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Dubrovnik Day Trip: Wine-Tasting in Croatia's Pelješac Peninsula

If I could re-live one day of my life, there is a high likelihood of my picking this one. Let me set the scene: it's our first full day in Dubrovnik - Cassandra and I are giddy to be back in one of our favorite places on Earth and SO freaking excited to be there with our best friends. It's mid-September and still balmy AF, already warm and a little sticky in the early morning. On the itinerary is a private tour along the Pelješac Peninsula for wine and oyster tasting.

Now, I'll admit - when comparing tour companies, I just went ahead and selected the one that provided the cheapest quote. Come on, we were 23 at the time and we did as 23-year-olds on vacation do. So that morning, we waited in the parking lot, fully expecting a station wagon on the verge of breaking down... at best. We waited and waited, bleary-eyed and half asleep still, and waited some more and then our tour company texted us saying "your driver is at your address! He doesn't see you!" At this point, I swear I thought we'd been hoodwinked, and there sadly wouldn't be any oysters or wine for us in the cards.

Then, like a mirage, a shiny black Mercedes van rounds the corner in slow motion; a handsome fella swings the driver door open with a wide grin: "the address you girls gave was for a pizza place!" (Whoops! Typical.) Then - "come on in, you guys are going to be so drunk before long. I can't wait!" With that, we all clambered into the van and started the day's adventure already laughing.

The drive to our first stop took about an hour, and it was by far one of the funniest car rides I've ever been a part of. Stjepan, our blue-eyed chauffeur and guide, kept us guffawing with his hilarious antics (at one point, he honked at every pedestrian to see who would wave back at us), attempted musical education, goofy questions, and language lessons. 

Our first stop was the town of Ston, famous for having some of the oldest salt flats in Europe as well  having their own Great Wall. Yes - like, the Great Wall of China (you can see part of it jutting out in the middle of the mountains above). We spent the first portion of the morning tasting and buying salt on the side of a road, purchasing fresh figs at the mini farmers' market in town, and enjoying bijela kavas (essentially lattes - but milkier) at a local cafe.

Properly salted and caffeinated, we were keen to get on to our next activity: oyster-tasting in the neighboring Mali Ston. To this day, this was hands-down one of my favorite experiences OF ALL TIME and I'm sorry to hold out on you, but it 300% deserves a post of its own... so I'll make sure that gets written in a jiffy.

Update: here's that post! It does make more sense to pop on over and read that first before proceeding, but up to you!

In the meantime, pretend like we've been out to sea on a boat and are happily tipsy on homemade wine and fresh seafood and life in general. And now we're off to get even more acquainted with Croatian wine. Sidenote, I've never been more relieved to be at a winery than I was when we arrived at the Bartulovic family winery - not just because I was looking forward to vino but also because I have never been so close to peeing my pants. Ever. Apologies for the TMI but it adds to the story (it probably doesn't, but do me a solid and just pretend with me). 

^me racing ahead to find the bathroom.

Keepin' it real.

Moving on. This is Mario Bartulovic:
A renowned winemaker in Croatia, whose family vineyard dates back generations. He proudly shared with us the history of Croatian wine, as well as his own unique processes, his delicious wines, his family's rambunctious cat, and a freshly prepared lunch. 

Check out this spread:
And this spread too. Geez, that's so much wine. But I can't say no to a good Plavac Mali - a classic Croatian red with a finish I can only describe as "creamy." It's hard to find outside of Croatia, but definitely give it a try if you ever see it on a wine list and thank me afterwards.
Matuško Vina welcomed us next: Stjepan took us down to the wine cellar to point out some old family heirlooms, and then handed us over to the experts who had us practice our Croatian even more intensely, and rewarded us with one glass of wine after another. 

As a special treat, we even got to try their višnja, which is Croatia's traditional sour cherry brandy. Highly recommend! 
Our last destination was the Miloš Winery, which is one of Croatia's more internationally known wineries. The Miloš brothers have done an excellent job of distributing their goods far and wide (whereas traditionally, Croatians tend to like to keep their wines close and within their own borders), and so far has been one of the only Croatian wines I've been able to seek out in the US. They are also quite well known for their olive oil, which has won many a world competition. Hearing that, we each purchased a bottle to squirrel away for the future.

Other than that, I'll fess up and admit that there's not too much more that I can remember... I mean, do you see how many glasses of wine we downed?
After Stjepan dropped us off back at the apartment, we quickly threw on swimsuits and beelined it over to the beach, which was completely empty because of an oncoming thunderstorm. Floating in the salty waters, we reminisced about the amazing day we'd just had, and then once the skies started rumbling and rain started falling for real - we dashed out of the water, up the road, through a secret doorway to the grocery store right under our apartment and gathered some simple goods for a light dinner.

Truly, the most special day. Just you wait until the oyster-tasting portion!

If you are planning a trip for Dubrovnik, I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend Dubrovnik Transfer Services. Email them directly to inquire about the Pelješac wine tour (and ask for the oyster-tasting add-on) - it's not currently listed as a trip on their website, but they do offer it! I'm not sure if Stjepan is doing tours at the moment, but it's worth asking if he is - we loved that guy so much that we asked to have lunch with him; and also, he put up with our obnoxious singing and car-dancing more than any person should ever have to. This is not sponsored in any way shape or form - before our trip, I emailed almost every tour company on TripAdvisor for pricing quotes - Dubrovnik Transfer Services was half the price of other tours, but we made every stop that was promised on other itineraries as well. Please let me know if you have additional questions about this - I'd love to help!

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