Well, I’m about to find out as I mount my two-wheeler and join the peloton that is the “band of merry media” — 18 travel writers and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Bosnia and Dalmation Riviera itinerary — as it snakes its way out of Korčula Town and up into the hills of this picturesque island, one of the more than 1,000 isles that dot Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline.
Where to? A winery in Lumbarda, overlooking the sea, for a private tasting. It’s the first of several Insight “signature” moments planned for our day, IF I don’t fall off this contraption. Come on legs, you can do it!
To understand the wines of Korčula, you really need to have an appreciation for the island’s early vine history. In a nutshell, the Greeks arrived on the scene 2,500 years ago and planted an unknown varietal from their homeland. The vines flourished, the white wine was superb, the locals loved it and named it Grk, in honor of the Hellenians who introduced this vowelless, rarest-of-rare wine. You see, Grk is only produced here in Lumbarda — about 30,000 bottles a year — and nowhere else on the planet.
Set among a forest of pine trees, stone walls and limestone hills that wink at the sea, Frano Milina’s Bire Winery, a 400-year-old family estate where a pair of goats greets you at the entryway, is one of the few vineyards that puts Grk in the bottle and the only one that has enough left over to pour a few fingers worth for each member of the “band of merry media.”
Swirl. Smell. Sip.
Astonishingly, the Grk grape only has female flowers, so it can’t reproduce on its own. Not to worry.
The femme fatal Grk grape shares the terroir at Bire with its garnet-colored lover, the Plavac Mali grape. It lives on and so do we as Marinka, our hostess, gives us a generous pour of this robust, full-bodied red.
In between sips, we’re treated to another rare find, pieces of Paški sir, a delicious tasting cheese made from the milk of 40,000 or so sheep that wander about carefree on the island of Pag in the northern part of Dalmatia.
Back in the saddle, the bikes weave, actually we do, as our local area cycling guide, Andrej, the owner of Kaleta Travel Agency — a full service agency in Korčula Town that handles accommodations, excursions, transfers and bike rentals, like the ones we’re sorta mastering — leads us on a scenic, but circuitous route through more vineyards, along sandy beaches tucked inside little coves, past several seaside villages, even some guy’s junk, before bringing us back to GO.
Looking like a trail-weary cowboy after a two-month-long cattle drive through the Texas Panhandle up to the railheads in Abilene, Kansas, I walk bowlegged back to the Marko Polo Hotel, Insights four-star digs on Korčula, where I shower, change clothes, splash on some cologne and transform myself into a city slicker for the day’s second “signature” moment.
Sometime during each and every Insight journey a Club Bon Voyage dinner-party breaks out and returning guests are given a special nod and toast. Yours truly happens to be one of six seasoned road warriors so honored tonight, as I’ve traveled previously with Insight on its Country Roads of Italy, Bohemian Rhapsody and Iberian Adventure itineraries.
After a celebratory aperitif of bubbly — okay, several — outside on the hotel’s pool terrace, where the view of the sunset over the port is just perfect, we stroll back into Korčula Town for dinner, on Insight’s euro, at Filippi.
An upscale restaurant along the Zakerjan promenade that looks out at the Pelješac Channel, Filippi planned to serve us outside under the stars, but the strong Bora wind has just blown in, so we head inside. No problem.
Taking a page out of the authentic Dalmatian cookbook, Marko, the twentysomething chef, works his magic creating contemporary dishes from local artisan ingredients, seasonal herbs and daily catches straight out of the Adriatic that surrounds Korčula.
The presentation alone has you begging for more at Filippi, but don’t take my word for it, grab a fork and have a virtual nibble of the homemade Žrnovo macaroni pasta with shrimps and cherry tomatoes, grilled sea bass on a bed of sautéed veggies, and panna cotta in a wild berry coulis. Mmm.
A bike ride over hills with sea views of the bluest-of-blue Adriatic, a private tasting of a rarest-of-rare wine, AND a three-course meal of the finest-of-fine Dalmatian fare. Now, I’d say that’s quite an EAT, DRINK, CYCLE kinda day, wouldn’t you?
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It’s an early wake-up call tomorrow for the “band of merry media” as we hop back on the motor coach and head for the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik with its unbelievable views out to sea over terracotta rooftops. Along the way, we’ll visit another winery, just to stay hydrated. Wanna come along?
©The Palladian Traveler