Port of Katakolon, Greece: Ancient Olympia, a winery & beaches

Katakolon waterfront, just off the cruise pier

Katakolon, Greece, is an easy port for cruise passengers. Although Ancient Olympia is the main draw, the quaint waterfront town of Katakolon sits just at the end of the cruise pier. I’d visited Katakolon and Ancient Olympia years ago with my sons. We’d taken an excursion to Ancient Olympia then, but I wanted more freedom on this visit so I’d arranged a Sixt rent car for the day.

In doing my pre-trip research, I found Sixt to offer the best price as well as port-side car drop off. Sure enough, a nice young woman was waiting with a car when we walked off the pier. Some paperwork and a quick inspection of the car to make sure there were no dings or malfunctions that might later be attributed to us and we were off.

Doing a little paperwork for our Sixt rental car

I’d downloaded driving directions to Olympia and the Mercouri Estate winery pre-trip and added them to my calendar. Coordinates and addresses at the ready made it easy to program in our destinations and T-Mobile had us connected in Greece and data-ready so Google Maps had us covered. The roads in the area nice and well-signed and it was an easy 30-40-minute drive to Ancient Olympia. Our only slight snag was when Google Maps took us to the tour bus parking. A few questions and a little luck put us in a free parking lot right by the Ambrosia Garden Restaurant and a wide paved footpath that lead across a small creek to the Archaeological Museum of Olympia. (The path is wide with white stone lines laid across concrete and regular intervals. If Ambrosia is on your left, the museum is ahead. The path is visible on Google satellite view of the area.)

Archaeological Museum of Olympia

We paid €12 apiece for a ticket that granted entrance to the archaeological site and three associated museums: the Archeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Olympic Games and the Museum of the History of the Excavations at Olympia. We decided to save the museum for later and went straight to the archaeological site where we spent a couple of hours wandering the many ruins.

Ancient Olympia Archaelogical Site
Temple of Hera in Ancient Olympia

The Archaeological Museum was a great ending to our site visit. Although not large, the collection is impressive and well laid out. The building is modern and well lit and there are clean modern toilets available in an area accessible downstairs and to the left of the main doors as you exit into the outside courtyard. We opted to forego the other two museums.

Praxiteles Hermes, superstar of the Archaeological Museum of Olympia

Walking back along the footpath to our car, we decided that Ambrosia offered a too-easy and appealing place to stop for lunch. We ate outside under a vine-covered lattice and thoroughly enjoyed our Greek lunch.

Hearty Greek lunch at Ambrosia

Back in the car, we drove about 30 minutes straight to Mercouri Winery only to slip through their wide gate just before closing time. I’d downloaded their brochure, but completely forgot that they close at 3pm, Monday through Saturday. Our hostess was a little less than welcoming, but all turned out well. She sold us a tasting of wine and left us to wander on our own, just asking that we avoid a cruise ship tour that was on the property. We preferred to be on our own anyway, so that was no problem…if a little less-than-flattering in her delivery. Oh well.

We explored the gorgeous grounds, sipping our wine and charmed by the peacocks we found, especially the male in full display, slowly rotating at the top of a split stairway leading to the slightly-crumbling original estate house.

Old Mercouri Estate House (with a peacock in full display on the landing just above the main arched door)

A marble marker proclaimed a self-rooted vineyard to have been planted in 1870. Oranges and flowers, antique wine-making equipment and an old well decorated the winery while the sea sparkled in the distance. It was all achingly picturesque.

From Mercouri, it’s a less than 10-minute drive back to Katakolon. With plenty of time until we had to be back aboard ship (and the car rented for 24-hours), we decided to check out a local beach before heading back to town. We found long, sweeping beaches near town lined with houses and totally deserted but with tire tracks showing that these were, as in my native Texas, drive-on beaches. When you have a wealth of beach, it’s a thing.

Beach near Katakolon (cruise ship was visible in the distance to the right)

We dropped off the car in the same spot we’d left it, rendezvousing with the same nice young woman. In our remaining time, we explored the quaint, touristy streets and waterfront of Katakolon. We sampled local food and drink set out in the many shops, finally buying a bottle of honey wine before heading back to the ship.

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Practical info:
I rented our little 4-door Volkswagen hatchback online from Sixt for €38.49 including all taxes and fees. (There were lots of taxis waiting at the port as well as cars and vans available for on-the-spot rental. There is also a €10/person  train that runs from near the port to Ancient Olympia, but if you miss it coming back, you’re on your own.)
Entry to Ancient Olympia and its museums was €12/person.
Mercouri Winery usually charges €10/person for a tour and tasting. We were charged something less, but I forget what.

By way of comparison, the ship offered a 5h30min. excursion to Olympia and the Mercouri Winery for $179/adult and $159/child. A 5h15min. excursion including a tour of Ancient Olympia, the Archaeological Museum and free time cost $119/adult and $99/child. Neither excursion appeared to include lunch.

Making wine the old-fashioned way: Winery Miloš in Ston, Croatia

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At the recommendation of our server at D’Vino in Dubrovnik, we stopped at Winery Miloš in Ston on our way to Split. Ston is on the Pelješac peninsula only a short detour (on the 414) off the main highway about an hour into the 3 hour drive between Dubrovnik and Split.

