The forests of Korčula are dense. This Mediterranean island is home to a vast array of different plant species of all shapes and sizes, creating a canopy of green that is nearly impenetrable.
With perfect autumn weather, Tricia and I set out to explore the hills near our apartment, only to discover just how thick the foliage actually was. Walls of trees and shrubs, which included both indigenous and foreign species, lined the roads, making it impossible to escape from civilization.
However, soon we saw an arrowed sign pointing into the wilderness and seized the opportunity. Climbing a set of concrete stairs dampened by a heavy downpour the day before, we inhaled the fresh, oxygen-rich scent of pine, oak and cypress trees. The midday’s sun scattered beams of soft light through the leaves and branches overhead.
As we crested the summit, we came across a formidable stone watch tower built by the British during their short occupation of the island from 1813 to 1815. Surrounded by encroaching trees and exhibiting signs of neglect, the tower’s stone facade was being consumed by moss. Unfortunately, the door to the tower was locked, preventing access to what was probably an incredible view of Korčula’s old town and harbor over the wall of trees.
We pressed on in search of an opening in the forest that would offer the desired view. Finally, after walking briskly through the cool shroud of the woods, Tricia and I discovered a trail leading down into an abandoned cocktail lounge, complete with a dilapidated bar and terraces that once seated customers. It was here that a view of the Korčula old town, basking in the glory of a shimmering blue Adriatic sea, broke through the greenery. Awe-struck, we sat down and marveled at the view before us.
On our way home, we almost passed by a small, nondescript plaque built into the seawall. In Latin, it simply read, “DEO GRATIAS”, or ‘THANK YOU’, and was dated January 25th, 1917. There was no indication of who put it there or why. World War One was especially hard on Croatia, resulting in wide-spread famine in 1917. Perhaps the seas around Korčula offered a bounty of incredible fish that winter?
Upon seeing the plaque, we too paused to feel grateful. The old town of Korčula is stunningly beautiful, and we were lucky to have found a hole in the walls of green that surround the town to capture a closer look at the lushness of this island’s natural setting. It was an experience worth remembering. Deo Gratis.