After exploring Dubrovnik at length we decided we would take a day trip and check out a few vineyards we had been hearing so much about. Traveling with a family of wine drinkers, this was a welcomed suggestion. We hired a small coach to take the eleven of us to two vineyards and to visit the towns of Ston and Mali Ston.
First stop was the medieval town of Ston. Ston and Mali Ston are small towns that sit on the Peljesac peninsula about an hour and a half from Dubrovnik. The two towns are famous for their encompassing stone walls that were built to protect the cities. The walls are still very much intact and you are able to walk them. We, however, did not opt to stroll on top of the walls and just remained in the town centre. This might be part of the reason that Ston didn't leave a huge impression on me. It was nice, very nice, but after towns like Dubrovnik, Split, and Rovinj, this just wasn't quite the same. I think however that maybe a walk upon the walls might have increased my enthusiasm. However with 5 children in tow, we weighed the entrance price for the tickets, the high heat of the day, and the potential for child/parent meltdowns, and the team decision was to stay at ground level. Did we make a mistake?
Ston is also home to a large industry of salt production. It is said to be among the oldest salt producers in the Mediterranean. It is still harvested by the same method as nearly 4000 years ago. Seawater is left in pans to evaporate and then the remaining salt is shoveled into carts and brought to basins for production.
From Ston, we headed up to the vineyards. And when I say up, I mean up. If gaining altitude wasn't bad enough, we were doing it on the edge of a cliff that gave a crystal clear view of the Adriatic 100's of metres below. Before when I was discussing the driving in Dubrovnik and said it would get worse, this is exactly where things got worse. Sitting in the coach, you already feel very elevated but add to this the sheer drop off as you look down to the sea, combined with the absence of any guard rail protection what so ever, equals terrifying. The bus climbed up and up, on narrow often gravel roads, switchback after switchback. The real kicker came when the driver, who knew we were all nervous, decided to take the "back way" home as it would get us down quicker. This was ten times worse than the original way! Even the coolest cucumber in our group was very uncomfortable. So you can imagine the family members who have severe height phobias were having mild heart attacks. No joke, the adults were very grumpy. The kids, however, had their devices and didn't look up once. I wish I could have been them.
Thankfully, the drive was not for nothing. The vineyards we visited were fabulous with super nice people giving the tours. We stopped at two different wineries, Matsuko and Vina Vukas. Both were great. A wine tasting tour doesn't sound like a child's preference for the day but we were pleasantly surprised how much the kids did enjoy themselves. At each tasting there were wine glasses set out for everyone, adults trying the wine and the kids could help themselves to a pitcher of apple juice. The wine was paired with nice selections of cheeses, biscuits, and sweets. At every stop in Croatia, we noticed how friendly and open the locals were to kids. The vineyards were no exception. While the adults sipped their wine the children were allowed to freely roam the cellars or go outside and play. There was no stress at all bringing young ones with us. As I am not a wine drinker, I can't personally comment on the degustation, but all the members of our group said the wine was superb.
Even the kids enjoyed the Croatian cellars.
Once out of the cellar, we were allowed to walk through the rows of vines growing on the properties. Big bunches of hanging grapes were grown to perfection. Through our travels, I have come to realize that every wine country seems to have their own version of a hard liqueur derived from the grapes. In Croatia, it is called rakija. We saw big glass bottles of it fermenting on many balconies throughout our trip. I was told it is similar to a brandy, but I can't guarantee that.
We ended the day with a harrowing drive on the back roads, back down the mountain to Mali Ston. This is the little sister town to Ston. It is located on a pretty waterfront that is home to oyster and mussel farms. Here we stopped at a fantastic restaurant, Kapetanova Kuca, where we all took a sigh of relief to back on level ground. We ate a big family lunch, overlooking the small harbour. The food was delicious. Since oysters were the main draw, my oldest son made it his mission to see if they were all they were cracked up to be. Verdict-yes! We also tried a dessert we had never had before. Stonska Torta is a sort of "pasta" cake. Quite literally, a cinnamon type cake filled with cooked tube pasta. I can't say it was good or bad. It tasted exactly like you would think- cake with pasta in it. Try serving Stonska Torta at your next dinner party and watch people's reaction ;-)
Our route through Croatia.