When the makers of the film Mama Mia decided to use Hvar on the Croatian Adriatic coast as the location for Mama Mia 2 instead of the island of Skopelos in the Aegean there was some indignation felt in Greece. After all, the musical is based on a fictional island in Greece, not Croatia, and Skopelos had profiled very well in the first movie. How and why the decision was made is hard to know. However, there is some justification for sharing the Mama Mia glory between Skopelos island and the island of Hvar. There are some striking similarities between the Aegean coast around the Sporades islands of Skopelos and Skiathos and the Dalmatian islands of Hvar and Vis. Both regions are relatively remote and unspoilt. And, to bring us back to our main theme, both countries make great wine!
Starting in Split…
With wine and wonderful Mediterranean scenery in mind, let’s take a trip to Split and Hvar and explore the wine regions, the countryside and the Dalmation coast wineries nearby. Split is in the heart of the region known as Dalmatia and is the hopping-off point for travel to a number of islands including Hvar, Korčula, Brac, Trogir and Solta. The peninsula of Peljesac is also a nearby tourism destination and is the site of some of the best wine growing in Croatia. But spend some time in the fabulously beautiful and well-preserved town of Split before you head to the islands. Split is famous for it’s waterfront promenade, the Riva so this is a good place to start. The pedestrian-only streets of the old town provide a very romantic maze to wander and a series of Roman ruins right in the heart of the city give Split a sense of agelessness. Spend a couple of days in Split savouring the food, the wine, the sights and the anticipation of island life, then get your ferry ticket and go!
Why Croatia’s Dalmation Coast is A Fantastic Place for Wine
There are many great winemaking areas in Croatia but some of the best of them happen to be concentrated in the southern coastal area of the country with Split at its heart. This is the home of many great Dalmatian coast wineries. The area is relatively large and the geography is varied so there are many micro-climates and great soil diversity. The climate is decidedly mild and Mediterranean and so the wines tend to be hearty and robust, at least in the reds. In fact Croatia’s most famous viticultural export, the Tribidrag or Crljenak grape (known to the world as Zinfandel or Primitivo) has its ancestral home here. Notwithstanding the world-wide fame of that variety, it is perhaps the wines made from Babić or Plavac Mali grapes that best represent the striking countryside along the coast. They are deep, resonant and powerful – a reflection of the sun and heat that nurture them and the harsh soils and topography that persecute them.
This is not to say that southern Croatia is all about red wines. There are beautiful, fresh and fragrant white wines made from the local pošup, maraština and debit grapes (among others).
A Traveler’s Guide to The Wine Ferry Routes of the Dalmation Coast Wineries
There are great wineries in the immediate vicinity of Split and you can do some wonderful wine touring from your home base in the city. For a very sophisticated Babič wine that attracts great praise from critics visit the Matošin winery in Siroke about 45 minutes drive east of Split. The Grabovac winery is a similar distance from Split but in the opposite direction to the west and features wines made from both Croatian and French Varietals.
How to Visit the Dalmatian Coast Wineries
Independent travelers can get around pretty freely and efficiently with ferries and public transportation. Those with cars can access the islands, the entire mainland and the Peljesac Peninsula allowing for a slow, up-close look at the winelands and dramatic scenery of this special region. Perhaps one of the best ways to really take in the beauty of the islands and the spectacular seascapes is to charter a sailboat. Royal Croatian Tours have a variety of tourism packages including multi-day yacht charters that will show you the best of the Dalmatian coast.
Brac and Solta Islands
When it’s time to head to the islands you will be glad to know there are wineries to be found on almost all of them. The island of Brac and the even less touristed island of Solta are set just offshore of Split and it is a short ferry ride to either one. These islands attract fewer visitors than their more famous neighbours, Hvar and Korčula, even though they are closer to Split. Don’t overlook them! They are beautiful places. Getting to the island of Brac takes an hour and ferries run very regularly. From the town of Supetar (where the ferry arrives) you can travel inland and stop at the Senjkovic Winery and then carry on to Stina Winery located on the south coast of the island.
No doubt you will be carrying on to Hvar island and you will find some of Croatias best wineries here. Look for the wonderful Zlatan Otok Winery. Romana Blazevic from the winery helped me with this decription of Zlatan Otok: “Owned by Plenkovic family, the winery has over 25 years long tradition in growing grapes and producing wine. Throughout the years their wines have been recognized all over the world and today they are one of the most award-winning winery in Croatia. The winery produces around 600.000 bottles per year from their own 135 hectares from three different Dalmatian regions and additional 80 hectares from their carefully selected cooperants. Wines that they are most known for are their red wines made from the indigenous Croatian grape called Plavac Mali grown on breath-taking and unique steep southern slopes of the island of Hvar.”
Visit the Braća Plančic winery and taste their wines and also look for the fantastic Tomić Winery. Also visit the cooperative Svirče for their wines from 5 different wineries and for other traditional liquors.
Korčula is popular for a whole host of reasons, whether it is the villages, the beaches, the countryside or the nightlife. The town of Korčula itself is so pretty and historic that it is sometimes called Little Dubrovnik. This is a relatively large island with lots to do but don’t forget to check out the local wines and try to visit the wineries. There are several that are worth seeking out including the Winery Grk which not only provides wine tastings but also excellent food. Also visit the Toreta Winery and the Bire Winery.
It is worth considering going further afield to the Peljesac Peninsula. If you are coming from the mainland you will start in the town of Ston. From here you can travel the winding roads to the villages of this area from Ponikve (where the vineyards are wedged into karst stone and rise impressively on terraces) to the hamlet of Punicovic. Here the vineyards surround the Saint Ana church. There is a steep road down to the sea to Zuljane and its famous beaches and beautiful vineyards. Following the road onwards you reach the village of Janjina, again surrounded by vineyards, and then Kuna and Potomje. Here some of the vineyards are so steep they have to be tended using the help of donkeys. This is an ancient world with a very deep history of vineyards that produce great wines, wines able to compete with some of the best in Europe.
Look particularly for the Matuško Winery at Potomje when traveling on the Peljesac. This is a great wine tasting experience. Another historic winemaking institution on the peninsula is Matkovič Winery – try their powerful version of Plavac Mali. The whole environment and ambience on the peninsula is something you shouldn’t miss if you are traveling between Split and Dubrovnik.
Learn More About Traveling Dalmatian Coast Wineries
Here are some links to websites that will help your travel planning for the region:
Royal Croatian Tours – is a great site to give you an idea of how to get the most of your visit and also to set you up with a perfect luxury, guided vacation
Visit Split – is the official tourist information site for your starting point and a wealth of valuable information.
VisitCroatia.co.uk – a good travel site with lots of useful information on where to go and how to get around
CroatiaFullofLife.hr – with links to many of the wineries in the area
Vina Croatia – with a good description of the wines of Croatia and Dalmation coast wineries
Croatia Gourmet 365 – a great site for the gastronomy and wines of Croatia including information on Dalmation coast wine
WinesOfDalmatia.eu – provides detailed information on wine varieties, Dalmation coast wineries and the specific wine travel routes
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