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'The ultimate Croatian road trip just got easier'

The Times

I’m the first tourist in the world to drive across Croatia’s new Pelješac Bridge. The half-billion-Euro structure snakes above the Adriatic Sea. The mile-and-a-half bridge is so lofty that cruise ships can sweep underneath. Like Norman Foster's Millau Viaduct in France, it's topped by white cable pyramids that mirror the hills beyond. My rental car feels like it's on a rollercoaster through the clouds. 

The new bridge replaces the old road that chugged through Bosnia’s six-mile slice of Adriatic shore. It made the drive between Split and Dubrovnik a five-hour marathon, which included two border crossings in and out of the EU. From Monday, the Pelješac Bridge will help connect Croatia’s two tourism hubs in half that time, making a twin-centre break a tale of two cities. 

Here’s the really good news. The Pelješac Bridge deposits drivers like me onto the wild Pelješac peninsula. The 48-mile-long finger of land is ringed by Hvar, Brač and Korčula. The peninsula looks just like those islands — twenty years ago. My first stop is Vučine beach, a pine-shaded slice of St Lucia ringed by cliffs and lapped by gin-and-tonic seas, 15 minutes from the new bridge. Granted, it’s just after breakfast, but I’m one of only four people on the beach. 

Orebić commands the western end of the Pelješac Peninsula. The town is fronted by honey stone fishermen’s houses. Imagine Tuscany-on-sea. At beachside restaurants like Mimbelli, 21-year-old chef Žana Marić serves whatever her fisher friends haul in, from octopus carpaccio (£11) to seafood pâté (£5). 

I ask Mladen Deldum, Orebić’s tourism boss, why do Brits fixate on Croatia’s most famous islands? “Some British tourists come here now but the new bridge will hopefully bring more.” Instead the Pelješac peninsula is ringed by tiny islands like Sestrica, five minutes by speedboat in the bay, where Deldum’s grandfather was lighthouse keeper. (The lighthouse is now a freshly renovated luxury rental from £550pn.) 


Do I want to experience my own private island, asks Deldum? Twist my arm. A £6 taxi boat delivers me to Vela Stupa, one of Croatia’s thousand-plus islands. It’s a made-for-Instagram islet where celebs like Luka Modrić (he’s a footballer, mum) can sip mojitos on a swing embedded in the shallows. Budget guests can indulge in prosciutto sandwiches and Robinson Crusoe fantasies. 

Two of the big attractions on the Pelješac peninsula are world-class kitesurfing on the mirror-calm channel between here and Korčula — and booze. I choose the latter. 

In spring 2022, Mikulić Winery opened a museum of local traditions with ancient olive presses and amphorae that were used to lug peninsula wine 2,000 years ago. The current crop is made by young vintner Antonio Mikulić, who won a Decanter award aged 19. 

Mikulić pours me a glass of red in his winery’s tasting room. His bold, earthy Plavac Mali - warmed by searing summers, baking rocks and sunshine reflected off the sea - can reach a stonking 17%. Thwack. It’s like being spanked with a liquorice stick. The Mikulić family also own Camp Adriatic (; new four-person glamping tents from £59pn) directly below the vineyard. The campsite boasts a piratical beach restaurant, suspended above the sea, that glows violet at sunset. 

The sixty-minute drive across the Pelješac peninsula could fill a day. Imagine the wild oceanic topography of Scotland - but tropical - where vineyards cling to cliffs that tumble a thousand feet to the beach. Each of the peninsula’s 8,000 inhabitants appear to have a side hustle. Fresh eggs, mountain honey, camping pitches, bags of figs and fishing trips. The ride is thrillingly authentic — Croatia as-was. 

Midway along (and close to the new bridge) is the village of Putniković, home to Croatia’s first wine museum. It shows how the peninsula’s rocky soils create petite yet flavour-packed grapes. An afternoon tasting here with local wine ace Miro Bezek, who helps manage the cooperative output from 140 winemaking families, costs £2.  


The cooperative’s white Sveti Ana tastes like spring in a glass. Their red Libertas pounds like brandy yet slips down like 7UP. Dangerous stuff. Other hazards associated with Pelješac’s wines are that bears tend to sit on the vines, while wild boars steal the grapes. 

The following morning I’m in Mali Ston, the tiny town that bookends the Pelješac peninsula. The name translates as ‘still water’ as the brackish sea between here and the new Pelješac Bridge is stocked with one unctuous ingredient: oysters. You can take a kayak tour but I’m ushered aboard a fishing boat belonging to seafood restaurant Bota-Šare (tour £42 per group), which putters out to its own tasting barge anchored in the bay. 

Our captain explains how the Šare family raise these rare flat oysters (Ostrea edulis) in nets. After a year their shells are fixed to ropes, which dangle into the phytoplankton rich shallows for another 12 months. Tasty? Shuck me. The chunky bivalves offer a seafood chew, before exploding in the mouth with an ozone sing. A mere handful of the four million Mali Ston oysters raised each year make it off the Pelješac peninsula. Some roadside stalls shuck them for £1 a pop. 

There’s only one road to Kobaš at the extremity of the peninsula. It’s a dirt track skirting past swooshes of sand that are empty in July. A land that tourism forgot. I park up at Gastro Mare, a restaurant that meets the sea. 

Gastro Mare is the seafood synthesis of top chef Toni Bjelančić and nutritionist Maja Rupert. In hipster surroundings of chairs strewn under olive trees (think Hvar without house music) I stagger through a tasting menu (£67) of sesame-scented tuna tartare, charred sides of bream and chocolatey cake created from carob bean pods. It’s like going seven rounds with Poseidon. 

Gastro Mare can organise an oyster or wine tasting tour, but after this pescatorial onslaught there’s genuinely no need. 

This October a second bridge will link this end of the peninsula to Dubrovnik in 45 minutes flat, to complement the brand-new Pelješac Bridge that runs towards Split. The peninsula opens its larder to the world.

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