The Croatian island of Korcula, a paradise for happy nonagenarians

Grandpa Ivan, 93, doubted it, but his Katarina, 88, believed. With unsteady steps, he walks to a suitcase, opens it and takes out an accordion, just as he did for the first time in 1942, when his father, Rade, had placed it in front of him, a ten-year-old boy, in the house in the center of Vela Luka where he still lives. He puts the straps of the accordion on his frail chest, sits down on a chair and says timidly:

“I don’t know if I’ll remember it.” Katarina puts her hands on Ivan’s shoulders to encourage him. His favorite tune, Don’t touch my love, comes out of the instrument. Katarina smiles. Ivan focuses on the white buttons. Music fills their small kitchen. Then everything stops. We applaud. Ivan smiled.

Ivan Percic and his wife Katarina were born in Vela Luka. As modest workers, they lived their entire lives in apartment number 10 on “56 Street”, where they raised their children who had long since left for the world. Today, they are alone, but their old age is not unpleasant. Perhaps because they still love each other and had a beautiful youth.

Is their longevity due to a healthy diet, sea air, understanding and love, gentle words, perhaps all of these together? To their genes, stranded on the rocks, watered by this blue sea and cradled by green pines? To this nostalgic song, Don’t touch my love, that we all sing together at the end of the party as we leave, when the embers of the grill turn to ashes, and the bottle of red is empty.

Twice more than the national average

While investigating the longevity and quality of life of the elderly, we did not land in Vela Luka by chance. This small tourist town, once known for its industry, a fairly rare phenomenon for an island, is at the top of the Croatian population longevity ranking: out of just over 3,000 inhabitants, 46 people are over 90 years old, 252 others are aged 80 to 90, twice the national average!

According to Eurostat projections, in the Dubrovnik-Neretva county, of which Korčula is a part, life expectancy is higher than in the rest of Croatia. A boy born this year in this region can expect to live five years longer than a boy born on the same day in northern Croatia!

Ivan worked all his life as electrician, his wife Katarina, at the metal packaging factory. They have two daughters, Jelica and Tanja; the latter is a doctor in Split. One of their grandchildren lives in Berlin, the other is a sailor. Ivan’s sister and father, as well as his aunt, lived in this house, until a ripe old age, over 90 years old.

I’m 89 years old, but I don’t look back

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