts you will have a wider choice of dining options, cuisines and amenities. I think that Sea Force One, an ominous black and grey mega-yacht, followed us, because it seemed to stop everywhere we did. Cavtat seemed a logical port of call, because it lay closest to the Dubrovnik airport. Being Friday, perhaps a weekend turnover of charter guests was taking place.
Cavtat has an interesting history. Settled by Greeks and later Illyrians, it was sacked in the 7th century. The refugees fled to the island of Laus and established Ragusa (Dubrovnik), which came to dominate the region. Cavtat means “Old City” in abbreviated Latin (Civitas Vetus).
The town has built a pleasant promenade around the park that sticks out from the marina (formerly the fort). A walk at sunset not only put us in a good mood, but whetted our appetite for another memorable seafood dinner by the harbor and town beach.
It seemed appropriate that our last night in Croatia should end on such a pleasant note. Cheryl had been to our next country, Montenegro, but I had not. And we would go to places neither of us had seen. Until next week,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,