Vela Luka is a small coastal town and a municipality that covers the western end of Korcula Island, including several little surrounding islands and islets. The town is situated in the center of a spacious and 9 km deep bay and it is the largest town on the island, counting over 4,100 inhabitants. The bay itself is a safe and favorable port and anchorage spot for sailors and its shores are extremely indented, with numerous coves and smaller bays where you can find private holiday houses, apartments and hotels. The major part of the town is spread over the slopes of Pinski rat (altitude: 150m) and the mildly descending plateau between Pinski Rat and Humic elevation (altitude: 180m), while the surrounding hills protect it from the northern and southern winds. With other 2 towns on the island, Vela Luka is connected with the main island road with the distance of 7 km from Blato and 40 km from Korcula Town.
Formally it is the newest town on the island, but Vela Luka has been functioning as an independent and organized community for the last two hundred years. However, many archaeological findings that were discovered on different sites in this area testify to the ancient life that existed here, being more than twenty thousand years old. The most famous one and for many reasons, the most significant locality is “Vela Spila” (translated: Large Cave) – only 130 meters above Vela Luka, well-known for its beauty and objects dating from the early prehistoric period. The ancient inhabitants of these lands are best studied through these artifacts discovered in “Vela Spila”, which was inhabited by the end of the Old Stone Age, with burials of three children being the oldest human remains found on the Adriatic. Middle Neolithic was dominated by a culture that was first discovered and studied in this cave, so that culture was named after Vela Luka itself. Although many nations and cultures inhabited these lands since then, there are no historical records that would indicate continuous habitation until the end of the 15th century in the area of Vela Luka. This was after all, a time when life was concentrated in the inland parts of the island, far enough from the frequent threats that were coming from the sea. Little by little, families from the near by inland village of Blato started to populate the bay area of Vela Luka, especially during 18th century. In the second half of the 18th century a settlement slowly formed and there are Blato’s parish records from 1793, showing 11 families living in Vela Luka. The settlement started developing at the beginning of the 19th century, while in the last century Vela Luka emerged from a village of fishermen and farmers into an attractive, cultivated and picturesque small town. Main occupations of its inhabitants are agriculture, mostly wine production and olive growing and processing, shipbuilding and of course tourism.
Vela Luka is also a home to many talented artists, painters and sculptors, poets and well-known singers and musicians, as well as the place of many summer happenings, preserved traditions and great cultural and gastronomy offerings. In the very center of the town you will find the parish church of St. Joseph – a neoclassical building completed in 1848, with a bell tower from 1871; and that is just one of more than 15 churches for you to discover in Vela Luka area. Located next to the parish church is the Cultural Center that consists of a museum, a gallery and a library. Several valuable museum collections demonstrate the wealth and diversity of Vela Luka’s history, art and cultural heritage – the archaeological collection, the donated international collection of drawings, graphics and small sculptures and the collection of ship models carved in wood. The life and the culture of the Mediterranean region can be traced back to ancient times through exceptional archeological findings from “Vela Spila”, where The Croatian Academy for Sciences and Arts has been excavating since 1974. A great quantity of valuable archeological material has been found, such as ceramics, stones, flints, bones, etc., confirming the value of this locality for both the island of Korcula and the whole Adriatic region, as well as being the museum’s archaeological collection. The donated international collection is the result of many donations from domestic and foreign artists after Vela Luka got hit by a tidal wave in the summer of 1978, with two sculptures by Henry Moore that dominate the collection, being the only two works of that respectable artist on the Croatian territory. The wooden model ships, 41 of them to be exact, were made by the late Nedjeljko Gigic Kotarc, a self-educated carver from Vela Luka who was carving them in olive wood throughout decades and left them as a legacy to future generations and his town. In the atrium of the Cultural Centre and on several locations in the town centre you can see different parts of a mosaic of abstract and figural compositions that were made in 1968 when the first international gathering of artists took place in Vela Luka.
There are also several cultural and performing associations in Vela Luka – the best known are “klapa” Osjak and “klapa” Greben (“klapa” is a group of a cappella vocalists), whose excellent singing has ensured them concerts in Croatia and abroad, while “Kumpanija” folklore group has been nurturing various traditional dances of Vela Luka for decades and especially a very attractive sword dance known also as “Kumpanija”. Originating from the organized peoples’ army, which has been defending the island from different invaders for centuries, “Kumpanija” is quite an extraordinary show and it is performed only on Korcula Island, in several villages and during different religious and municipal holidays, but also in summer time for tourists. The main annual performance of “Kumpanija” in Vela Luka takes place on 19th of March, on St. Joseph’s day who is the patron saint of the town.
