Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Croatia - Day 5, Ston

It was another perfect start to the day on Friday morning and we had our breakfast outside and were amused by the gardener who was watering the plants in an inefficient way that involved a fifty metre trek in between each inadequate fill of the watering can. After we had eaten, packed and checked out of the hotel we joined the rush hour traffic and crawled out of Dubrovnik towards the E65 main road. Our destination was north but first we went a couple of kilometres south to find a viewing platform with a last panoramic view of Dubrovnik. It was quite stunning and quite difficult to leave but we had quite a long journey ahead so dragged ourselves away and set off for the islands. Today we planned to fulfil our original objective of visiting the countryside, the coast and the islands.

It took about forty-five minutes to reach the turn off for the Pelješac peninsular which involved a long hold up through a series of road works where the main peninsular road is being upgraded at its junction with the E65 ready for all of the additional traffic once the new Bosnian diversion bridge is completed. The drive ran along an unspoilt coast, peppered with small harbour villages and oyster farms because this is a region famous for its crustaceans. After we passed the walled port of Mari-Ston the first town that we reached on the peninsular was Ston and we pulled in to a car park to pay a visit. I was in a rush to get to the medieval walls and passed what I thought was a discarded meat pie by the side of the road but Kim more correctly identified it as a tortoise and she stopped to investigate. She was worried that it was close to the road and so moved it to safety so I pointed out that it was probably about a hundred years old and been crossing this road forever and didn’t need this nanny state interference. There were a lot of road signs warning motorists about tortoises but we were a bit surprised to see one like this.

Ston is only a small town but it has great strategic importance because it is a natural bottleneck through which invaders on the way to the islands have to pass and here can be slowed down and stopped. The defensive walls were built originally to stop the Turks reaching Korčula and they served the same purpose again in 1991 to prevent the Serb and Montenegrin armies getting through to the peninsular. Circling the town, the walls climb up to the hilltop Pozvizd Fortress and then follow the line of the isthmus to meet up with the walls of Mali Ston. They are fortified with ten round and thirty rectangular towers and we climbed to the fortress tower that looked out protectively over Ston and could clearly see the remains of some damaged roofs that had been destroyed by Serbian shells.

The walls are six kilometres long and after Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England are claimed to be the second longest defensive wall anywhere in Europe. From the top we could see the important saltpans and the little town spread out in front of us. From the top we walked down the other side only to find our way blocked by building work so we had to climb back to the top and then negotiate a slippy little mud track back to the town. On the way we passed another tortoise that was protecting two eggs in a hole next to a stone wall and was attracting a lot of attention from passers by. It was quite a difficult descent and it was very hot now so we were very glad to get to the bottom and find a shady street with a nice bar called the Sorgo which looked as though it would provide a nice lunch but it was too early so we made do with a cold beer.

We were running short of fuel but the nearest filling station meant going back through the road works and I really didn’t have the patience for that so on the advice of the owner of the Sorgo calculated that there was enough fuel to get us to Korčula and so we took the main road into the peninsular. On leaving Ston we had a last fantastic final view of Croatia’s defensive wall with its impressive combination of fortresses and battlements built to keep people out but we were through and on our way.

It was about fifty kilometres up the Pelješac and the road kept to the east of a mountain range that forms the backbone of the peninsular and took us through the region that produces the famous Croatian red dingac wine. There were lots of vineyards and invitations to visit and taste but we were intending to catch the one o’clock ferry so we just kept driving. Eventually there was a gap in the mountains and the road crossed over to the west and in front of us we could see Korčula across a narrow stretch of water. We continued to the town of Orebić and joined the queue for the ferry with about twenty minutes to spare.

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