We dropped in without a reservation, and were greeted by the son of owner, Frano Miloš. The very knowledgeable young man conducted us on a short private tour of the small winery followed by a tasting of several of their wines. Miloš uses only Plavic mali grapes aged in traditional 2000 liter Slavonian oak barrels and the results are excellent, garnering international awards. They were awaiting word from the U.S. regarding a current entry at the time we were there, having won in their class the year before.

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David wanted one of their top wines, a Stagnum 2007, so we ponied up a not-cheap $61 for a bottle. I believe a tasting fee was waived with the purchase of the wine.

Ponikve 15
20230 Ston
Croatia

Tel.: +385 98 9656 880
info@milos.hr
www.milos.hr (The website hasn’t been updated since 2010, but basic info can be found there.)

Dubrovnik wine bar: D’Vino

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D’Vino entrance

We spied D’Vino on our first short stop in Dubrovnik since it was just across from Glam Cafe, the coffee and craft beer bar that David had his heart set on. The proprietress of Glam Cafe was friendly with D’Vino’s owner and recommended it for our return. We were pleased, on our return, to find that D’Vino was also recommended by our AirBnB hostesses.

D’Vino is located in old town Dubrovnik at Palmotićeva ul. 4A, just a short walk from the main pedestrian boulevard, Stradun, near the Pile Gate. It’s cosy and warm and the perfect spot to sample Croatian wine. D’Vino also offers small (and not so small) plates including local cheeses and meats. Their smoked duck was fantastic.

Dvino

Our waitress (part owner?) was very knowledgeable about their wines. A native of Dubrovnik, she was funny when I mentioned I’d been there years ago and that much had changed. “Touristy and expensive?” was her instant reply. I couldn’t disagree. She said natives were being driven out of local housing as the prices soared; a sad, but not uncommon story where tourism flourishes. With the economic benefits come downsides as well.

It wasn’t overly crowded when we went, but I understand it can get very busy in peak season. Reservations may be in order then.

Wines we sampled ran around $10/glass. We enjoyed all the wines we sampled; big, bold reds. When I joked that I got a lighter pour than my husband because I was a woman, our server happily topped me up…which made me happy as well!

+385(0)203211230

www.dvino.net

email: info@dvino.net

 

Slovenia’s lesser-known wine country

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Just before the Prus winery. The church in the distance is probably in Croatia.

Ever since a Venetian restaurateur had told us about Slovenian “orange wine,” David and I had been dying to try it. To our frustration, few people seemed to know what we were talking about and the ones who did had none on offer. We decided to venture into Slovenian wine country to find this elusive wine.

Slovenia has 3 wine districts. The most prestigious–and by all accounts very beautiful–is on the Italian border. Another lies to the north with the city of Maribor at its heart. Finally, there is the eastern wine region, Posavje, that borders Croatia. It’s less well-known, but boasts the award-winning Prus winery (“Vinska Klet Prus”) near the village of Metlika. Not only has the proprietor be repeatedly named best overall winemaker in Croatia, but the winery has begun making an orange wine that has been named best in class. We were intrigued. I called ahead, and with some language difficulties, determined that an English-speaking tasting would be available. http://www.vinaprus.si/en/

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Google maps said the vineyard was only about an hour and half away, nestled right up against the Croatian border. The drive through mostly small towns and countryside was pleasant and uneventful and till we we reached a police roadblock just beyond the small town of Donja Teska Voda, about 2/3 of the way into our trip. Along with all motorists heading our way, we were directed into the parking lot of some sort of water park. Puzzled and afraid our wine outing was being thwarted, we were relieved to find a policewoman who spoke English and who explained that the road closure was due to a bike race and would only last 30 minutes or so.

We were getting hungry anyway, so we turned around and drove a few miles back to a roadside pizza restaurant with a nice hillside deck where we could watch the expected bike race. The restaurant owner spoke no English, but we managed, the weather was perfect, the pizza delicious, and the race fun and soon over as promised. In no time, we were back on our way.

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View of the bike race from the pizzeria deck

As we neared the Prus winery and the Croatian border, we saw many small vineyards interspersed among homes.

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The area is rural, not a chateau or Tuscan-style villa in sight. In a small village, we stopped at a building with a Prus sign out front, but were told in very basic English that the tasting area was further down the road and someone who spoke good English would be there. Sure enough, we came to a large Prus bottle/sign [see photo at top of this post] pointing the way to a chalet-style wood and stone winery, very pretty and modern.

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The tourist shot in front of the winery

The owner’s son welcomed us and he was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the family business. The winery is particularly known for its sweet white wines, which were very good, but we were most excited to try the “orange wine.” Orange wine derives its name from the color, not the flavor. It’s also know as “skin contact” or “contact” wine. The wine-making method is medieval in origin and is, basically, making white wine in the manner of red wine, leaving the skins of white grapes in contact with the wine for long periods of time. The result is a white wine that is high in tannins as well as orangish in color. Orange wines have become somewhat of a fad in the west in the last couple of years, getting write-ups in American newspapers and wine publications although not widely available in the U.S..

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Prus orange wine
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Glass-front barrel of orange wine shows the skins settled to the bottom.

April 3, 2016