In Vela Luka, just like in other parts of Dalmatian region and especially in small towns and villages along the coast, the life is defined by two periods – the summer season and the winter season. The winter season is characterized, besides the bad weather and fewer people all over the island, by a more calm and relaxed pace with its highlight being in January – the time of carnival festivities or “maskare”. Vela Luka has a long carnival tradition so every Sunday from the beginning of January, up until the end of February there are organized costume parties, contests for the best costumes with prizes for the top three winning costume designs and a big parade when all contestants go in a procession through the town centre, marking the end of carnival.
The summer period starts on June 24th, on St. John’s day and is celebrated by a traditional boat race from beautiful near by cove named Gradina to the town centre. This tradition begun in 1933, when a British warship commander, delighted with the island and its inhabitants, proposed a friendly rowing race between the locals and the warship crew. The local crew came out victorious and since then, every year on 24th of June, this race takes place in Vela Luka bay announcing the cheerful summer months. During July and August many performances, concerts and events are organized as a part of Vela Luka Summer Festival (or “Lusko Lito”, as the locals call it), which is a rich cultural and entertaining program that enables all visitors of Vela Luka to enjoy the weekly performances of the “Kumpanija” folklore group and their sword dance, “klapa” vocal singing, exhibits of local and other artists, themed evenings called “fishermen’s nights” in the town center, as well as various concerts of pop and classical music.
Sports enthusiasts will surely be pleased to know that the international swimming marathon has been successfully organized in Vela Luka for the last seven years in a row, on the third Saturday in August and attracting more and more contestants each year. All of you who have a taste for adventure and would like to swim the route of 4,5 kilometers – this is a competition you do not want to miss out! Prize money is also awarded to the top three ranked contestants, while special prizes are awarded to women, as well as recognitions and awards for the youngest and oldest contestants of the marathon. This day of sports ends with a lovely supper where everyone can meet and have fun, both contestants and organizers.
The tourists and visitors also have at their disposal a wide range of different activities and excursions. For a great experience and an unforgettable view, take the Blue Path from the center of the town and follow it all the way up to the locality of 1500 sq. meters big cave named “Vela Spila” – the walk really pays off, it has lots of places to rest and a spectacular view of the town and the beauty that surrounds it. Another panoramic view of the area can be seen from Hum Hill where there is also an Austro-Hungarian fortress built in the 19th century. In case you prefer cycling more, last year in September the town was a host to a series of bicycle races from 15-40 km for both adults and young ones, as well as a trekking competition that also took place in Vela Luka. There are many well-managed and marked bicycle and hiking trails so be sure to check out tourist office for a map of designated routes.
Very popular are so-called “fish-picnics” – boat cruises with different routes and destinations, offering you a day of sunbathing, swimming and cruising while having your meal on board, usually freshly grilled fish and local wine. At the very entrance to the bay of Vela Luka there is a little island named Proizd, whose beaches were chosen as the most beautiful Adriatic beach in the year 2007. Proizd is one of the favorite destinations included in different cruises available, but it is also connected with a regular taxi-boat service so visitors can reach it on their own convenience. Diving centers organize dives excursions and diving schools and it is also possible to participate in sea fishing and net casting activities, while in the autumn months you can experience the olive picking traditions.
The town also has all the essentials and nonessentials that you may or will need for a comfortable vacation or a visit – great local market with excellent fresh fish and vegetables, all kinds of specialized stores, few supermarkets, post office, banks and ATMs, gas station, tourist agencies, etc. In addition to that, there are also few night clubs and/or numerous bars where you can enjoy your drinks on terraces with a beautiful view on Vela Luka bay area. Rich gastronomy offer is based on numerous quality restaurants, pizza places or taverns (local name for a tavern is “konoba”) with great local specialties and other kinds of dishes. Most of them are in the town centre, while in the wider area of Vela Luka you can find several households offering traditional cuisine of Vela Luka in an authentic Dalmatian ambiance, local wine and olive oil, etc.
Vela Luka is also a significant transit point, having regular ferry and fast passenger catamaran lines with Split and island of Lastovo, but also regular bus lines that connect the town with Zagreb and Dubrovnik. There is also a newly introduced hydroplane line between Vela Luka and Split, being the fastest connection to and from the mainland with its 15-20 minutes of traveling time.
As for the accommodation options – there are holiday homes, apartments and rooms as well as hotels Korkyra and Posejdon in the town itself, but there are also many larger coves that surround Vela Luka and places where visitors can also choose to stay in lovely holiday houses, apartments or campsites. Whatever your choice may be, we hope that you will have a wonderful vacation and enjoy this little picturesque town.