I’d been to the Croatian island of Korčula twice, but only for day trips: the first time was after a rather extensive wine tasting with my husband on nearby Peljesac peninsula; the second, a Croatian monsoon made navigating the island virtually impossible. Needless to say, I hadn’t really explored Korkyra Melaina—Black Korčula. The island’s name originates from the Ancient Greeks, a tribute to Korkyra, a nymph with beautiful hair who was placed on the island by Poseidon, god of the seas. “Black” is a testament to the dense Mediterranean forests, which still cover approximately 60 percent of the land. Here’s what I discovered on my journey into the heart of the black island.

1. I have a newfound respect for sword fighting. I’d heard about the island’s legendary combat sword dance, Moreška, but really didn’t know what to expect. Although Moreška has been danced by generations of Korčulani and is still an integral part of the local culture, I feared the spectacle would be a tourist trap. From my position in a front row seat at the choreographed performance, I saw actual sparks fly when blades clashed—they were definitely real, and definitely dangerous.

2. Grk is now part of my wine vocabulary. No one knows if Korčula’s indigenous white wine varietal derived its name from its bitter taste (grk means “bitter” in Croatian) or from the Greeks, who established a settlement on Korčula in the 3rd century B.C. and planted the first vineyards. The varietal only has a female flower, so to achieve fertilization, it requires a pollinator that blossoms at the same time. (In other words, it can’t pollinate itself like other varietals, which is really rare.) Enter Plavac Mali—“little blue”—a relative of Zinfandel. Grk vineyards must be surrounded by at least 30 percent Plavac Mali to survive. The varietal has a unique appearance: clusters include both big, sweet grapes and small, bitter grapes.

3. Marco Polo‘s house has the best views in town. The Polo family has indeed lived on Korčula since the 13th century until today. But a local let me in on a secret: The house I visited was built a couple centuries after Marco Polo died in 1324. Still, the panoramic tower views were stellar.

4. I ate a monster Adriatic lobster. Its claws were the size of fists. The five-and-a-half pounder was freshly plucked out of a cage in the sea, and my husband and I enjoyed it at a table by the sea at More restaurant, which means “sea” in Croatian. Despite the meal’s hefty $250 price tag, devouring the sweetest lobster I’ve ever had was worth it.

Cukarin

5. Cookies at Cukarin changed my life. I liked the traditional cukarin—dry, crescent-shaped biscuits—but the amareta put a spell on me. The dense almond cookie allegedly has secret aphrodisiac powers; its sweet lemon and orange scent is certainly intoxicating. I don’t know what they put in it, but I’ve been craving one ever since I returned home to NYC.

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